But for the quick intervention of the customs comptroller-general’s anti-smuggling team of the Federal Operations Unit (FOU), Zone A, Ikeja, the the federal government’s policy banning importation of foreign rice, vehicles would have flopped. YUSUF BABALOLA writes.
Lagos is the commercial capital of Nigeria while the south- west plays host to the largest city in Africa- Ibadan. Lagos and Ogun states also play host to the highest number of factories and industries in Nigeria.
Also, because Nigeria operates an import-dependent economy, huge numbers of raw materials or finished goods such as foreign parboiled rice and vehicles, pharmaceutical products are imported into the country through the Lagos seaports.
Until the federal government banned importation of vehicles and rice through the land borders, Nigerians brought in most of their vehicles or rice through the land borders from neighbouring countries. For instance, the south-west has the busiest seaports – Apapa and Tin Can Island Port and land borders – Seme Border and Idiroko where these goods are imported into the country.
When the federal government realised that the country was losing huge amounts of money to importation through the land borders especially the south-west borders, it decided to put restrictions on importation of vehicles and foreign rice to encourage investment in local rice farming.
The government had bailed out rice farmers across the country with huge sums of money in other to make Nigeria self-sufficient in rice and therefore, believe the local producers needed to be protected from foreign importation for the investment to be worthwhile.
However, to protect local rice farmers and local production of vehicles in Nigeria, the federal government banned importation of foreign parboiled rice and vehicles -used and new- through the land borders nationwide and restricted the importation to the seaports.
With the new policy, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) was poised to implement the law and make sure it suppressed smuggling of the banned items through the land borders. In doing that, the border commands were saddled with the responsibility of ensuring those banned items are not allowed into the country as directed by the government.
But, securing the south-west borders -Seme, Idiroko, Saki, among others is a nightmare for the customs commands. For example, the Seme border, Lagos is the busiest of all border stations in Nigeria followed by Idiroko border, Ogun and Saki border, in Oyo State, but they have always been porous as most banned items still found their way into Nigeria territory.
But, for the lapses of the border commands, the Federal Operations Unit (FOU), Zone A have always been intercepting banned items that have evaded the border commands. The unit headed by Compt. Mohammed Aliyu last week unveiled seizures of new and used vehicles, drugs, donkey skin, foreign parboiled rice and other prohibited items.
Mohammed stressed that the anti-smuggling war of the unit was yielding positive results with the number of seizures recorded within a short period as the smuggled items seized were estimated at a duty paid value (DPV), of N1.7 billion.
The CAC, who frowned at nefarious activities of smugglers showcased seizures of 1157 cartons of codeine syrup, 348 cartons of diclofenac tablets, 1056 cartons of chest and lungs tablets, about 49 cartons of paracetamol injection, among others. Other seizures displayed were donkey skin, cannabis sativa, used tyres, textile materials and other prohibited items.
The most shocking part was when Comptroller Aliyu revealed the callous attitude of the dare-devil smugglers carrying rice in cement trucks meant for construction work, thereby making the item poisonous for human consumption. On May 22, the unit also seized two containers of donkey hides valued at N15billion in Lagos.
The controller of the unit, Compt. Mohammed, said the animal skin were discovered at a location where they were being dried for export. He described it as an item under export prohibition aimed at preventing the animals from extinction.
Mohammed said the whole seizures showed to journalists including vehicles and drugs were worth N16,082,092,706. The drugs,according to him, were intercepted on the road from a border area in Ogun State. He reiterated that Codeine drugs were prohibited from being sold across the counter due to incessant abuses and smuggling it into the country would endanger the lives of citizens.
“We also made seizures of Codeine that is prohibited but was concealed with pain relief drugs without NAFDAC approved number valued at N101.6 million.
“Within one hour, our officers seized 13 vehicles last week. Now we have a total of 29 exotic cars including a 2019 Land Cruiser. Total duty paid value for the seized vehicles is N712,172,706.
