Silhouette: The Apapa Customs N10bn tramadol seizure
BY EGUONO ODJEGBA
When the Apapa Command of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) penultimate week announced the seizure of tramadol consignments made on two separate occasions, the command leadership left out essential profiles that should provide a comprehensive overview of the operations, which alone is expected to help to properly situate the entry and or report; with all the facts intact.
When officials are economical with operational facts, chances are that investigations may be impeded, with a further possibility of losing essential evidences that should serve the cause of justice.
It is the duty of government to protect the national economy against unwarranted intellectual attacks, by ensuring that officials that horde or hide information are held accountable for been accessory to facts of economic crimes.
The Customs Area Controller, Compt. Yusuf Malanta Ibrahim had on Thursday June I6/I7 2022, announced the seizure of 150 cartons of tramadol, said to contain 4,500,000 capsules of 120mg; he put the value at N3.7billion.
According to Yusuf the drugs were discovered in two terminals under the Command, even as he explained that while 100 cartons were uncovered at the Jaelith Bonded Terminal, the remaining 50 cartons of same brand and milligram were found at ESS Libra Terminal, all at the Ikorodu area of Lagos.
Speaking on the seizure of another 20ft container of tramadol the following day, June 17, 2022, Yusuf said the container with registration number PCIU 0183241 was laden with 69 cartons of 250mg and 81 cartons of 250mg tramadol, respectively. The 20ft container was picked up at the APM Terminal Apapa.
The Apapa customs boss however triggered the bedlam when he failed to give the value of these sets of seizures, explaining that he needed time to carry out further investigations in other to be able to compute the accurate value.
It is perhaps the first time the customs is erecting an investigative tower to determine the value of goods it has seized, and manifestly in its custody. Despite that values are dependent on unalterable classifications, Yusuf explained that until the declaration of a consignment already seized by his officers are made, he would not be able to provide an accurate value for them.
Yusuf added that unless and until the consignee of the offensive import is located, his office cannot determine the cost of the seized goods; even as he promised to utilize the bill of laden of the shipment to trace the importer, in other to determine the value of the seized items.
Whilst pleading handicap to computing the value of the seized drugs, the customs area boss however engaged reporters with tales of the movements and apparent deliberate rigmarole by the Ship Master from one sovereign port to another, simply to obviate intelligence about the port of origin.
He said, “We are going into full investigation to determine the worth of the drugs because a declaration has not been put in, we don’t just want to take chances, or found out that the container has been transited. The moment we get the information, we go straight to apprehend the container and examine it.
“However, we have a bill of laden which is a cardinal point for declaration and this is where we are tracing the consignee. The product started from Hong Kong, to China, it had gone to four ports of call before coming to Nigeria.”
Explaining how his officers were able to track the offensive containers, Yusuf said: “Credible intelligence received on the content of the cargo proved positive and the containers were tracked, traced and intercepted by our officers from the port of loading to the port of destination.
“This intelligence is mainly received due to the service inter-departmental cooperation, collaboration and synergy within the government agencies in the port. We all know that we cannot do it all alone.”
That this is coming at a time the customs valuation unit can close its eye and provide the range of price lists tied to import types, speaks volume about possible official compromise within the system.
Nevertheless the reluctance of the command to volunteer all information regarding the seizures, findings by our reporter indicate that the 150 cartons of tramadol is estimated at over N6billion; bringing the combine worth of the seizures of tramadol announced by the command in June 16, 2022 and June 17, 2022 to about N10billion.
Despite reports of recurring profiling of these offensive imports through known ocean carriers and the involvement of known seaport terminals, the service is believed to have shrunk back from applying relevant sections of the Customs and Excise Management Act, CEMA, to promote deterrence.
The customs will spare no effort in harassing the daylight out of innocent Nigerians within the radius of sting operations and raids, which sometimes results in shooting and fatalities. The same customs service with tongues in cheek, walk past offensive goods carrier ships, their agents and evidently conniving terminals.
During the handover of the offensive drugs, Commander of the Apapa Port, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Mr. Ameh Inalegwu disclosed that following the Agency’s rejuvenated war on drug smuggling, the street value of prohibited drugs have shot up, noting that a carton of tramadol that used to sell for N8m has gone up to N25m.
Inalegwu said the Buba Marwa led Agency has no plans to relent in its pressure to reduce the incidence of drug smuggling to the barest minimum. To achieve this, NDLEA and all agencies incidental to the fight against drug smuggling and other forms of economic crimes, should strive to embrace transparency; and to avoid tendencies that will obfuscate the facts and clarity of each and every case been handled by them.