By Stephen Ubanna
Barely three days after Okpabi Jack, a Chief Superintendent and officer in-charge of the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, Roving team, Ikeja, was given an award and a” Certificate of Merit ”to authenticate it by Hammed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, at the last International Customs Day Celebration at the Customs Training College, Gwagwalada, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, he led an operation that intercepted two executive Rolss Royce from a Lagos socialite currently being detained in the Command on the orders of the Comptroller, Mohammed Uba Garba over alleged underpayment.
The interception of the two executive Rolss Royce from the Lagos socialite in information acting on information was to prove to critics that he knows how to go about his enforcement job and that he hits at target without missing. Three days after invading the home of the Lagos socialite which resulted in the evacuation of the two executive Rolss Royce from the place, it was the turn of another Lagos socialite, one OluOkewo, a real Estate Valier , living in one of the posh homes, at Parkview estate, Ikoyi. Jack and his team were said to have evacuated some expensive vehicles including a Rolss Royce valued at about N2 billion.
It was learnt that the Customs award winner, described as a rugged and dogged officer by Colleagues had acted on information that the multi-million naira vehicles parked in the Lagos socialite home were brought into the country without payment of the appropriate Customs duty.
Prior to the recent invasion of these Lagos socialite homes over alleged importation and use of assorted vehicles without payment of the appropriate duties, he had led the team to evacuate three Rose Royce vehicles from the home of three Lagos socialites in Ijebu ode, Ogun state and Lagos respectively. The cost of one of the vehicles was put at N160 million. while the least cost about N100 million.
Working on the instructions of Garba, the Comptroller, he had not spared the Car dealers who are feeling the heat . he was said to have led an operation that evacuated 37 assorted vehicles smuggled into the country through unapproved routes and parked at a location around the Badagry axis. The vehicles , according to the Comptroller had a Duty Paid Value of about N1.4 billion. This is in addition to the seizure 27 other vehicles smuggled through unapproved routes in Ogun. The 27 vehicles alone, according to a source had DPV of about N228.21 million.
He was said to have led an operation that evacuated 51 assorted vehicles including four bullet proof from a hidden warehouse in IKoyi, Lagos state worth billions of naira. There had been several other assorted vehicle seizures that had been linked to the Customs award winner and his men. One of such operations was the evacuation of 51 assorted vehicles from a hidden location in Omole Estate , Ikeja. The evacuation of the vehicles to the Command and parked at the Customs Training School, also at Ikeja, may have attracted the attention of Ali, the Comptroller General, to the school to see the seizures made by his boys at FOU, Zone A. The visit , according to an insider was at the invitation of Garba, the Command Comptroller to sell Jack and his team to the Customs boss over their good deeds. The Comptroller General, may have left with the impression that Jack is a ”hard working enforcement officer who knows his onions.
Many believe that what Jack and his men had done so far to evacuate the assorted vehicles from the Lagos socialites home or car mart was not unexpected. This is because the Customs and Excise Management Act , CEMA, Cap , 2004, gave Customs the mandate to invade any home suspected of keeping offensive goods without payment of appropriate duty.
It is not surprising why Jack and his men could walk into any suspected socialite home in any part of Lagos state and evacuate vehicles of choice without looking back.
Jack and his men may have been succeeding in carrying out their raids in suspected Lagos socialites home but not without temptation. This is evident by an attempt by one of the Lagos socialites whose home was raided by the Jack -led team to evacuate suspected two assorted vehicles allegedly parked in his home without payment of appropriate duty.
Aware of the fact that the bubble had burst and there is no hiding place anymore , the Lagos socialite was said to have reached out to his contacts in the Department of State Security, DSS, office in Lagos asking the security operatives to be with him in the house without any reason. He may have invited the DSS personnel to witness how he would wriggle out of the Customs trouble with his money. He was said to have tried to rope Jack in with a S20, 000 kickback. He got it wrong.
Angered by the action of the Lagos socialite, the FOU, Zone A, Roving team leader who looked ”rugged and unsmiling”, was said to have ordered his ”boys” who were armed too the teeth to handcuff the Lagos socialite, whose name was still shrouded in secrecy and take him the Command to be detained until the Comptroller gives the final directive on him.
Insiders told the Magazine that the DSS personnel who were at the scene of the action were dumb founded. When they realised that the Customs personnel were serious to evacuate the two executive Rose Royce found in the Lagos Socialite Compound without listing to his plea to leave out one for him, resorted to plead for the removal of the handcuff from his hand and save him from the embarrassment of being detained in the Command.
It was learnt that when the DSS operatives succeeded in getting the Customs personnel to remove the handcuff from his hand he laughed , stating that these are ” special Customs officers, who could refuse his mouth watery bribe”.Jack and his boys may have put fear on other Lagos socialites parking fleet of different models of executive Rose Royce and other assorted vehicles in their homes without payment of appropriate Customs duty as many of them had gone underground.
The Ikoyi and the Ikeja Country Clubs where high profile business deals were struck by members are witnessing low activities . This is because most of the Lagos socialites are keeping away from the clubs for fear that Jack and his men are trailing them. The situation is so bad that most of them were said to have put their homes under lock and key and relocated abroad to avoid running into Jack’s trouble.