Also, in November, 2018 the FOU unit also recovered the sum of N220.03 million from Demand Notices (DNs) on vehicles and other general goods that had evaded full payment at seaports and others that were smuggled.
According to Mohammed, the seized items include 22 exotic vehicles with an approximate DPV of N1.18 billion. These comprised four bullet-proof Lexus Jeep LX570 (2016), three bullet-proof Land Cruiser Jeeps (2016), and bullet-proof Mercedes Benz G63 (2014) and S550 (2015).
Others were three Toyota Hilux (2018), two Toyota Highlander (2018), a unit each of Toyota Rav4 (2015), Toyota Prado (2018), Toyota Land Cruiser (2016), Toyota Corolla, Toyota Fortuner (2017), Toyota Sequoia and Lexus RX 350, among others.
According to him, “While some of the vehicles were intercepted at Ogere and along Ijebu Ode Expressway in Ogun State, the bullet-proof vehicles were trailed and evacuated from some private residences at Victoria Island based on credible information.”
On April 17, the unit again seized smuggled items worth over N2 billion between the first quarter of 2019. Top on the seized items includes banned drugs such as smuggled vehicles, 13,810 bags of foreign rice, Tramadol, Codeine and Diclofenac, Paracetamol Injection without NAFDAC number, chest and lung tablets.
The seizures included 113 units of exotic vehicles with duty paid value (DPV) of N1.4 billion, 600 cartons of codeine syrup valued at N240,000,000, 49 cartons of Paracetamol Injection with duty paid value of N39,200,00 13810 bags of foreign rice with DPV at N190, 961320, Indian hemp, vegetable oil, frozen poultry products, tomato paste used tyres among others.
“ Most of these vehicles were intercepted along the roads while some at car mart, through intelligence report. Compt. Aliyu led FOU A, in December 2018 also intercepted another 58 vehicles, 39,664 bags of 50kg rice and others with an approximate duty paid value (DPV) of N5.1 billion.
The seizures, recorded from August 17 to December 10, 2018 comprised 34 exotic brands still under detention and 24 others already seized, as well as 39,664 bags (66 trailers) of 50kg foreign parboiled rice.
Also seized were 3,252 cartons of frozen poultry products, 2,887 jerry cans of vegetable oil, 3,792 parcels of Indian Hemp, 5x20ft containers of unprocessed wood, 2,520 bales of used clothing, 710 cartons of tramadol, and 17 sacks (510kg) of pangolin scale, among others.
Commenting on the performance within the period under review, Compt. Aliyu restated the unit’s determination to succeed at all cost as the nation’s second layer of defence, insisting that they would aggressively pursue the enforcement of federal government’s policy on self-sufficiency in food production.
Others include revamping the nation’s economic recovery plan, strengthening national security and ameliorating the potential health hazards and negative impact of smuggled items to the average Nigerian. To succeed in this task, he urged all stakeholders to comply with all clearance procedures and extant laws.
Lamenting the dire consequences of illicit substances intercepted by the customs, including the recent successive seizures of tramadol and other regulated drugs at different ports in the country, Aliyu warned that no one knows the potential victims of the dangerous drugs.
As part of its contribution to the health, security and well-being of the country, he said the FOU Zone A, Ikeja was offering citizens “the greatest New Year gift of the modest sacrifice by its officers and men in combating the menace of these illicit substances to protect the future of Nigeria’s endangered youths.”
He insisted that the unit would maintain total compliance to ensure “effective revenue generation, suppression of smuggling, facilitation of legitimate trade and protection of national security.”
Mohammed added that the unit would intensify its onslaught against smuggling to suppress it for the protection of the economy and prevention of danger to live.
However, a clearing agent, Uche Nwadiala, have however applauded the customs area controller, for enforcing the government’s policy ban. According to Nwadiala, Comptroller Aliyu is a fine officer who has been a nightmare to smugglers in the south-West.
He said, “He is one of the finest officers in the Service. He is a professional to the core and a nightmare to smugglers in the zone. If not for him, smugglers would have overrun the zone with contrabands.”
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