HSF: Ali Laughs Last, As Mohammed Honors Riks’ and Two Other Patrol teams

By Stephen Ubanna

Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, is a happy man. Ali’s source of happiness, according to a senior Customs officer, who spoke to the Magazine, was  the impressive  performance of the Headquarters  Strike Force in its anti-smuggling operations in the country.

There was the initial pressure on the Comptroller from both official and unofficial quarters that there was  no basis for the Strike Force, because of the existence of the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, in the south west, south east, north west and north central geo-political regions of the country.

The Customs boss  was said to have stood his ground over the establishment of the Strike Force, which mandate, was similar to the FOU.  He was said to have been advised by those opposed to the Strike Force, to dissolve it after six months to avoid the officers seeing it as another Department in Customs  that had come to stay as part of the  ongoing restructuring of the Service, as mandated  by President Muhammadu Buhari.

The performance of the Strike Force officers ever since  May 2017, in each of the  Customs Zones across the country speaks volume:  making spectacular seizures of foreign parboiled rice and exotic vehicles. It is not surprising why Ali could heave a sigh of relief that he had not made a mistake in setting up  the  team to compliment the  anti-smuggling efforts of the FOU, officers, across the country.

Investigation by the Magazine shows that smugglers who  may have  escaped the eagle eye of the FOU, patrol teams  on anti-smuggling operations  and those at the seaports, airport or land border stations , were said to have fallen into the waiting  hands of the  HSF officers who lay ambush at strategic locations .

Prior to the establishment of the Strike Force , Last May, the smuggling of Contrabands, particular , foreign parboiled rice,  processed vegetable oil, second hand clothing including exotic vehicles through unapproved routes  into the country  was a common sight  .

The smuggling situation  was said to be worse  in Lagos, Ogun, Oyo Aadamawa ,Yobe, Sokoto, Katsina and Zamfara, forcing Buhari to mount pressure on Ali, the Comptroller General and his men to do  something urgent  about it to stop the  smuggling in all its ramifications.

David Paradang, a former Comptroller General, Nigeria Immigration Service, NIS, had said that there are  84 approved  Border routes  and about 1,400   illegal routes used by  smugglers and cross border immigrants to find their way into in the country. Paradang   confirmed  that 80 of the illegal routes are located in Adamawa , north east  and 83 in Ogun state, south west Nigeria, alone.

At present  Ali and Mohammed Babanded, the Current Comptroller General, NIS,  are working closely together to manage the nation’s border routes . The Customs Comptroller General, particular, was said to have given a matching order to the FOU, Strike Force and Land border Comptrollers and their officers   to tighten up security at the land border posts  to forestall smuggling of dangerous weapons into the country by  cross -border immigrants  as the country prepares for the 2019 general elections.     The just concluded International Conference, on Border Regions In transition, BRIT, in Nigeria and republic of Benin, may have exposed the Customs officials on new approaches to Border Management. They may have realised that it is not good for  the country  to throw its borders open to foreigners  in the guise of being  neighbhours from the same sub-region.

Indeed, this is exactly what the country had  done in the past to immigrants from Republic of Benin, Niger, Chad and Republic of Cameroum , fueling the increased cases of smuggling of Contrabands and exotic vehicles into the country .

The  smuggling situation in Adamawa and Ogun states appear  to be very worrisome , forcing the FOU and the HSF officers in the Lagos and Bauchi Zonal offices  to step in to combat the smugglers.   Abdulraman Dambazau, minister of Interior , may have to take a look at the NIS  suggestion for  the establishment of an additional 30 immigration  check points in the country to match the Customs efforts in policing the  border routes to check mate smugglers and cross border immigrants.

Perhaps, to contain the activities of cross border smugglers in the south west, Adamu Aliyu Mohammed, Comptroller, FOU, Zone A, had strengthened the patrol Units inherited from his predecessor, Mohammed Uba Garba, now Comptroller , Seme Command. The Customs Comptroller was said to have given a matching order to the Command Strike Force team, headed by Superintendent Ahmed to blockade the region to forestall Contrabands and exotic and fairly used vehicles from being smuggled into the country. The Jack Okpabi led Rapid Response team were  also said to have been stationed permanently at the Saki axis and Iseyin axis of Oyo and Osun states, which falls under the jurisdiction of Oyo/Osun Command.

