By Stehen Ubanna
For years, there had been frequent rows between Customs operatives at the Seme Land border area and Youths of the Border Communities who were sympathetic to smugglers, leading to loss of lives on both sides. One of such incidents that caused major fracas between the Customs operatives at the land border and the youths was when a pregnant female passenger was shot and killed some four years ago. It took the intervention of the police to save the situation from escalating. There had also been instances at the land border where attempts had been made by these hoodlums to disarm Customs operatives but were rebuffed.
Security experts posits that the hoodlums may have mustered the courage to attack the armed Customs officers on the road to provoke them to use their firearms on them. Indeed, there had been instances at the land border where bullet shot at fleeing smugglers had hit the wrong the target.
Victor Dimka, one a former Comptrollers of Seme Command was said to have engaged the services of the army to retrain the Command Enforcement officers on weapon handling and the use of fire arms to avoid repeated cases of Customs operatives straight bullet hitting at wrong targets.
His successor,Mohammmed Aliyu, appears to have queued into the army training arrangement of the Command Enforcement officers on weapon handling and the use of fire arms. . He was said to have reached a deal with the Commandant of the 243 Recce Battalion, Nigeria Army, Badagry for the training of the officers exercise, who in turn reached to Tukur Buratai, Chief of Army Staff, CAS, who gaave his nod.
The Seme Customs boss was also said to have reached out to Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, to inform him of the involvement of the Army to equip the Command Enforcement officers with all the necessary knowledge and skills to help them deal with challenges that they may face in the course of discharging their duties in the land border area.
Mohammed, the Seme Comptroller is optimistic that the training exercise would give the Command Enforcement officers a sense of ”professional approach in weapons handling and the use of fire arms”.
Given an insider information, he said that the anti-smuggling drive of the Command has been” fortified against smugglers”. This may have given the Command the courage to clamp down on petrol smugglers along the creeks in the Badagry axis which was not hitherto the case.
The Comptroller noted that the Command clamp down on the petrol smugglers through the Creeks was a practical demonstration of its readiness to ”combat smuggling of any kind through the land border area to the barest minimum.
True to his words, only recently, the Command in a Joint Operation with the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, personnel and with support of the police had intercepted about 2250 , 50 Kg jerry cans of petrol at Pashi -Yekeme Creek within Owode Community on December 1,2017.There are many Creeks in the Badagry axis that had been used by smugglers over the years to smuggle petroleum products from Nigeria to Republic of Benin.
Officers and men of Seme Command and Western Marine Command, one of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, amphibious Command were said to have been having a running battle against the smugglers but not much were said to have been achieved then. This is because the Command do not have the functional Crafts to effectively confront the water ways smugglers as the smuggling of petrol continues to thrive in the area.
But Aliyu maintains that the Command is determined to combat the smuggling of petroleum products usually done by smugglers using jerry cans and passing through the Creeks and other illegal routes.
Many believe that with the knowledge which the Enforcement officers at the Seme Command had acquired in weapon handling and use of fire arms, the Smugglers of these offensive goods and cart mart owners who engage the services of smugglers in flying assorted vehicles into the country would be eliminated .
This is because the Seme land border area and the Creeks have been properly fortified that there is no escape route for any smuggler, which may have forced many of them to relocate to Ogun state where there are many porous borders but Comptroller Sani Madugu’s Crack Squad men and other patrol teams in the Ogun state area are giving the smugglers much trouble that much of their cargoes had fallen into the waiting hands of the Customs operatives.
An elated Aliyu disclosed that with the training which the Enforcement officers had received from the Army in weapon handling and use of fire arms, the Command made 64 seizures of offensive goods in the month of January , 2018, alone with a Duty Paid Value of N18 million.
In spite of the claim by Aliyu, the Seme Customs boss that security had been tightened up against smugglers , and that nothing that is coming into the Nigeria market through the land border, he may be far from the truth.
Investigation by the Magazine shows that most of the assorted Japanese Toyota brand products that had been evacuated from some car marts in Lagos were found to have been smuggled through Seme Ogun land borders. It would be recalled that the government had banned the importation of vehicles through the nation’s land borders in January , 2017. But the clever Nigerians and car mart owners would still engage the services of smugglers who bring in the vehicles into the country for them with hope that they would get still get the necessary import documents from Port Multi-services terminal Limited, PTML, showing that it had been imported through Tin can Island port.
But what should gladen the heart of the Comptroller was revenue that was generated and paid into the Federation Account in the month of January. The Command , according to Taupyen Selchang, a Chief Superintendent and the Command Chief Public Relation Officer, CPRO, was said to have generated over N546 million. This is encouraging for a Command where most of the its high yielding sources of generating revenue had been banned by the government such as rice, and vehicles from coming through the land border. The Comptroller is optimistic that with the tight security at the land border, most genuine trade trader who had been using the services of smugglers would have no choice but to pay duties for their imports or lose it to government as there are no more escape routes for them.