By Stephen Ubanna
Aliyu Mohammed, a former Comptroller of Seme Command and now Comptroller, Federal Operations Unit, FOU,Zone A, Ikeja, Lagos, appears to have developed thick skin to rumours that he stands the risk of losing his life over the demolition of an established Shrine in a Customs parcel of Land at Seme, the border Community between Nigeria and Republic of Benin, a neighbouring country in the West African sub-region.
He was said to have stepped on powerful toes and the Shrine Worshipers when he mobilised Caterpillars to clear the Customs land that had been taken over the years by indigenes of the Community and other illegal occupants and motorists, who use it as their motor park.
Unknown to the Comptroller, there was a Shrine at the Shrine at the Customs land before he gave the people one month notice to vacate . The delay by the illegal occupants in vacating the land may have given him the ammunition to order the Contractor to go ahead with the clearing of the Land and eventual destruction of the shrine. the JujU priest did not find the destruction of the Shrine funny and was said to have sent it on errand, fueling speculations that the then Seme Comptroller may not survive because of the alleged power of the deity.
Despite Customs take over of their land from the illegal occupants, the aggrieved juju priests were ready to let go of it but fight back to reclaim the land before the Contractor engaged by the Command mobilised his workers on site to start the fencing .
As a prelude to reclaiming the land, a man was said to have been sited with a Cow on the cleared land making sacrifices intended to kill Mohammed, but got it wrong. As at the time of his redeployment to FOU, Zone A, the fencing of the Customs land had reached Lintel level. Moreso, he was said to have left Seme Command stronger and healthier to his new posting. The man allegedly involved with the Sacrifice with the intention to kill the Customs Comptroller, according to sources was hit by the arrow that he had not recovered from it.
Only recently Mohammed was said to have received a call from someone who may have been sent to confirm that he was still alive. Insiders disclosed that the man was shocked to find that nothing happened to the Kebbi born Comptroller despite demolishing the Shrine on the Customs land and the sacrifices made on the land.
The boldness with which he operated at Seme Command without Compromise with the people may have emboldened him to do the unexpected at FOU, Zone A, which oversees the anti-smuggling operations in the six states in the south west geo-political region:Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ekiti and Ondo to forestall the activities of smugglers.
But barely two weeks on the saddle as the Comptroller of the Command, he was said to have seized goods worth N1.2 billion for the government ranging from Unprocessed wood, poultry products, foreign parboiled rice , Used fridges to Used second hand clothing. This is in addition to the detention of six -exotic vehicles : Bently, Toyota Prado Jeep, Toyota High Lander , Lexus and two bullet proof jeeps.
Given an insider information , Mohammed disclosed that the four ”20” Containers of unprocessed wood, which were intended for export through the seaport were intercepted along the road. It could not be ascertained whether the exporter was taking the Consignment to Apapa or Tin-can Island port for the deal. Recent seizures of ”20” Containers load of unprocessed wood shows that the Apapa port was the base of the exporters, an indication that the exporter’s agent may be heading to the port because of insider connections. The value of the unprocessed wood export was put at about N24 million and a Duty Paid Value , DPV, os N24 million. The export of unprocessed wood was said to have put a question mark on the role of the officials of the Department of Forestry of the Federal Ministry of Environment overseeing the nation’s forestry.
Indeed, the historic seizures, of the FOU, Zone A, under Mohammed, in the last two weeks include 40” Containers load of used secondhand clothing and used fridges each . Another ”40” Container that was detained at the Command premises was said to have been based on information from the Customs Ruling Center at Apapa, on the suspicision of carrying arms.
As at press time, the outcome of the examination of the Container by Customs and other security agency personnel had not been made public. Mohammed, the Command Area Comptroller , was said to have given an order that all the other agencies personnel who participated in the examination must sign the Examination report to make it authentic without objection.
An International Brewery Plc, truck used in Concealing foreign parboiled rice was also intercepted by the Command. An elated Mohammed disclosed that , the Command had made a total of 3, 750 of ”50” bags of Thailand parboiled rice since he resumed two weeks ago, promising that the seizure would continue until smugglers are ready to do the right thing.
Appealing to Nigerians to give useful information to Customs officers to forestall rice smuggling into the the country, the customs Comptroller insists that it is the only way to protect local rice farmers. He confirmed that many of the local rice farmers are smiling to banks because Customs personnel are giving the rice smugglers a fight that had forced many of them out of the illegal business in all nooks and crannies of the country.
