Brisk Waterways Smuggling East of the Niger
Brisk Waterways Smuggling East of the Niger
BY EGUONO ODJEGBA
Despite reported unsparing efforts by the Customs Comptroller General, Col. Hameed Ali, retired, to reduce corruption to the barest minimum, reposition and reform the system, there are indications that marine operational areas South East and South-South geopolitical zones reek of high profile waterways smuggling, robbing the country of hundreds of millions of naira due from revenue leakages.
Facts emerging indicate that above has been made worse by the continued criminal official neglect of the administrative, infrastructural and operational assets of the entire marine unit believed to have hit the zero bottom, following successive administrations apathy.
Top on the concerns are hints that arms and ammunition believed to have been concealed in some of the smuggled commodities like rice may have steadily and illegally found their way into the country; in spite of the existence of the Eastern Marine Command of the Nigeria Customs Service in charge of our territorial waters in the eleven states of the zones, upwards to Adamawa through Taraba State.
Pinnacle Time gathered on good authority that the said smuggling has been on for a long time already, but appeared to have grown exponential in the last couple of months. The situation is believed to have been made worse not only by the sad tales of the EMC larrge scale abandonment of its territorial jurisdiction to waterborne criminals, but even more worrisome is the command’s alleged official compromise and collusion with smugglers in locations where it is believed the command still maintain some semblance of presence.
According to highly placed and reliable sources, items smuggled across the waterways comprise largely of imported rice, imported drinks, frozen fishes and poultry products, imported seasoning, stock fish; and other consumables such as fruits, tomato, vegetable oil and medicaments.
Background checks by our reporter confirmed that the command lacks the basic operational infrastructure and logistics including sea going combat/patrol boats, as well as qualified professional marine officers; a situation that has forced its leadership to rely almost wholly on the goodwill of naval operatives, especially those attached to the Eastern Naval Command Calabar and its unit, the Naval Forward Operating Base, Ibaka, Akwa Ibom State. Our sources informed that it is the Navy that does 90percent of the pitiable quantity of seizures, mostly of rice, vegetable oil and petroleum products in jerry Cans and handover to the customs.
The Navy’s assistance which is believed to be based on special request mostly is said to be without prejudice to the existing conspiracy between officers of the EMC and smugglers. Interestingly, there were indications that the deal between customs and smugglers at the marine command is loose ended, depending on the material circumstances.
The conspiracy is reportedly foolproof and embedded in official propaganda that Niger Delta militants have taken over the command’s operational bases and its entire territorial stretch. While one account informed that some station officers’ deals directly with smugglers and make returns through Special Assistants to the CAC, another account informed that some smugglers have direct access to the CAC. It is believed that those who have settled with the CAC and his top management chiefs also settle the station officers, who in turn sorts out their men to ensure there are no conflicts of interest anywhere to hinder the passage of such cargo.
The settlement sum is believed to be in the region of four million naira per month. This done, the command operatives at the various stations turn their eyes the other way while smugglers have field day. Our reporter also gathered that there is no hard rules to the settlement approach as some station officers are given ‘returns target’ with the additional task of fending for operatives under their care, particularly in terms of feeding and accommodation.
Occasional fail or missed returns by the station officers are expected to be made up as soon as possible, or the defaulting OC risk been reassigned back to head office in Port Harcourt.
Sadly, the command’s only sea going patrol boat reportedly parked up about three years ago, having undergone consistent and intensive remodeling to keep it precariously afloat for more than ten years, and over fifteen years of its expected discharge from water. Last year under the threat of been washed away by sea erosion, the command reportedly towed it to safe anchor in Brass. Left with only light passenger water crafts which operatives’ converted to ‘patrol boats’, they engage in occasional sightseeing along the shores, an exercise the operatives officially, gleefully and seriously tag ‘patrol’.
In reality however, the command’s occasional need for these barefaced patrol given the circumstances of absolute lack in operational logistics can best be illustrated as official suicide. The reliance on boats outside of its specifications, with their so-called marine operatives who are ill equipped and with no single standard patrol boat or navigational or combat kits, demonstrates our official mental derangement. It’s a culture of impunity that requires urgent mental evaluation for everyone involved.
Usually dependable sources informed that the command does not even have a functional armoury, and that whenever the need arises for some serious patrols and or engagements, the leadership borrow guns from sister commands, which are returned after such exercises.
The sorry state of the EMC is reportedly rooted on the activities of militants in the early and mid 2000s, which routinely raided its operational bases, carting away arms and ammunition. Sources hint that the situation was made worse as over 98percent of affected officers as well as those deployed for operations are general duty officers with no basic knowledge in marine operations, be it navigation, tactical maneuvers, combat or defence.
Thus to a large extent, personnel at the service’s marine commands, stations and units have for many years been nothing but cannon fodder for smugglers, sea robbers and militants, including rough sea. Between 2015 and 2018, the EMC alone reportedly lost over thirteen officers at sea. While some were victims of smuggling and sea robbery attacks, some drowned under inclement weather and storms. Just last year, three were believed to have gone on ‘patrol’ apparently ‘naked’ at the Bayelsa/Delta axis and never returned.
Arms and ammunition reportedly also gets lost at such occasions, aside those believed lost to occasional ambush by militants. The EMC sad tale no doubt conveys the quality of leadership the service has been saddled with in the past twenty years, which from all account paid little or no attention to the growth of the system. Perhaps the NCS Marine Department is the worst example of national service neglect by successive administration. There is a criminal record of officers training, posting and deployment; criminal record of operational assets, maintenance and repairs, lack of accountability and lack of correction, growing mismanagement, embezzlement and misapplication of human capita and resources.
Perhaps, above tales of woes makes it understandable why the EMC has fallen into disrepute and official scandal. Repeated efforts to clarify some of the issues with the command proved abortive. While the Command PRO, Abuba refused to grant our reporter audience when he stopped over at her office; the CAC, Comptroller Eldore did not also make himself accessible, as his aides also denied our reporter entreaties to fill the visitor’s form since according to them, there is a standing order not to allow journalists in his office. Subsequent telephone calls and text messages sent to them on the matter did not receive any response.
While the command remains adrift, it is not difficult to understand that officers and men are also taking advantage of the current official laid back attitude to erect their individual financial empires, by unscrupulously shoring up their scientific financial structures through cultivating working relationship with smugglers in major stations like Oron, Bonny, Calabar, Warri etc.