BY FUNMI ALUKO
The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has described the economic policies of neigbhouring countries, particularly their importation as largely unfair and inimical to the economic wellbeing of Nigeria.
While briefing the press yesterday at Seme on activities of the area command in relation to the bursting of an international syndicate that specializes in cross border criminalities, Customs Area Controller (CAC) of the Seme Border Command, Comptroller Dera Nnadi mni, lamented the slow inflow of lawful importation from Benin Republic sequel to the country’s perceived deliberate antagonistic policies because of Nigeria’s determination to block the passage of unapproved imports into Nigeria.
Given the breakdown of the command’s activities since assumption of office two weeks ago, the new area controller said “The dearth in import is as a result of the trade policy introduced in Republic of Benin which traders and indeed the Service consider hostile to Nigeria.”
He said regardless of any conspiracy, the NCS will continue to ensure it optimizes the bilateral and economic advantages of the Lagos-Abidjan Corridor, which he says is critical to the economic wellbeing of the sub-region and beyond, and in line with the expectation of its development partners, such as the European Union (EU).
Reviewing the activities of the command in the area of the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme (ETLS and Baggage Trade, he said:
“In line with keeping to that promise but bearing in mind the challenges of the Command as one that is still recovering from the effects of the border closure, the Command has facilitated the movement of 70 Trucks with fees amounting to N 1. 414, 665.0l collected.
“There were 81 baggage declarations with duty amounting to N 4, 520, 722. The items imported under this arrangement include food products and beverages produced within the sub-region.
“The Command reordered only 5 declarations of import within this period with a total of N13.383.104 paid as duty. The dearth in import is as a result of the trade policy introduced i Republic of Benin which traders and indeed the Service consider hostile to Nigeria” adding:
“122 export trucks bearing 3,770.49 metric tons of made in Nigeria cargo with Free On Board value of N523.660,496.80 kobo and National Export Supervision Scheme Fees of N2,618,302.10K”, was recorded.
So far, his thirteen (13) days on the saddle has been very eventful and surgical, which period has witnessed some of the quickest high profile achievements in the history of the service anti-smuggling function.
The 13 days fury resulted the interception of counterfeit USD6million been trafficked out of Nigeria at the Gbaji Checkpoint, in addition to the detection and arrest of six international passports and ten driving licenses, together with the arrest of the suspects.
The Maltese passports and driver’s licenses carrying the photograph of a European lady but with different names in all the passports and licenses, has a tell tale evidence of an international syndicate, involved in trans-border criminalities.
Asked about the implication of the involvement of the EU citizen and whether she will be prosecuted by Nigeria given the existing bilateral relationship between Nigeria and EU, Nnadi said it was too early to determine what would happen, assuring that actions would be based on findings through painstaking investigation.
His words: “The passports we have and the driving licenses we have actually belonged to (a European lady), the face and physical appearance on the passport, the person is supposedly a national of Malta Republic, which is a European nation. But she was not the one bearing the passports when we confiscated them, they were been borne by a Nigerian and a Beninesse, so we are not sure if they used her passport or photograph to commit this crime; or, whether she is actually a member of the syndicate; investigation is going to reveal that.
“But one other thing that is intriguing is that her photographs appeared in all the six passports, yet all the six passports bore different names with her photographs. Now all the six international driving licenses also bore her photographs but six different names that means, it is not an accident. She could be a regular collaborator.
“As per bilateral relations with EU, of course we have several bilateral and multilateral relations with EU. Even the building we are now is a product of one of such bilateral relations in 2013. EU have been supporting us in several ways to combat crimes within this corridor, so l don’t think the act of one EU citizen in alleged crime will translate into EU supporting crime within the corridor. However, bear in mind that until we identify who this face is and the level of her collaboration, we cannot actually say that she is a criminal, because we don’t know if the people we caught are using her identity to commit this crime.”
Also asked what the command will do to encourage officers involved in the spectacular interception, Nnadi explained that there is an existing reward system in the service, and all that he is required to do is to make recommendation to the headquarters, who according to him exercises the absolute authority and discretion about what to do.