With the closure of the border routes in the south west, the FOU, Zone A, Command, Enforcement Department , have been forced to establish more checkpoints in Lagos, Ogun, Ekiti, Ondo, Oyo and states. Take for instance, the notorious , Ota -Idiroko, road, the Command, was said to have set up four checkpoints  to the HSF, Lagos Zonal office one.

In spite of the blockade of the region by FOU , Zone A, Strike Force and Rapid Response teams, the Headquarters Strike Force have continued to penetrate the ranks of smugglers in the region.  This is evident going by the foreign parboiled rice and exotic vehicles seizures   in Ogun and Oyo states, in two weeks .

In the said two weeks of the Lagos HSF Zonal office operations, it was said to have made a seizure of 2000 bags of foreign parboiled  rice in the region , described by analysts as a very impressive performance when  compared to the FOU, Zone A , Command, which had officers everywhere in the south west that made a seizure of 11,000 bags of 50kg each in  two weeks.

It would be recalled that last July alone, the Salisu Shuaibu an Assistant Comptroller and Commander of the  Lagos Zonal office Strike Force and his officers, acting on information were said to have  made a seizure of 3000 bags of 50 kg each of foreign parboiled rice. Concealed inside a truck laden Container allegedly belonging to an disclosed Corporate Organisation along the Ijebu Ode -Benin  Expressway.

He revealed that  when he got a tip off  that an empty  truck laden Container had been  taken  to an undisclosed land border area in the south west with a promise by the drive to come back with it into the country, they became suspicious  of it. The Strike Force officers may have been forced to lay ambush for the truck  at strategic locations at the Seme, Idiroko and Lagos -Ibadan Expressway.  It was not surprising why the driver of the truck laden Container could  not escape the eagle eye  officers of the Strike Force officers on the Ijebu Ode -Benin Expressway .The Strike Force Lagos Commander confirmed that a seal was put on the Container by the smuggler  to show that it was released from the country’s seaport in Lagos.

The Magazine learnt that the truck driver had attempted to bribe his way  but got it wrong. He knew the game was up when the HSF  officers, who intercepted the truck insisted that it must be transferred  to the HSF operational  base  at the Customs Training Collage, Ikeja, for examination  because of the suspicision that  the 40ft Container laden on the truck may have been loaded with Contraband items.

The Strike Force  patrol team leader  was said to have assured the  driver that the truck would be released to him if nothing  incriminating was found inside the  Container . With the assurance, he was said to have summoned up courage to drive  the truck to the Customs  Training  College, Ikeja, under heavy security. The Seal of the Container was said to have been broken open and about  3,000 bags of foreign parboiled rice of 50kg each  were  found  inside. The truck was said to have been promptly detained. This brings to 5,000 bags of   foreign parboiled rice  of 50kg each, seized  by the Lagos Zonal office, HSF, in one month.

The  Shuaibu led HSF  team in the south west, are also said to be giving importers  with their agents tough time at the seaports and Murtala Muhammed International airport, MMIA, in Lagos.  The team, was  also said to have intercepted and transferred  several suspected Containers  from the seaport and pallets, released from NAHCO or SAHCOL, terminals at MMIA, to its operational base at Ikeja.

A source confirmed that the activities of the Lagos Strike Force officers in the south west have become the talk of the  day at the Customs Headquarters. The officer disclosed that wherever two or three officers are  gathered , their discussion centered on what Shuaibu, the Commander of the HSF in the south west and his officers are doing to compliment the efforts of the FOU, Zone A, officers , in the region.

Ogah Odibu, a former Comptroller of  the Oyo and Osun Command and now an Assistant Comptroller General, ACG, in-charge of the Headquarters , Zone B Office, Kaduna, patrol officers  were  said to have been affected  in their anti-smuggling operations  in their areas of jurisdiction  by the FOU ,Zone A, officers alleged blockade of the region.

Odibu may have started well in the Command when he mobilised his officers to make a seizure of nine trucks load of rice at the Saki and Iseyin axis  of the state within two weeks of assumption of office but that was how far he could go. . The seizure may have forced Mohammed, the then Comptroller of the Command , to deploy more officers to Saki border routes  to Oyo and Osun states.

