By Stephen Ubanna
Worried by the negative reports about the one year-old former Compliance team personnel along the nation’s border routes and the seaports seen as hindering trade facilitation, Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, appears to have bowed to pressure to disband the team.
He was said to have replaced it with a” Strike Force, SF”, which Joseph Attah. a Deputy Cmptroller and Customs Image maker said has the mandate to ”check the activities of Customs officers at the seaports and land Land border stations.
Attah further said that the Strike Force, which is headed by one Deputy Comptroller Abubakar has the mandate of the Comptroller General to” enter into any Command system on suspicion of fraudulent activities taking place or about to take place with a view to blocking all revenue leakages from the system”.
Being a watch dog to the Commands, it is also expected to ensure that all unutilised Pre-Arrival Assessment Report, PAAR, bill of lading, and Air way bills were accounted for. This is in addition to monitoring the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, Trade Liberalisation Scheme, ETLS, in order to checkmate capital flight and PAAR Merchandise.
Ali was said to have adequately mobilized a Task Force on the three months Special Assignment which covers their hotel accommodation, feeding and logistics late last year to the former Compliance team Zonal team Zonal offices in Lagos, Kaduna, Bauchi, and Port Harcourt ,to ensure that they would not be influenced by suspected agents to do their work.
Abubakar, the team was said to have operated from the Customs Headquarters, Abuja while four Assistant Comptrollers sent to the Zones used the former Compliance team offices as their operational base.
The Comptroller General Investigation team may have had their own idea of what Comptroller Anzarema .A.A. led disbanded Compliance team ought to have done within the period of operation to remain relevant instead of competing with the resident officers and the Federal Operations Unit , FOU Operatives to erect check points along the border routes and on the major high ways across the country.
if the team had its way, it could have withdrawn the Compliance team operational vehicles from the road and border routes to their operational bases in the various regions.It was an indictment on the Comptroller Anzarema for having failed to curtail the excesses of his boys and ensure they do the right thing instead of erecting Checkpoints at the border routes and highways for their own selfish interest. Their operational vehicles were found every now and then along the Oshodi-Apapa Express Way and land border routes competing with FOU, personnel to intercept offensive goods.
The team may have won the heart of the Comptroller General was he said to have agreed with them that the Compliance team had failed and the need to scrap it and introduce another forceful team that could do their job.
Indeed, Ali, the Comptroller General may have been encouraged to disband the former Compliance team because of the embarrassments which it had caused the Service across the country with the use of fire arms in which bullets fired at a fleeing smugglers had hit at innocent Nigerians.
One of such embarrassments caused the Customs by the team was the recent encounter with smugglers around the sango Otta environ in which straight bullet had allegedly hit a nine month-old pregnant woman going to work . The intervention of Mohammed Uba Garba, Comptroller , FOU, Zone A, Ikeja, was said to have saved the situation from escalating as the youths were poised for action against Customs operatives on the road.
This may have encouraged him to replaced the Compliance team with a” Strike Force”, code named Headquarters Strike Force. The Comptroller General , according to sources did not need to start looking for tested officers who would work with the Comptroller that would head the Strike Force.
Impressed with the report of the group on the activities of the Compliance team , he was said to have given the Deputy Comptroller who headed the Investigation team and the Assistant Comptrollers and the officers sent to the Zonal offices of the former Compliance team to form the nucleus of the strike Force. The Assistant Comptrollers headed the Zonal offices.
A visitor to the operational base of the Strike Force base at the Customs Training College , Ikeja, would see the branded operational vehicles of the former Compliance team litter the environment. Also , the assorted vehicles detained by the team were said to have been taken to the Customs Warehouse to allow the Strike Force start on a clean slate.
Given that the Customs Strike Force was not established to Compete with Garba’s men in the ant-smuggling war, Ali was said to have made the Customs Information Communication Technology, ICT, Ruling Center at the Zonal office, Harvey road and Wharf road Apapa, effective . The essence of the Ruling centers are to monitor cargoes released from the seaport to ensure that they comply to the government fiscal policy and pass the information to the group about Containers that did not comply with the government fiscal policy. The Strike Force, Attah, the Customs Image maker had said will” treat the information as a closely guided secret and return to its base”.
This is because the strike Force personnel are not expected to be found on the road or on the streets of Lagos or any state capital in the south west chasing importers with their agents who had taken deliveries of their Containerized cargoes or truck laden goods which had contravened the government fiscal policy.
Given the mandate of the Headquarters Strike Force, the Assistant Comptroller in-charge of the Lagos Zonal office and his men were said to had confined themselves to it by striking at targets based on credible intelligence. This is evident going by the number of Containers detained and warehouses raided and sealed within one week of operation in Lagos alone.
The ICT Ruling center at Wharf road was said to have supplied the Strike Force with documents of Containerized cargoes allegedly released from the port which contravened the government fiscal policy. It was the first major assignment by the Assistant Comptroller and his men.
He was said to have closely guided the secret and devised operational plans on how to get the Containers. He was said to have deployed his men to go after the released Containers and at their various locations and arrest them . The officers, armed to the teeth were said to have filed out with their operational vehicles , guided by the address given to them to where some of the suspected Containers were stored. On Thursday, February 8, 2018, one of the groups were said to have reported to the Commandant of the arrest of six , out of the eight of the alleged Containers allegedly released from the seaport.
A source told the Magazine that the Commandant who was not satisfied that the team sent out could not get the remaining two Containers was said to have ordered them to ensure they get the two remaining Containers because they have the support document to guide them. The name of the officer that was said to have been suggested to the Commandant to be used to track the two other Containers that had developed wings was already the one on the trail of the allegedly released Containers. The south west Customs Strike Force boss was said to had insisted that the officers must get the remaining two other Containers to the Training College for 100 physical examination. He was said to have assured the agents whose clients Containers have been detained in the Command not to worry as it would be released if it had complied to the fiscal policy. Also it was learnt had made hundreds of seizure of bags of rice from Lagos and Ogun states.
The good news is that the Assistant Comptroller in-charge of the Strike Force in the south west has powers to release detained cargoes after examination and found to have complied with the government extant fiscal policies without waiting to get approval from the Headquarters. Some importers to do so. It also has the power to seize the Container allegedly found wanting.
The activities of the Headquarters Strike Force may have forced the FOU, Zone A, Roving team, headed by Jack Okpabi, a Chief Superintendent of Customs, to review the team operational modalities to ensure that it sustain its tempo of interception of Containers allegedly released from the port which had contravened the government fiscal policies.
The Jack led Roving Team observers said, may still have an edge over the Headquarters Strike Force, no matter the support from the Wharf road ICT Ruling center because the Command has informants both within and outside the seaports in Lagos.
Garba, the Comptroller of the Command was said also said to be using his contacts to pass credible intelligence on cargoes released from the port which had contravened the country’s fiscal policies to one Yahaya, the Deputy Comptroller, Enforcement , who in turn passes the information to Jack to work on. The result had been marvelous , as the team had continued to intercept and transfer suspected Containers to the Command on alleged wrong classification, false declaration, transfer of value, and under payment of duty.
Not satisfied being in the office to issue orders to his boys, Jack was said to have been involved in some of the operations where suspected Containers released from the port had been intercepted along the Osodi-Apapa Express way and transferred to the Command and proper profiling. for 100 percent Examination and proper profiling.