By Stphen Ubanna
More facts have emerged why the Federal government may have shifted the responsibility of feeding and clothing the internally Displaced persons, IDPs in Borno, Yobe, Adamawa and Edo states in the Camps in these states to the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS.
This is because of the cost implication which runs into billions of naira annually which President Muhammadu Buhari believes, the government lean budgetary provision could no longer accommodate because of the downturn in the nation’s economy and other competing demands. The situation was so bad that e has no option but to approach some donor nations in Europe and the United States for help in the early years of the Administration but the response was said to be unencouraging.
The slow response of the donor nations may have forced him in 2016 to set up a Committee headed by , Aliko Dangote a multi- billionaire and President Dangote Group of Companies to raise funds for the up- keep the IDPs in the Camps.
The Committee had a mandate to raise $500 million to feed and clothe the IDPs in the north east and Edo state in the south-south. the Committee was said to have started a sensitisation Campaign both locally and overseas to drum people’s attention to the suffering of the IDPs in Nigeria. Unconfirmed reports said the Committee had raised about $100 million so far . Dangote, alone was said to have donated N2 billion to the IDPs cause.
The President resort to” plan B” to use the services of the NCS, became pronounced, when information filtered out that its warehouses across the country are filled with rice and other Consumables including bales of fairly used clothing and shoes seized from smugglers including rolls of textile materials.
He was said to have issued a Presidential directive to the Hameed Ali, led NCS, to supply rice and other items in its warehouses across the country that had been condemned by the Court and turned to government property to the IDPs in 2016.
Joseph Attah, an a Deputy Comptroller of Customs and the Service Image maker, alluded to this when he disclosed that in January 2016, the NCS, received a Presidential directive to donate all the seized items to Nigerians affected by the activities of the insurgents in the north east. The directive was said to have pushed Ali into action.
It was an opportunity, sources said, Ali, the Bauchi state born Comptroller General of the NCS had been waiting for to get the Customs involved in IDPs project as he could not take the initiative on his own without Presidential backing being from the north east region. This is because of the criticisms that it attract from all nooks and crannies of the country. The IDPs had Camps arescattered in five states: Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa and Edo states.
The Customs helmsman was said to have given a matching order to the Comptrollers of the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, in the south west, south east, north east and north west and those at the land border stations in particular, to step up their anti-smuggling operations to ensure that suspected smugglers of rice, second hand clothing and shoes and other items banned from coming into the Nigeria market through the land border were t allowed to come in but sseized.
The Customs Comptroller General’s order was also said to have been extended to the Comptrollers of Eastern and Western Marine Commands including those at the seaports to look out for importers who flout the government fiscal policies to bring goods into the country including rice without permit.
At the seaports, the government had made matters worse for Olam and other rice importers as it had stopped giving permits to importers since June last year. The directive may have forced Mohamed Uba Garba, Comptroller, FOU,Zone A into action. He was said to have ensured full compliance by importers and exporters with all extant laws governing imports and exports in the country. The fall out is the significant seizure of foreign rice, vegetable oil, second hand clothing and shoes smuggled across the land border in the south west and those concealed in Containers released at the seaports by the Command.
The in-road made by Garba and his men in breaking into the smuggler’s ranks in the south west may have strengthened his resolve to cripple smugglers in the region and force them out of the illegitimate business. The Customs warehouse at Ikeja built to accommodated seized rice, vegetable oil had always been filled with such items since 2016 that the government had no problem getting the items from the Customs without spending a dine, .
Giving an insider information, Attah had said that in the last 22 months, the Customs had supplied 252,666 bags of rice fully loaded into 421 trailers provided by the Nigeria Army Corps of Supply and Transport. The worth of the rice supplied to the IDP Camps by the Customs within the period was put at about NN3.8 billion. This is in addition 82,140 jerrycans of 25 litre of vegetable oil worth about a billion naira and 66 jerricans of palm oil.
Other items that was said to have been supplied by the Customs to the IDPs Camps were soap, spaghetti, macaroni,slipers, bed-sheet, and branded wrappers. Mosquito Coil, school bags,sacks, sugar,. Also, the service was also said to have supplied to the IDP Camps based on the Presidential directive to Camps tomato paste, children shirts, boxers, insecticides,female hijab, trousers and second hand clothing and shoes.
Eye witness account disclosed that several cartons of China tea, chocolate, condensed milk , maggi cube, liquid soap, and two ”40” Containers loaded with different items were equally provide the IDPs by Customs. One of the ”40” Containers impounded from the seaport was said to have contained 1,600 sacks of Used bags, face caps and shoes. The second ”40” , the source said was loaded with frozen tilapia fish.
Despite supplying these items to the IDPs in the last 22 months, the Customs formations across the country had continued to do so , as warehouses are still filled to the brim with rice, vegetable oil among others. There is hardly a month five or ten trucks could not line up at the Customs warehouse to load rice, vegetable oil and other items to the IDP,s, an indication that Garba and his men are working.
Investigation by the Magazine shows that some of the tones rice in the Customs warehouses across the country had not been taken to the IDPs for now because the Customs Authorities are still awaiting the Court Condemnation and forfeiture to the government to the government.
in spite of the fact that the Court had not ruled on the impounded items, the Customs Authorities was said to have allocated the rice to government of the affected states which had reached a deal with the Customs to bear the cost of transporting the items to the IDPs located in their respective states by the Army Corps of Transport and supplies.
many believe that without the presidential order which forced the Customs to take up the responsibility of bearing part of the feeding and clothing of the IDPs in their respective Camps in Borno, Yobe, Adamawa and Edo, it would have been bad for them as the government had lost interest in providing for them.
Officers and men of the FOU in the four Zones across the six regions of the country and those at the land border stations may have battled the smugglers to a standstill in their respective areas of coverage to deprive them of ownership of their smuggled goods in the last two years but not without a fight. Ali, the Comptroller General had confirmed at several forums that smugglers who are not ready to let go their goods mobilize hoodlums to block the road and attack operatives. The Charles Okpabi Jack Roving team of the FOU, Zone A, had been a victim of it.
Moreso, they have a way of inducing Community dwellers to provide them shelter for their smuggled goods. Only recently, the FOU, Zone A, operatives broke into a house stocked with rice in Ogun state. The rice was brought to Customs warehouse , Ikeja, with about six trucks. The Seme Command enforcement officers were said to done a similar thing last year.
Besides, inducing Youths of the border Communities, they are armed with dangerous weapons and some Customs operatives had been killed in an attempt to dispossess of their gods. The Customs confirmed that sic Customs operatives were shot dead by smugglers in 2017. the killing of officers in the process of enforcing the law may have forced the Comptrollers at the various anti-smuggling Commands and the Comptroller General task force and other Comptroller General special Units to devise strategies to save officers from straight bullet of smugglers.