Last April, Jack, the then Officer in-charge of the Command , Lagos Roving team, now baptised Operations and Lagos Roving team, was  said to have made, eight trucks load of rice from the Saki axis, the closest the Command has come to achieve the Oyo/Osun Command  feat. But with the blockade of the region, Jack and his officers were said to have  made two truckloads of rice for the Command.

Officers who spoke to the  Magazine averred that Mohammed, the  Customs Comptroller may  not have helped matters by giving the Jack led Rapid Response team and  the Ahmed led Strike Force a  matching order to block the six states  in the south west geo-political region to forestall the  smuggling of foreign rice , vegetable oil, second hand clothing and vehicles into the country as the VIP smugglers  who were forced to go  underground  are fully back into the business doing what they know best: smuggling of trucks load of foreign rice and  exotic vehicles into the country through  unapproved  routes scattered  in the region.

More worrisome was the smuggling of  bullet proof vehicles into the country ahead of the 2019 general elections . Only recently, the Command Operations and Lagos Roving team, headed by Riks Lura, a Chief Superintendent of Customs, were said to have intercepted and detained two Bullet proof vehicles in Lagos.

The team had earlier last August evacuated  nine smuggled  bullet proof vehicles hidden at  a private residence  at Victoria Island, Lagos based on information, thus bringing  to 11, smuggled bullet proof  jeeps that had been intercepted and transferred to the Command premises    by Riks led Operations and Lagos Roving team.  The bullet proof vehicles , were promptly detained on the orders of Mohammed , the Area  Comptroller, to force the importer to produce the End User certificate, EUC, issued from the office of the National Security Adviser, NSA, Babagana Munguno, a retired Major General to take delivery of it.

Riks and his officers may have warmed themselves into the heart of the Customs Comptroller with the bullet proof vehicle seizures. The Comptroller may have shown to  the officers that he appreciates hard work and dedication to duty  when he honoured  Riks , Ahmed and Jack and their team members on the Command parade day on Tuesday, October 16, 2018.

The star award of a Silver Cup trophy, was said to have been given to the Operations and Lagos Roving team headed by Riks, over its spectacular  seizures ranging from drugs, Containerised cargoes to  the interception and detention of exotic vehicles which had generated  millions of naira from Demand Notice, DN, raised on those that made under-payment at the sea  port and outright seizure for those allegely smuggled into the country through unapproved routes.

The second best award was said to have gone to the Command Strike Force headed  Ahmed while Jack and his team, got the third position award. Jack and his team members , may have been honoured over their past spectacular seizures of trucks load of foreign rice  from the Saki axis of Oyo state and evacuation of scores of exotic vehicles from private residences and car marts in Lagos and Gunn states over alleged under payment and suspicision of being smuggled into the country  without payment of  appropriate duties.

It would be recalled that Ali,the Customs Comptroller General had been invited by Muhammed, the then Comptroller of the Command, to the Customs Training College, Ikeja, to see for himself the  detained exotic vehicles instead of  relying on reports to get the true gist of what is happening in the Command.

The Magazine  learnt that the FOU, Zone A, Comptroller, may not have taken into consideration the seizure of 180,000, Jerry cans of 25 litres each or 90 tankers of premium motor spirit, popularly known as petrol, loaded into  locally built boats ready to be smuggled to the  Republic of Benin through Ijofin Creek, Ogun state, which could have placed the Rapid Response team ahead of the Operations and Lagos Roving team as well as the Command Strike Force,to win the Comptroller’s Star award.

The Customs  boss may not have seen the seizure, regarded in Customs circles as unprecedented as a joint effort. This is because of the involvement of two other Commands and other  security agencies personnel  to the Ijofin Creek Operations to dispossess the smugglers of the thousands of Jerry cans of petrol.

Officers of the Ogun Command, Western Marine  Command, WMC, soldiers, Navy, , police and Federal  Road the safety Commission, FRSC, were said to have played  significant role to the Ijofin Operations. The Officers of the WMC and the Navy, were said to said to sailed to the Ijofin area with their patrol crafts  to forestall the smugglers from  sailing out with any of the boats loaded with the Jerry cans of petrol into Republic of Benin.

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