By Shola Fadeyi
The Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) has stepped up its policy of effective monitoring and patrol of the waterways and creeks in the country, as part of measures to nip smuggling through such sources , in the bud , check importation of contraband into the Nigerian economy, and ensure that requisite duty are paid into the government coffers on imports .
Consequently, this has explained the emphasis which the Customs places, on the choice of who would be the Controller of the Western Marine Command – in charge of the waterways and creeks in the South Western part of Nigeria , because of their vastness ,and thus the need to deploy an able , well experienced , trusted and disciplined officer for the onerous assignment and the position.
However , just some few months down the line, when the mantle fell on Comptroller Abubakar Umar on February 21, this year, as the Controller , his management of the Command, in the realm of seizures and its anti smuggling activities, have indeed shown that ,he has been a round peg in a round hole, for the position.
For the fact that he was formerly the Comptroller Discipline at the Customs Headquarters in Abuja , little wonder that his charge to the officers of the Command , when he assumed office, was for them , to rededicate themselves to their statutory responsibilities, be disciplined, and work according to the codes, procedures, departmental instructions ,and laws as enshrined in the Customs and Excise Management Act Cap C45 2004 as amended.
To show , that the officers and men have inculcated Comptroller Umar’s instructions , coupled with their capability , commitment to work , and the encouragement he has given to them , among other factors, have combined to make it possible for the Command to discharge its mandate effectively , since the few months that Comptroller Umar took over the management of the Command.
This is why the Command was able to impound 1,437 Kilograms of Cannabis Sativa , popularly known as Indian Hemp or Marijuana stuffed in 32 sacks worth N160m , as well as seized other Illegal Goods valued at N190m In duty paid value between February, 2022 , when Comptroller Umar assumed duty as the Controller, and May this year.
Some of the seizures and the value included 828 bags of foreign rice , worth N29, 684,000 in DPV, made up of 503 bags of foreign parboiled rice seized along Badagry waterways, with one wooden boat used for conveyance on Thursday April 7, 2022, and 136 bags of foreign be rice seized , at Oniru Beach on May 22, 2022 among others.
The Command also intercepted at Idiroko, Badagry, Bar-Beach and Sea side different smuggled items which contravene Section 46(c), 167 and 169 of CEMA Cap C45 LFN 2004 as amended 30 kegs of premium motor spirit (PMS) 8 Kegs of vegetable oil; 8 packs of spaghetti noodles; 250 sachets of pepper onion tomato 71 pairs of second hand shoes; 10 sacks of second hand clothings , and 4 Boats and 2 Engines as means conveyance.
To demonstrate the effectiveness of the Command , the seizure of the Cannabis Sativa was made in March 30, 2022 ,not long after the Comptroller took over the reins of office, as the officer.
Thus its officers, acting on credible intelligence, accosted the wooden boat carrying the Cannabis Sativa at Oko Aja Beach ,in Lagos State, took control of it , following which it transported it to its office in Lagos , inspected the content of the sack, and discovered that it contained the prohibited item.
However , as an attestation to the spirit of inter agency collaboration, which has been key in the success of the Command , Controller Umar had to, hand over the seized Cannabis Sativa, to the Commander, Marine Unit of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), as encouraged by the Customs Comptroller General, Colonel Hameed Ali (rtd).
To prove that the Command has a legal backing for embarking on the seizures , the activities of the Controller has thus been based on the Provisions of Section 149 (Powers to search vehicles/ships and Section 158 (Power to Patrol Freely) of Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA) Cap C45 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 as amended.
The Command’s success so far , has also been influenced by its effective use of intelligence , collaboration with other security agencies , particularly the National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency(NDLEA) , the National Agency for Food , Drugs Administration and Control(NAFDAC) and the logistic support from the Customs Headquarters.
However despite the feat that has been recorded by the Command, and as a credence to its doggedness in the anti-smuggling war, it is encouraging that it will continue to ensure that it pursues smugglers to their trenches, while it is also a good development that it has advised the smugglers to turn a new leaf and embrace legitimate trade, so that they can also contribute their own quota to the GDP of the Nigerian Economy.
Additionally, it is also good , that the Controller has been strengthening , the existing collaboration between it, and other sister agencies to achieve greater efficiency and curb the menace of smuggling, along the South Western waterways and creeks, while it has continued its engagement with the traditional and community leaders, as well proceeded to solicit their assistance to intensify their efforts at talking to their subjects to shun all acts of smuggling.
However , for the fact that Controller Umar has continued to operate an open door policy , to give a sense of belonging to all officers/men and instill discipline among them ,as well as engage in an intensive patrol and surveillance of the waterways and creeks the implication is that , the days of the smugglers , intending to ply their illicit trade on the waterways, within the jurisdiction of the Command are indeed numbered .