BY EGUONO ODJEGBA
In a clear demonstration of its resolve to achieve a delicate balancing required to drive trade facilitation while at the same time maintaining national security, the new leadership of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has scrapped the Comptroller General of Customs Strike Force, even as a total of 31 guns plus a cache of ammunitions were intercepted at various formations within the first half of July 2023 in the South West command.
While two suspects arrested in connection with the arms smuggling are undergoing interrogation under the customs service custody, the new Comptroller General of Customs (CGC), Bashir Wale Adeniyi MFR said the arms and ammunition, including the suspects will be handed over to the relevant authority as soon as customs conclude its preliminary investigation.
This is even as a directive from the Office of the new CGC vide EII/2023CIRCULAR.004: DISSOLUTION OF CGC STRIKE FORCE TEAM dated 17 July 2023, explained that the action is in line with the reforms of the new administration and consistent with the implementation of President Bola Tinubu administration’s renewed hope agenda.
The circular signed on behalf of the CGC by the deputy Comptroller General Of Customs, Enforcement, Investigation and Intelligence (EII), Mohammed Abba-Kura, directed the leaders of the various teams to hand over all materials including logistics under them to the zonal Federal Operations Unit (FOU) under which they operated hitherto.
The circular reads: “I am directed to convey the Comptroller-General of Customs’ (CGC) approval for the immediate dissolution of the CGC’s Strike Force Teams. To this end, all officers under the teams are by this circular directed to return to their Area Commands or Units where they were drawn from.
“SF Team Coordinators in respective zones (A, B, C & HQ) are to ensure the following:
“All Arms and Ammunitions are to be properly handed over to respective Area Commands/ Units/ Headquarters where they were signed from.
“All operational vehicles are to be handed over to Controllers Federal Operation Units (FOU) and returns forwarded to Headquarters respectively. Coord HQ SF Team should retire operational vehicles under his team to Comptroller Transport & Logistics.”
“Records of detentions, seizures, cases in court and any other vital record/ information are to be handed to Controller FOUs across the Zones while Coord HQ SF Team should retire all records under his custody to the office of DCG E, 1&1.”
In addition coordinators of the various teams together with their officers and men were directed to revert to the commands from where they deployed.
“While extending the CGC’s commendation and appreciation for the services rendered by the SF Teams, you are to ensure strict compliance with immediate effect, please.”
Speaking on the renewed operational strategies and reform initiative by the new leadership demonstrated by the new vigour and offensive within the past two weeks, Adeniyi at a press briefing yesterday at the FOU Zone A Lagos said:
“Since assuming the role of Acting Comptroller General, our dedicated officers and men have demonstrated unwavering commitment to their responsibilities. Their diligence and perseverance has been the cornerstone of our operations. Our actions within the NCS have been driven by a deep sense of purpose and guided by the mantra of renewed hope, which underpins the current administration’s vision. “We recognize the significance of our role in contributing to the overall objectives of the President Tinubu led Administration, as articulated in the Road Map of the Policy Advisory Council document. The declaration of a state of emergency in revenue generation and national security has further aligned our activities with the government’s overarching goals.”
Giving the breakdown of of the seizures of arms and ammunition, the customs boss said the increased tempo of offensive is tailored at combating smuggling and to raise the overall performance in national security.
“Pursuant to this commitment, I stand before you today to highlight the recent achievements of the NCS in our ongoing efforts to suppress smuggling and safe guard national security. Some of our dedicated and diligent officers uncovered some smuggled arms and ammunition while on duty at various Commands and formations.
“On the 5th of July 2023, during a joint operation with the Nigeria Police, the Department of State Security, the National Drug Law Enforcement and Administration, and the Customs Intelligence Unit at the Ports Terminal and Multi Services Limited Command, a thorough physical examination of a 40ft container was conducted. The examination revealed the concealment of 10 dangerous arms and various rounds of live ammunition inside plastic drums.”
He listed the seizures to include 3 new Pump Action rifles and one new unit of an armed rifle and 6 new different makes of pistols, which consist of the following: One new millennium G2 pistol, One new sarsilmaz SAR-9X pistol, One new Lugger Security-9 pistol, One new Taurus Banbridge G3C pistol, One new SCCY CPX-2 pistol, and One new Taurus (63 pistol); plus 14 empty magazines and 442 rounds of live ammunition.
Adeniyi said two suspects, a clearing agent, Mr Shokunbi Olanrewaju of Shooler Global International Ltd and one Mr Joseph Nwadiodor, who was expected to take delivery of the container, were arrested and in customs custody in connection with the seizure.
“Similarly, within the same period, the Tincan Island Port Command of the Service, while acting on credible intelligence; a 1x40ft container was also subjected to 100% physical examination with the relevant security agencies at the ports. The physical examination uncovered 18 arms, packets of cartridges and rounds of live ammunition inside plastic drums.”
The arms and ammunition comprise of 6 different makes of pistols; Two (2) Sar9 Sarsilmarz Pistols, One (1) Ruger American Pistol and Three (3) Taurus G3c – Bainbridge Pistols).
Others are 12 different makes of riffles: Five (5) Rz17hd Rifles, One (1) Gamo Rifle, Five (5) Pump Action Rifles and One (1) Rz17 Tactical Rifle: plus 10 packets of cartridges, 2 packets of 9mm ammunition, 100 rounds of 9mm Winchester ammunition, 1 carton of Frontier cartridges, and 2 packets of Buckshot ammunition.
Adeiniyi also listed seizures recorded at the Idiroko border axis, being part of the recent haul in armsand ammunition.
“Again, during a routine patrol along Owode/Ajilete Axis of Ogun State by officers of the Joint Border Patrol Team Sector 2, on Wednesday 12 July 2023, intercepted an unregistered Toyota Camry loaded with six sacks of charcoal, which was used to conceal three (3) pump action riffles with 174 live cartridges.
“The driver of the vehicle, who knew the content he was conveying vis-a-vis the attendant consequences of his action before the law; jumped into the bush and escaped arrest.”
Assuring that the commitment is total with no let or hindrance in the current wave of offensive, the new customs helmsman gave put the total of guns intercepted at thirty-one (31) within the first two weeks of July 2023.
“Investigation into the seizures is inconclusive. The outcome of our investigations together with the seizures will be handed over to the appropriate authorities for further investigation and prosecution.
“Illicit arms obtained by non-state actors have boosted the proliferation of small arms and ammunition across the country. This accounts for the increase in violent kidnappings, robberies, and mass killings in society.
“Let me state at this point that the Service has re-strategized its operations, while our officers have raised their levels of professionalism, and have keyed into the mantra of renewed hope aimed at facilitating legitimate trade. In doing this, we are assuring all compliant traders and importers that they have nothing to fear.
“We have re-injected new tactics to tackle the economic and security menace caused by recalcitrant importers and their agents. The Service’s human resources and logistics are collectively harnessed to combat and prevent economic sabotage.
“I implore importers and agents to be patriotic by making sincere declarations, and to be properly guided by the import/export prohibition lists. I also urged the public to see security as a collective responsibility. We will appreciate information of illegal importation and cross border movement of dangerous weapons used to create mayhem in our nation.”