By Stephen Ubanna
Muhammed Uba Garba, Mohammed Aliyu, and Jibril Musa, Comptrollers , Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, Seme and Apapa respectively, appears to have entered into the good book of Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, because of their impressive performance in their respective areas of jurisdiction. The last but not the list was Baba-Musa, MA, Comptroller ,Tin-can Island Command.
Ali, who could no longer hide his deep feelings of appreciation of the Comptroller’s exceptional performance in the areas of anti-smuggling and revenue generation for the government in the first quarter of 2018 was said to have called them individually to thank them and urged them to continue the good work without relenting. The duo of Musa and Baba-Musa of Apapa and Tincan Island respective collected for the government about N82 billion and N77 billion respectively despite the low cargo imports through the ports. The Tincan Island Comptroller may be using his WCO and WTO background and experience in Classification and Valuation to block areas of revenue leakage in the Command. Jibril was said to used effectively the Customs Information Communication Technology, ICT, to checkmate what is happening at the port, thus doing away with the rots previously associated with the Apapa port.
But te Comptroller General, insiders said appears more enthused with the anti-smuggling efforts of Muhammed in the southwest geo-political region and Aliyu at the notorious Seme /Badagry axis in Lagos state which had results. This may earned the duo the planned additional responsibilities to sanitize Ogun, Oyo/Osun, Niger and Kwarra states seen as smugglers haven by the Comptroller General. . Aliyu was said to have sanitised Seme axis with the help of an antitracking devise, thus forcing many smugglers to relocate to Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Niger and Kwarra states.
The Seme Comptroller was said to known more of Kwarra and Niger states as a former Comptroller of the Command. At Niger/ Kwarra, he was said to have made things pretty difficult for smugglers of rice and vehicles from Republic of Benin through the Creeks or road to operate. He was described as an anti-smuggling Czar by the people.
Muhammed Comptroller of FOU, Zone A. may have got the highest accolade form the Comptroller General because he had shown the stuff , he was made of as an experienced anti-smuggling officer. He was said to have used all his contacts to tap information on how to track smugglers in the six states in the south west region. They are Lagos, Ogun, Ekiti, Ondo, Oyo and Osun states. This is evident going by the trucks load of foreign parboiled rice that had been intercepted by his Command in Oyo and Ogun states alone.
Under his guidance and direction, the Command Lagos Roving team had impounded nine trucks load for smuggled foreign rice in one operation and another three trucks load at Ogbomosho town. Prior to the Oyo state operation, and acting on credible intelligence, he had deployed the team to Idiroko in Ogun state to track a convoy of vehicles loaded with rice from Republic of Benin to Nigeria but the tactical withdrawal of the team to avoid casualty may have given opportunity to the Inspector General of Police Intelligence Squad to step in and intercept the vehicles which was taken to their Dente Police Station, Idolo, Ebute Meta, Lagos Mainland , Local government. The most recent operation of the FOU, Zone A , Command , Customs boss which may have won the heart of the Comptroller General was said to be on April 16, 2018 at Illogbo Community, Lafenwa, Abeokuta, Ogun state.
It was a very tough operation as the smugglers showed very strong resistance but the FOU, Zone A, elmsman, and was said to be in his office directing operation. The total quantity and making all the necessary contacts with Valentine Ntomchukwu, the Ogun state Commissioner of Police and the Army to provide reinforcement for his officers on the operation. He was also said to have reached out to counterpart at Ogun Command who may have been taken surprise but he did not hesitate in proving reinforcement for the team to rout the smugglers and dispossess of their smuggled rice in their make shift shanties. The total quantities of rice collected from the Illogbo makeshift shanties alone was 2,671 , ”50kg” bags of rice despite people stiff resistance.
It was therefore not surprising why the Comptroller was not happy that his absence in the Command on Saturday, April 14, 208, to attend to family matters at his home state created a big vacuum as one operation which was said to have been supervised by one Yahaya, the Deputy Comptroller, Enforcement ended up a flop. This is because of the drivers attached to the Lagos Roving team that went on the operation was abducted by the smugglers. At press time, the where about of the smuggler remain unknown.
Sources told the Magazine that the the Command be given a clue by an informant of a place at Sango Otta, the Commercial nerve center of Ogun state where about 400 smuggled exotic vehicles were parked including rice. Perhaps, Yayaya, wants to prove to the Comptroller that he could be counted upon when it comes to anti-smuggling operations, that he could not wait to get proper approval and plan on how to carry out the operation but quickly dispatched the Lagos Roving to the scene to evacuate the items. he got it wrong. This is because, information may have filtered out to the smugglers by fifth Columnists within the Command that FOU team are coming to raid the area.
It was learnt that the team had successfully entered the area but seeing the crowd who were battle ready were forced to retreat to avoid casualties. One of the drivers of the operational vehicles was said to have entered Shoprite location at Otta to make U-turn but fell into the waiting hands of the smugglers. He was said to have been abducted while some officers who were with him in the operational Van were manhandled. They were however rescued by the combined team of the Customs, Army and the police and quickly rushed to hospital for treatment. It was the first major operational disaster that had been carried out by FOU, Zone A, since Muhammed was re-deployed from FOU, Zone C, Owerri, Imo state , to the Command in 2017.
