By Stephen Ubanna
Barely six weeks to the end of the year, Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, appears to have beamed his searchlight at the seaports over the alleged shipment of tramadol drugs from the Asia country of India to Nigeria. Ali is worried that the drugs if allowed to find their way into the Nigeria market unchecked from the seaport would cause great harm to the society.
The Customs Comptroller General is not ready to take any excuse from the Customs Comptrollers at the seaports , particular the Lagos ports, the country’s Commercial nerve center, over the shipment of such drug and thus have taking up the matter with the officer in-charge of the Customs Ruling Centre at Abuja who have a profile of all imported goods into the country to furnish him with information about the suspected Containers. The officer in-charge of the Customs ruling center, according to a source, who was also armed with the details of the ship carrying the suspected Containers and the port where it was going to discharge in Lagos was said to have furnished the Comptroller General with it as requested.
Armed with the relevant information, the Customs Comptroller General haad the option of using Aliyu. A. Mohammed, Comptroller, Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, for the operations instead of the Apapa based Headquarters Strike Force Headed by Abdullahi Kirawa, a Deputy Comptroller. Indeed, the Customs ruling center had been behind most of the successful operations of the Strike Force with the supply of information over the last one year. The Customs boss may have decided to make a change this time around by using the Mohammed controlled FOU, Zone A, officers.
The FOU, Zone A,Customs Comptroller,was said to have made proper arrangement for the Apapa operations before jetting out from Lagos to Abuja last week for a meeting with the Comptroller general and other Comptrollers from the land border areas. He was said to have contacted Riks Lura, a Chief Superintendent of Customs and Head of the Command Operations and Lagos Roving team with the profile of the ship carrying the suspected Containers and the likely date of going to berth at the Apapa port including the profile of the Containers.
Armed with the information , Riks was said to have mobilised his men to lay an ambush to know when the ship would discharge the Containers at the port. He was also said to have stationed his officers at strategic locations along the Oshodi Apapa Expressway. The Officers and men of the Headquarters Strike Force were also said to be waiting on the wings to see the FOU team make mistake to intercept the trucks laden Container on the road and transfer them to the Customs training College, the Lagos operational base for examination
. But the arrangement put in place by Mohammed before travelling to AAbuja was not one he could entertain any fear of going to flop because the officer in-charge of the operation was a no nonsense and experienced anti-smuggling officer who was used to such special anti-smuggling assignments from his days at FOU, Zone C, Owerri, where he was said to have made spectacular seizures of foreign parboiled rice at Bakassi, in Cross River state.
Aware of the port where the Containers would be discharged, the officers at the Apapa Command premises gate and the main port gate may have been given a standing order not to allow visitors into the premises or the port to see any officer except those working at the port , officers and importers with their agents who have businessto do.
Insiders told the Magazine that trouble started when the agent who had the contract to clear the suspected Containers was said to have brought out bundles of dollars which if converted going by the current exchange rate of about N360.00 to a dollar in the parallel foreign exchange market could amount to N15 million to bribe his way to facilitate the release of a 40 foot Container.
The agent may have known that he had ran into troubled waters as the officers who were used to helping him out in the past were not ready to attend to him as usual. He was said have reached out to his contacts at the Customs Headquarters and the Command to see what could be done to facilitate the release of the Containers but no luck. The agent who was said to have offered the alleged N15 million was said to have been whisked to Abuja, where he was said to have been detained.
Eye witness account disclosed that when the coast became clear for the FOU team to strike at the port, Riks gave the nod to his officers to take over the APM terminal where the Containers were said to have been discharged The source , account disclosed that officers and other security agencies personnel including the agents ran helter-skelter for cover to save their neck. The source further disclosed further that Customs personnel at the terminal and other the security agencies personnel did everything within their powers to scuttle the operations but got it wrong. Riks and his officers were determined to examine the suspected Containers discharged at the port without fear or favour.
An agent told the Magazine that between Monday November 12, 2018 and Friday, November 16, 2018, Riks and his team members physically examined 23 Containers at the Apapa port despite the opposition of the other security operatives. It could not be ascertained whether tramadol drugs were found in any of the suspected Containers examined at the port. But a a40 foot allegedly released from the port was said to have been intercepted on the road and transferred to the Command premises at Ikeja, for examination.
