FOU Zone A Records Less Container Seizures
…As Ejibunu Shifts Focus
BY EGUONO ODJEGBA
Non compliant importers and clearing agents in the Lagos ports are currently having a field day as the Federal Operations Unit Zone A Ikeja established to act as counter intervention unit, and to mop up leakages from the ports and land borders appears to have resolved to look the other way.
To foreclose suspicion of any sort however, the Unit Controller, Deputy Hussein Kehinde Ejibunu, regarded as an uncommon strategist and tactician, is believed to have succeeded in keeping headquarters busy with his latest sports and entertainment in taking the fight to smugglers at their supposed hide outs along border axis and communities.
The obvious permutation that the customs controller general, Col. Hammed Ali (Rtd) who is believed to be easily attracted to reports of offensive, raid and material combat to subdue anyone involved in acts of smuggling, seem to have worked well as the customs boss and his management team appears not to have bothered about the gradual and steady drop in the statistics of intervention coming from the seaports, lately.
Just last week, Chairman of the National Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) 100% Compliance Team, Alh. Ibrahim Tanko raised alarm over alleged sharp practices in the release of imported vehicles at the Lagos ports, which he said has resulted into huge revenue losses for the federal government.
Tanko had in an interview alleged that officers of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) were conniving with freight forwarders and vehicle importers to cheat the federal government of revenue through manipulation of the Pre arrival Assessment Report (PAAR).
He explained that some freight forwarders are conniving with valuation and releasing officers to use ex-factory price as value payable on used vehicles. Amid such damning allegation, one expects that the FOU Ikeja should have tripled its scorecard in the seizure of vehicles released under questionable circumstances.
Ejibunu didn’t give any such indication when he addressed the media last week.
While boasting of making inroads into supposed volatile areas within the border axis and communities, in which the lives of officers and men of the service is now equated with the number of bags of rice seized; it is worrisome how the service has suddenly acquired or developed the strange facility for war mongering and the boastful presumption that suspects are justifiably expendable; and that customs has the unquestionable powers to identify locations and raid same: main and kill whatever or whoever crosses its path, if need be.
Unfortunately, this unnecessary boast and official arrogance has taking the lives of many officers as well as those of civilians under poorly executed operations. While customs work continues unhindered, and the nonchalance attitude of war mongering controllers who orders such ill planned operations that goes awry remain in their offices unconcerned and enjoying life and bragging; families of victims remains the ultimate losers.
Last month May 2022, Ejibunu disclosed that the unit made seizures worth N818million and recovered revenue receipt amounting to N64million; hit is doubtful if the headquarters have undertaken a comparative analysis of the figures to understand the shift in the context of this appraisal, and to note the apparent leakages thus created.
Customs anti-smuggling operation shouldn’t be about government and the perceived enemy, but about bridging all gaps including unproductive and shallow fiscal policies and executive orders.
Responsible governments have duty to their citizens, who are first and foremost protected against unjust policies that gives rise to smuggling and anti economic tendencies. Nigeria Customs focus should not be about mowing down citizens but about exercising its duty with a huge sense of responsibility, with courtesy, with utmost caution and common sensical approach, and far from demonstration of brigandage and open rascality.
The current FOU approach which tends to treat Nigerian citizens as enemy that must be subdued and possibly eliminated is not doing the image of the service and its leadership any good.
When reporters asked the acting FOU boss during his last press briefing what accounted for observed improvement in his anti-smuggling tactics, he talked about how he mobilized the army and a third of his work force just to carry out an anti-smuggling raid; not confronting insurgents and bandits who seized scores of Nigerians from the Kaduna-Abuja railway tragedy.
When another reporter asked: ‘It seems there are significant improvements in your tactics’, Ejibunu responded:
“Yes. Let me be specific, Oja Odan is a highly hostile and volatile area to customs officers, but we were there with about 18 Hilux vehicles and 30 soldiers…”
Although he added “…and nobody fired a shot for the entire duration of the evacuation, and no single person came to attack”, his body language and operational nuances has continued to amplify customs attempt to stamp citizens as enemies that must be crushed even in their homes; in the name of fighting economic smuggling.
Hear him, “I think we were well prepared for that, and when they saw this, they decided that staying away was the best thing to do, and we carried out our duty peacefully.”
Also while speaking of the recent seizure of rice along the Badagry waterways, the FOU Controller exhibited a behaviour that is clearly not within the context of the customs collective effort; by seeking to go it alone until confronted with an insurmountable challenge.
Disclosing the seizure of 16 trucks of smuggled rice during the presentation of the unit’s activities for the month of May 2022 last week, Ejibunu disclosed how the customs nearly lost identified smuggled imported rice due to some sort of ego trip.
“These 16 truckload of foreign parboiled rice were intercepted both on water and on land. In fact, I will like to focus on the one on water, because it was an intelligence that was put together by our unit. We got the intelligence that the boats were on water, and my men were on land for three days, awaiting discharge. But upon noticing that my men were around, the smugglers couldn’t discharge and they stayed on water.
“I had to contact the Controller, Western Marine, who eventually sent three boats loaded with thirty men. With the arrival of these boats, both the marine and the FOU synergized and went on water, and five boats were apprehended. The seizures were brought here, while the boats are domiciled with the marine unit.”
Apparently this behaviour is not in keeping with the CGC’s goal of having a uniform synergy that de-emphasizes person and office. Whereas there is no doubt that the acting unit controller is hard working and committed, customs must understand that all efforts must align with the overall interest, which must not give room to self serving tendencies.
The time wasted wanting to go it alone instead of timely alerting the marine command was sufficient to have lost the smugglers and the reported five canoe load of rice.
If the headquarters can be giving intelligence to command and control posts, there is no reason the later shouldn’t do same amongst themselves without entertaining fear of been excluded from the operation.