When the Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs Service(NCS), Colonel Hameed Ali redeployed Deputy Comptroller Usman Yahaya , as the Acting Controller of the Federal Operations Unit(FOU), Zone A,Ikeja, Lagos By in January this year, it was part of measures to reposition and enhance the efficiency of that Unit of the Customs , particularly in the realm of anti- smuggling , enforcement, revenue generation and most importantly, trade facilitation.
There is however no gainsaying that the strategy of the CG started to pay off, even much more earlier, than expected, with the spectacular seizures of contraband and recovery, by DC Yahaya, of the Federal Government revenue, that would have been lost to insincere importers and smugglers , just one week when he assumed office.
The seizures have continued unabated, due to the effectiveness of the new Controller and his team, despite the about six weeks lockdown that was put in place by the Federal Government in Lagos and those of the other States in the South West where the FOU ‘A’ has its jurisdiction as part of measures to check the spread of the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
When his predecessor, Comptroller Aliyu Mohammed, was elevated based on his record, to a new assignment as the Acting Sector 4 Commander of Border Drill Operations code named Ex-Swift Response, the Customs headquarters was initially at a loss on who will succeed him, for the fact that it was out for an anti- smuggling Czar , but DC Yahaya’s record fit into the plan.
This is because DC Yahaya who was the Coordinator of Strike Force, Zone ‘A’, with headquarters in Lagos, before he was posted to FOU ‘A’, as the Acting Controller has always been known as an enforcement guru and an anti- smuggling ‘wizard’, judging by his antecedents , particularly before his present position , where has also continued to show the stuff he’s made of.
When he was the Controller of the Strike Force Zone ‘A’ , a position he occupied from May , 2019 t o January 2020, Yahaya made the about six months he spent on the saddle to count , so much that he impounded illegal goods worth more than N7 billion in Duty Paid Value , thus driving so many smugglers into the trenches and made it impossible for them to cheat government and flout Nigeria’ s fiscal policies.
Due to Yahaya’ s intimidating track record in the area of anti- smuggling, little wonder that when he assumed office at FOU ‘A’, smugglers and non-compliant traders became jittery , knowing full well that their days were over that the Controller’s crack team will continue to hunt them down.
Those economic saboteurs can be said to indeed be right in their thinking, as Controller Yahaya within one week of assuming the reins of office, that is between January 7th -14th 2020,seized contrabands worth N67,362,500.00 in duty paid value .In most cases, some officers would still be trying to study the situation , as they struggle to settle down to business, but the Controller jolted all and sundry with the seizures.
The goods, he impounded include 2,065 jerrycans of vegetable oil ,25liters each, 1,185 bags of 50kg foreign parboiled rice and 1500 jerrycans (25lts) of diesel , along different unapproved routes within the FOU ‘A’ area of operations ,which is , the cities, towns and villages within the South Western part of Nigeria.
However, the Acting Controller’s zeal , patriotism and unrelenting effort in the anti smuggling war has continued to yield more result barely two weeks after the CG’s working visit to Lagos, where he showcased various seizures made by FOU worth over N10 Billion, as DC Yahaya again intercepted illegal goods worth N40,144,250.00 in DPV.
The items include , 1,393 bags of smuggled foreign parboiled rice, 187 jerrycans/66 drums of foreign vegetable oil, 625 Cartons of poultry products and 50 jerrycans of foreign vegetable oil and were seized from unapproved routes within Ogun State between 5th -17th February 2020, based on surveillance and routine patrol.
A breakdown of the value of the seized items showed that the rice impounded was worth N27,860,000., Veg. Oil, N6,284,250 and frozen poultry N6,000,000.
The rice, vegetable Oil and poultry products were conveyed in 12 different motor vehicles and also concealed in gas cylinders.In fact it is the desperate act of the dare devil smugglers, concealing edible items in a gas cylinder that has indeed justified the hard chase by the operatives of the Customs.
Not relenting on the culture of haul of seizures, DC Yahaya’s men in April this year , when the lockdown was still on and hot, intercepted and destroyed poultry products worth N20.6 million, which came in 2,154 cartons in seven different vehicles and in two separate operations within one week.
According to the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the FOU ‘A’, Jerry Attah’ the seizure of poultry products during the lockdown has lent credence to the fact that the eagle eyed officers of the Unit were on a round the clock patrols ,while keeping to safe distance rules in line with COVID-19 prevention techniques.
This is why Yahaya had said then ,that the seizures , made within a week is a strong message to smugglers and trans border criminals that the FOU ‘A’ is always on duty and will continue to surprise smugglers with seizures and arrests any time it is dared.
Without mincing word , it is of course the series of experience which the Ag Controller has garnered over the years in his enforcement drive, his tenacity of purpose, the uncanny ability to make use of intelligence to achieve results and the unalloyed support of the Headquarters at Abuja in terms of logistics that have combined to make him to continue to deliver on his mandate.
Nevertheless , he has called on all members of the general public, including the media to support the fight against smuggling, by providing necessary intelligence that could assist the service in reducing smuggling to its barest minimum.
However, despite his achievements within the short period of time, he became the Ag. Controller, he still undaunted. This is why he has warned that unless the economic saboteurs repent from their unscrupulous activities, they would continue to count their losses. He has also advised legitimate traders to be compliant in their declarations ,as the Unit was ever ready to facilitate their trade in line with world best practices.