Fierce looking officers armed to the teeth were said to have been stationed at the Command gate on Friday, November 16, 2018, to forestall visitors from coming into the premises including officers on mufti. Between 8.00 am and 2pm, Mohammed, the Command, the Customs Comptroller was said to have supervised the evacuation of the cartons from the Container by the officers. He had opted to use the officers to do the work because the labourers who were used to doing the work had been ordered out of the premises by him . As a Comptroller who beliees in secrecy, he had to keep the information about the items found in the Container a closely guided secreet to himself and the officers alone but got it wrong as it still leaked out while the examination was still on.
As at 2pm, when the examination, was said to have been concluded, and the evacuated cartons returned back to the 40 foot Conatin, some cartons of tramadol were said to have been found. It was therefore a bad news for the importer as the items are likely going to be confisticated and handed over to National Agency for Food and Drug Administration, NAFDAC, for further investigation. This may be the largest seizure of tramadol drugs by any Customs Command in the recent time.
Mohammed Uba Garba, a former Comptroller of FOU, Zone A, may have raised the Consciousness of officers about the importation of tramadol drugs into the country with the seizure of cartons of the drugs Concealed in a Container as CComptroller of FOU, Zone C, Owerri. He had continued the seizure of tramadol as Comptroller of FOU, Zone A, Ikeja, forcing the Comptrollers at the seaports to sit up. Until his elevation as an Assistant Comptroller General, Finance, Administrations and Technical Service, FATS, Jibril Musa was said to have made tramadol seizures concealed in a 40 foot Container at Apapa port last December. The drugs were said to have been shipped into the country at exactly this period last year from India but the information leaked out forcing officers of the Command and the FOU, Zone A, to be on the alert to fish out the Containers before the importer takes delivery of it and push into the market to endanger the lives of youths.
Given the importance attached to the tramadol seizure by the FOU, Zone A, Command, there are indications that Ali, the Customs Comptroller General , may likely be in Lagos next week to address the press on it. he was said to have made it clear to those that care to listen that the Service would not rest on its oars to go after tradadol and other dangerous drug importers and agents w are out to sabotage the economy until they are ready to do the right thing.
Officers and men of the Service who had been linked to the release of the 40 foot Container intercepted on the road and transferred to FOU, Zone A, premises for examination where some cartons of tramadol drugs were discovered should be counting their days in Customs as Ali would not hesitate to apply the sledge hammer on them, a senior officer informed the Magazine. Mohammed, the Comptroller of FOU, Zone A, was said to have begun internal investigation into the matter and the officers indicted are likely to be invited to the Command for interrogation.
Not many people are happy over the discovery of the tramadol drugs in a Container allegedly, the largest in the country released at Apapa port barely three months after Abubakar Bashir, a former Comptroller , Onne Oil and Gas Free Zone Command, was redeployed to the Command . This is because of the truck laden military Comouflage Uniforms and 300 Combatant boots released from the Onne port which was intercepted along the Aba- Eleme major road in Port Harcourt and transferred to the FOU, Zone C, premises at Owerri for examination and subsequent seizure when he was at Onne Command as the then Customs Comptroller.
There are fears in both official and unofficial circles, that as long as Ali, continue to keep Barshir as the Comptroller of the Apapa Command which controls the Apapa port with many terminals under it, importers with their agents may take advantage of their inside knowledge of the working of the port and their closeness to the examination and releasing officers to play pranks that would continue to embarrass him.
According to sources, his problem at Apapa may be made worse as officials of the Customs ruling center at Apapa and the Customs Headquarters, Abuja, had continued to share information about suspected Contraband shipment to Nigeria , particular arms. tramadol and other dangerous drugs, with the Comptrollers of FOU, Zone A and FOU Zone C which had ports to oversee in their various areas of jurisdiction including the Deputy Comptroller Kirawa led Headquarters Strike Force.
Ali, the Comptrolleer General, has no option but to take Barshir, the Apapa Comptroller, to a smaller Command that could match his ability to deliver on his mandate as Apapa port may be too big for him as some officers occupying strategic positions in the Command who have godfathers at the Customs Headquarters to to protect their interest may not be willing to do his biddings.