By Stephen Ubanna
Residents of Isasi Community located within the Iyana Isasi axis, along the Lagos Badagry Expressway, appears to be living in fear that themember of the Operations and Lagos Roving team of the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, Ikeja headed by Riks Lura, a Chief Superintendent of Customs, may invade the area at any time because of the rumour making the rounds that waterways rice smugglers are living in their midst .
The fear became more pronounced late last May when information leaked out that much of the foreign parboiled rice sold in the Lagos market and its environs were smuggled through Isasi Community waterside by smugglers using locally made boats .
Sources confirmed that there is hardly a week one or two local boats loaded with foreign parboiled rice from Republic of Benin could not berth to discharge its load at at the Isasi waterside and evacuated with smaller vehicles to a warehouse within the Community.
Investigation by the Magazine shows that Commercial bus drivers plying the Mile 2 and Iyana Oba route who may have discovered the big rice market in the area deliberately maneuver their way to pass through the Community and burst out tat the Iyana Isasi bus stop along the Lagos -Badagry Expressway to continue their journey to Mile2, the last bus stop.
The Magazine boarded one of the buses from Iyana Oba which passed through the area recently and found scores of wheel barrow pushers carrying 50 kg bags of foreign parboiled rice to designated shops Customer within the area or or the bus stop and loaded neatly into buses going to different parts of Lagos. A passenger remarked that there is no dull moment in the Community as there are always businesses to do ranging from being informansts to smugglers about the movement of Customs personnel in the area , internal security, carrying of bags of rice in wheel barrows to evacuating smuggled rice loaded in berthed boats from the waterside.
Many believe that the waterways smugglers may have resorted to the use of the Isasi waterside and other less busy ones because Yekeme Creek, Choki Creek, Ijofins Creek, Aseke Creek market waterside, Badagry waterside, Alaba market waterside, Zamare waterfront, Ere waterways,Wekan axis to Idiroko waterfront which spread across the south west geo-political region were well known to Sarki-Kebbi, the Comptroller Western Marine Command, WMC, and his patrol team officers.
The inability of the Customs Amphibious Command to effectively police the Lagos and Ogun waterways in particular , and the southwest in general, may have provided ammunition for Muhammed Uba Garba led FOU, Zone A, Operations and Lagos Roving team to fully step in to checkmate the activities of the smugglers in Lagos and Ogun states in the recent time. The Customs Command Operations and Lagos Roving team which may have effectively taken full control of the land border areas and the major roads , including the major bush paths used by thesmugglers in the region may have forced rice smugglers in the region to abandon moving their smuggled goods from the French speaking country of Republic of Benin through the road or bush paths but to the Creek market watersides spread across the region.
As a prelude to the recent Isasi waterside operation in Lagos, Riks and his team members were said to have laid ambush in the area for about eight days. He was said to have entered Isasi Community waterside on the zero hour on Monday, June 25, 2018 when he got signal from the informants that the coast was clear to strike. He may have led the team on the operation, because of the notoriety of the youths of the area who were said to be on the pay roll of the smugglers in order to give them protection from intruders.
Maritime observers who had been following FOU, Zone A, operations in the recent time disclosed that the Isasi operation was not much different from the previous Ere waterside market operation in Ado Od Otta local government Area of Ogun state where thesmugglers were dispossessed of thousands of ”50” kg bags of foreign parboiled rice by the Ricks led team when he was in the state as the FOU, Zone A, officer in-charge of the Idiroko axis.
An eye witness account disclosed that the Customs operation team had arrived at the nick of time at the Isasi Community waterside where the five locally paddled boats carrying a total of 815 bags of 50kg Thailand parboiled rice and other Contrabandgoods had discharged, in readiness to pushed it into the Nigeria market.
John Chukwu, a trader and resident of the Community who witnessed the Customs operation told the Magazine that it was a good thing that the youths of the area did not block the road against the Customs team from leaving with their impounded rice as it could have been very bloody. Chukwu confirmed that the fierce looking officers who were armed to the teeth were waiting for orders from Riks , their leader, to clear the road if there is any blockade or resistance from the smugglers. But the team leader was operating with caution. This is because of the standing order from the Comptroller to avoid shedding of blood no matter the provocation from the people.
The Isasi resident confirmed that the Customs team had evacuated the smuggled rice from the Community waterside site, and took over control of the five alleged boats carrying the foreign parboiled smuggled rice without any exchange of bullets with the smugglers. A visibly shaken Chukwu said he lost control when he heard the sound of an AK 47 gun shot into the air by the Customs personnel to scare away people who might want to foment trouble from the area.
Advising other Customs patrol teams across the country to take a cue from Riks, who led the team that made the rice seizures at Isasi Community and successfully transferred the items to the Command warehouse at Ikeja without resistance, noting that it is the only way that Customs personnel could earn their respect from the public.
It would be recalled that between Thursday, June 7, and Saturday, June 9, 2018, Riks on the instructions of Muhammed, the Area Comptroller had also led a team which impounded two barges loaded with about 800 bags of 50kg Thailand parboiled rice from Republic of Benin at Oyigbo waterside, Lagos Mainland Local government Area.
The smugglers were said to be heading to a Creek in Ondo state to discharge the items where scores of customers from different parts of the state and Edo, were said to be anxiously waiting for them.
The Oyigbo operation may have convinced Muhammed, the Comptroller of the FOU, Zone A, Command to be on the look -out for more of such cases of discharging of smuggled rice at a waterside market within Lagos and Ogun states.
Maritime analysts believe that the Sarki-Kebbi led Western Marine Command may not have cliped the wings of smugglers using the waterways within its area of jurisdiction because of lack of functional Crafts to patrol the Creeks. A visitor to the Command would be surprised at the number of broken down Crafts at the premises waterside, begging to be repaired.
It was learnt that Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, had made several promises of re-equipping the Command and the Port Harcourt based Eastern marine Command with functional crafts but that was how far he could go. There are fears in Customs circles that Ali may not be able to fulfill his promises to the two Amphibious Commands before his removal from office because of his involvement in President Muhammadu Buhari Campaign Organisation.
He was said to have been appointed a Director in the Buhari Campaign Organisation which may give him little or no time to attend to Customs official matters. This may have left the officials of the FOU, Zone A, with much job to do to assist the Western Marine Command in policing the watersides in Lagos and other parts of the south west geo-political region, which had yielded results in the recent time with the seizures made by the Command.