The Magazine learnt that the FOU, Zone A, Comptroller on getting back to Lagos had stepped up the man-hunt for the abducted Customs driver. He was said to have mobilized some fierce looking officers armed to the teeth to Otta to assess the situation. Insiders told the Magazine, Ntomchukwu, the Ogun state police Commissioner was said to have given him about 10 additional policemen armed to the Army. The Brigade Commander at Abeokuta was not left as he deployed some soldiers to accompany the Customs Comptroller to the scene at Attack.
Many traders had taken to their heels and forcefully lock up their rice shops when they saw the security operatives invade Otta. But when they found out that the Customs top shot and the other security operative had not come to harass them , they kept calm but their shops were still under lock and key. An officer who was at the scene confirmed that the Comptroller saw hips of rice in one two uncompleted buildings he passed.
It was gathered that there was a directive from the Comptroller General urging Muhammed and his team to evacuate the smuggled foreign rice found in the area but was told that it was risky because the security operatives would be forced to shoot at the crowd. The Comptroller was also said to have told Dangladima, the Deputy Comptroller General , Enforcement and Investigation, the same thing.
Having assessed the situation on ground at Otta, insiders told the Magazine that there was virtually no work at the Command on Monday. April 16, 2018 to review the situation and the Command operational strategies. The Comptroller was said to have waited on Tuesday, April 17, 2018, at a Management meeting to read the riot to the officers. He was said to have made it clear to the officers that on no account must any officer embark on any operation both within or outside Lagos no matter the confidence reposed on the informant without his approval. This is to avoid a repeat of the Otta incident. H e was said backed up the verbal warning with a written memo which was handed over to all the team leaders including the Lagos Roving and the Crack Squad. Many see it as a Coup against those officers who have been going out on operation on the orders of their team or Surveillance leaders without seeking the approval of the Comptroller.
As at Wednesday, April 18, 2018, the hard-line position of Muhammed on the officers was the talk of the day. The riot act dominated discussion of officers wherever they gather. Officer who knew Muhammed as younger officer at the old Gongola Command, now Adamawa /Taraba Command said he is a man of his words. They fears that any officer who dares to flout the directive would have himself to blame as he would not spare him.
While Muhammed , the FOU, Zone A, Comptroller is still robbing minds with other security agencies on how to rescue a driver attached to the Command abducted by smugglers, three Toyota Prado jeeps, 2017, driven by three police officers and other offices fully armed with an Oyo state government escort vehicle was said to have been intercepted by a team from the Command . The vehicles were suspected to have been smuggled with the government escort vehicle.
Sources told the Magazine that exotic vehicles were re-routed to the Ikeja premises of the Command where the officers were disarmed. The Comptroller was said to have ordered that their names be taken, which was quickly done. Based on the names, he was said to have contacted the Oyo state government House to confirm that the vehicles were bought by the state government and the officers were acting on instruction to take it to deliver it at Government House , Ibadan.
the Oyo stae government officials may have thought that it is easy to armtwist Muhammed , the FOU, Zone A, Customs boss to get the release of the vehicles, they got it wrong.
A source at Oyo state government House told the Magazine that when it became obvious to the Oyo state contact person that the Comptroller is difficult to bend, he was said to have reached out to a close contact of the Comptroller who is an officer based in Ibadan . The government official was said to have told the officer to his friend that the state government was ready to pay the duties on the vehicles. the mention of the payment of duties on the exotic vehicles may have convinced the Comptroller that they were smuggled vehicles and therefore had no genuine Customs papers.
The sourced disclosed that the Oyo state government may be having difficulty getting the release of the Vehcles from Lagos because it is no longer within the powers of the Area Comptroller to use his discretion to do it. This is because Al, the Comptroller and Dangladima, the Deputy Comptroller General, Enforcement and Investigation had been informed about the detained state government Toyota Prado jeeps. This is an indication that Abiola Ajimobi, the Oyo state governor could only facilitate the release of the vehicles by getting the approval of Ali, the Comptroller General.
But the governor may find it an uphill task convincing the Comptroller General to release the vehicles because of his stance against smuggling of vehicles a into the country. Worried by the low patronage of Nigeria RORO terminal in vehicles import into the country, president Muhammadu Buhari, on the advice of Ali, the Comptroller General, had banned the importation of vehicles and rice through the land border on January 1, 2015. This is where Ajomobi may have to seek the intervention of Buhari on the matter as a serving governor on the ticket of the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC.
There are indications in both officials and unofficial quarters that if the Ali agrees, on the orders of the President to release the vehicles, he may still insist that the buyers direct the FOU ,Zone A, Comptroller to the Cart mart where the vehicles were bought to do right thing. This is a warning to ther state governments which patronize smuggled vehicles to watch as the Customs personnel may be on their trail.