While Jack and his boys are giving the Logos Socialites a cause to worry, terminal operators, importers with their agents at the seaports, airport and Land border stations are also feeling the heat of the Garba trained officers. The team had turned the Customs warehouse and the Mechanical Workshop turned Warehouse into ”FOU Containers terminals”. Some of the block stacked”20” Containers, loaded with offensive goods including woods deposited in the warehouse had been overgrown by weeds. There is no sign that the importers are likely to get the Containers back as the goods loaded in the Containers might have spoilt.
In spite of the fact that there were many unclaimed Containers at the Command warehouses where the Jack-led Roving team had deposited the intercepted Containers both ”20” and ”40”, the team had continued to make more interceptions giving Assistant Comptroller much job to do in keeping the records.
A source confirmed that there was hardly a week that the Jack-led team could not deposit five to 10 intercepted Containers exited from the seaports or any of the terminals in Lagos at the road leading to the training School, waiting for the final directive from the Comptroller whether should be taken into the Warehouse for examination. The activities of the team, the source said had kept Garba, the Area Comptroller busier than ever as aggrieved Lagos Socialites or agents whose clients’ Containers had fallen into the waiting hand of the team had turned the Command to their office to find a way of reaching out to the Comptroller.
Agents who do not clout to stand before the Comptroller to argue their case were said to have engaged the services of some influential agents and terminal Operators to present their case before the Comptroller to facilitate the release of their intercepted goods. The worry of many of them was that the Comptroller had made it clear to those that care to listen that he does not ”need any gratification from any person” and Jack had queued into it.
Perhaps, to give a bite to operations of the Lagos Roving team, Garba, it was gathered had collapsed other anti-smuggling patrol teams operating in the Lagos and Ogun axis into the Jack led team for better Coordination and results.
Many believe that the Comptroller may have restructured the operational network of the Command and placed it under Jack, who had excelled as an enforcement officer that could be entrusted with greater responsibility and still deliver. The Comptroller had described the seizures made by the team as the ”gains of the Command anti-smuggling war”.
Jack, a source said may have carved a niche for himself at Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone C, Owerri, Imo state, where he led various patrol teams to make spectacular seizures of offensive smuggled goods and suspected Containers exited from the ports.
His Colleagues at Owerri who knew his stuff in anti-smuggling operations had expected Garba, who was his former Comptroller at the at the Zone C, to allow him Head his operational team if he wants results. But he ended being made the Officer In-charge of Examination at the Command. He supervised the examination of the suspected intercepted Containers deposited in Customs Warehouse. It was a good experience for him as suspected Containers were opened and examined in the full glare of officers from other Units and recommendation made to the Management. It was gathered that he was instrumental to the seizure of many Containers despite overtures by the agents of the import to force act against their Conscience and recommend for the release of their cargoes.
He got his second call for service in the Command to Head the patrol team at Lusada, a notorious border Community in Ogun State between Nigeria and Republic of Benin used by smugglers in smuggling offensive goods into the country. Not many expected him to perform having lost touch in running after smugglers for months as he was kept in the office to oversee the examination of intercepted Containers deposited at the Customs warehouse.
He proved bookmaker wrong by mobilizing his team to give the smugglers in the area a battle of their lives forcing many of them to go underground. The team was said to have made spectacular seizures of bags of parboiled foreign rice, vegetable oil , second hand clothing and vehicles. The situation was so bad for the Lusada based smugglers that no one dare coming into confrontation with his me because of his no nonsense looks.
Given his outstanding performance at the Lusada border Community, Garba, the Comptroller was said to have made him the Officer In-charge of Ijebu Ode Checkpoint He may have proved his worth by covering up the lapses of the patrol and Lagos Roving teams as offensive smuggled goods or suspected Containers which escaped their eagle eyes were intercepted at his Check point and taken quickly to the Command Warehouse to avoid giving room to the suspects to ask for lenience and release of their cargoes.
The Comptroller may have taken note of his superlative performance at the Ijebu- Ode Check that he waited for an opportunity to come to draft him to Head the Lagos Roving team
The opportunity came with the deployment of Kerewa Abdullahi, an Assistant Comptroller, to FOU, Zone B, Kaduna. He sent a signal to the fraudulent importers that it is no longer going to business as usual as all suspected intercepted on the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway , or offensive goods were taken to the Command as all pleas by agents who cleared it were turned down. intercepted at the airport including Truck ladden goods from the land border areas were taken to the Command .
He was said to have avoided coming into close contacts with agents or terminal operators to avoid being Compromised. Ashghi, the then Deputy Comptroller in-charge of Enforcement at the Command may have taken advantage of his frosty relationship with agents to have a good working relationship with them as his office was always very busy as agents, terminal Operators troop in and out to perfect their documents to facilitate the release of their cargos.
In September alone, the Jack led team was said to have intercepted 14 Containers. The various Container interceptions and impounded vehicles by the Jack led team may have given the Comptroller the great joy to always address the media for much of last year over the Command’s Customised seizures. He will always begin his briefing : He had disclosed to the Media at the October briefing that the fourteen Container intercepted by the Command operational personnel for False Declaration and Customs breech of Law were promptly seized. the DPV of the 14 Containers loaded with various items was put at about N105 million. It was an inception and seizure too many.