He explained that management also recognizes the pressure officers are often exposed to compromise, as was the case with the seizures under review.
“As we all know, criminal elements will always seek to induce officers, as a matter of fact, upon arresting this fake currency, the two people that were arrested made attempt to induce officers with the sum of USD150,000. They actually promised that they will call their boss who was in Lagos to come down and give the officers the sum of genuine USD150,000; the officers refused and stood their ground.
“This is not the first time it is happening, l am going to recommend those officers to management and it is the prerogative of management to decide how to reward them. Recall that when l was DC Enforcement at Tin Can, a similar thing happened, we seized three containers of arms, officers were rewarded, some of them were promoted to the next rank, and some received letters of commendation.
“So management is not unaware of the need to motivate officers through outstanding performances and spectacular seizures like this”, he said.
Nnadi had on resumption of duty as the area controller pledged to adopt new strategies to boost trade while enforcing the nation’s anti-smuggling laws along the Abidjan Lagos Corridor (ALCO) in line with the ECOWAS protocols on free movement of goods and persons.
He listed other items seized by the command to include 55 donkey skins, petroleum products, fake flour products among others.
He explained that while two male suspects were arrested in connection with the fake dollars and international passports, respectively, adding that all the arrested suspects are currently in Customs custody, and are undergoing interrogation.
Speaking about the seizures he said, “In the last 13 days, the Command recorded milestones in its anti- smuggling operations. Some of the anti-smuggling landmarks by the Command include the seizure of fake $6m (Six Million) USD (equivalent of N2.763 Billion at exchange rate of N460.52) and the arrest of two suspects conveying the fake currency from Nigeria to the Republic of Benin.
“Two male suspects were arrested in connection with the crime and are in currently in our custody pending prosecution. The arrest was made at Gbaji checkpoint along the Seme corridor on the 31 of January, 2023.
“Also on the 31 of January, 2023 at a about 0530 hours, Officer on patrol along Gbetrome base intercepted Six (6) Maltese International Passports with the same picture of a lady but bearing different names. Two (2) Senegalese International Passports, Three (3) Togolese International Passports. Four (4) Republic of Benin International Passports. One (1) Republic of Niger International.
“Also arrested and seized 1300 by 30 liters jerry can of PMS equivalent 39.000 liters roughly over one fuel tanker of PMS with duty paid value of N9, 366.45 only. The products were seized along the creeks.
“Other items seized include 55 sacks containing 550 pieces of donkey skin with DPV OF N 11.371.511.”
While lamenting the danger internally protected species like donkey are exposed to through the illegal killing of the animal and the harvesting of their skins by ignorant and unpatriotic elements, the Seme Customs boss informed that the NCS will not relent in watching out for violation.
“The suspects caught with the donkey skin don’t even know the person they are supposed to deliver the consignment to. They said they were just paid and told to bring it to Cotonou, where their oga, a Chinese will meet them.
“They said they do not have the Chinese phone number, and that he has being the one calling them and that he was following their movement.”
Nnadi explained that the war against fuel smuggling is both a moral, legitimate and an economic one, he lamented that while Nigerians are experiencing product scarcity, some unscrupulous elements are smuggling it to foreign countries, noting that the NCS has no problem with the legitimate distribution and consumption of fuel within border communities.
“Every Nigeria trader in petroleum products has the right to move products, if a person is carrying petroleum product to his house, you don’t have to stop him, this is a frontier, until you are very sure the person is about to cross the border, you have to intercept, that is our responsibility.
“If we say every petroleum products leaving Badagry shouldn’t leave, then we are been insensitive to the needs of Nigerians who live at the border communities. All we need to do is to remain vigilant, so long as the products are consumed within Nigeria, we don’t have any problem with that, but the moment you make attempt to move them outside Nigeria like, we will stop you; like the ones we just seized that were taken to the creek with a view to crossing them outside through the waterways.”