The exotic vehicles intercepted by the Command Operations and Lagos Roving team Headed by Riks Lura a Chief Superintendent of Customs andother patrol teams but detained at the Command premises were said to have been the cynosure of people. The vehicles , range from Lexus Jeep. Toyota Prado Jeep, Toyota High lander,2015 model, Toyota RaV 4, Betley to Bullet proof jeeps.
The lexus Jeep was said to have been intercepted in the bush while the others were cleared from the seaport without paying the appropriate duty. The importers of the detained vehicles, according to the Comptroller could only get it back with the provision of the relevant import documents. This is in addition to payment of 35 percent duty and 70 levey depending on the year and model. The owner of the bullet proof vehicles , according to him would need to produce the End User Certificate which could only be obtained from the office of the National Security Adviser, NSA to get it released.
The Comptroller was said to have made it clear to those that care to listen that those who could not produce the relevant import documents to take delivery of their vehicles within one week would forfeit it to government. True to his words, he was said to given approval the seizure of the vehicles with the elapse of the one week on Friday September 7, 2018.The owner of the smuggled Lexus who had no option knew from the onset that he would lose the vehicle to the Command if caught on the act. This is because, the FG, had banned the importation of vehicles through the land border from January 1, 2017.
Given the Contraband seizures and trucks gladden Containers detained at the Customs warehouse including used vehicles which had not been cleared over the years, the Command , a source confirmed had been experiencing space constraint to accommodate additional seizures. The space constraint may have forced Mohammed, the Area Comptroller to set up a Committee to give him a report on the situation of the warehouse , item by item, to see how to free the warehouse to accommodate other seizures.
Insiders told the Magazine that the seizure that may have fascinated the Customs Management team was the 80,000, of ”25” Jerry Cans of petrol, equivalent of 90 tankers load ,worth over N50 million at Ijofin Creek in Ipokia Local government Area of Ogun state recently. Mohammed , the Customs Comptroller was said to have been instrumental for the seizure of the product.
The Customs Comptroller who took Joseph Atta, a Deputy Comptroller and the Customs National Public Relations officer and his tam including other Journalists to Western Marine Command, WMC, Apapa, to see some of the locally built boats carrying the smuggled Jerry Cans of ”25” petrol at the Command waterfront said” there is no hiding place for smugglers”.
Accompanied by Binga Boyiliya, the Area Comptroller and other key officials of the Command including Adamu Mohammed, the Command’s Deputy Comptroller, Enforcement, and Journalists to the Waterfront where the nine wooden boats carrying the product were forced to berth, the FOU, Zone A, Comptroller, explained that the Jerry Cans of petrol were trans-loaded from a bigger locally built boat to the smaller ones to facilitate the toeing to the WMC.
Binga, the Command Comptroller disclosed that the boats would be destroyed after evacuation of the”25” Jerry Cans of petrol which would be sold to the public including uniform men . The Aggrieved WMC Comptroller disclosed that the Command may not have been doing much in policing the water ways in the south west because of lack of functional working Crafts.
He lamented that the Command has only one patrol Craft in the region.This is where Hammed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, may have to Keep to his promise of re-equipping the Command with functional patrol boats to effectively patrol the water ways in the south west to be able to forestall the activities of the smugglers.
A t present there are indications that the Command many have established a good working relationship with the Navy and the Marine police to check mate the activities of the water ways smugglers in the region. This may be yielding results as the Command was said to have be making substantial seizures in the recent time.
Going by what he saw on ground at FOU Zone A and the WMC, Attah, the National Customs PRO, told the Magazine, ” I feel a sense of pride that despite the mindset of detractors, Customs officers are resolute to their responsibility in anti-smuggling and revenue generation”. He disclosed that for the first time in the history of Customs, the Service generated N140 billion in one month. The amount was said to have been generated in the month of August, 2018. The amount, according to him was the aggregate contribution of all the Customs formation across the country, including FOU, Zone A.
The Customs Public relations officer attributed the impressive revenue generation in the month of August to the upgrade of the Customs Information System from NCIS 91 to NCIS 92 which had blocked areas of revenue leakage.He also attributed it to the strategic deployment of manpower to ensure proper implementation of operational guidelines, TNCIS 92, according to him, is” faster and easier to operate to facilitate the clearing process”
. It would be recalled that a recent world Bank recent research report has ranked Nigeria as the 165th in the area of clearing of goods at the seaports and land border areas including the airport in the world. Reacting to the report, Attah described it as not representing the true position of the clearing process in the country, stressing that the Nigeria Customs had undergone major reforms including automation of its operations to facilitate its Clearing process and keep to the government 24 hours clearing process under the present management headed by Ali, a retired , army Colonel.