The Acting Controller of Customs, Ogun 1 Command, Ahmadu Bello Shuaibu says that smuggling which some border community people have taken as means of livelihood is having a negative impact on their overall development; and urged the border community youths to have the courage to change the narrative for the collective benefits of their people.
Shuaibu who was fielding questions from journalists during a press briefing last week to showcase the command’s seizure for October 2023, equally told reporters that under his watch, there is an increasing sense of partnership, noting that customs officers and men are at the border communities to do their job.
The Ogun 1 customs boss also said that the command has adopted other tools of engagement like enlightenment, persuasion and tactful enforcement in implementing its anti-smuggling operations and have de-emphasized open confrontation that often leads to shooting and regrettable fatality.
Eguono Odjegba was there and report. Excerpt:
Tell us about these seizures and the impact of community involvement in your anti smuggling task
These seizures are outcomes of our persistent patrol and zero compromise in achieving our mandate as a command. We assure the general public of our unwavering dedication to discharge our statutory responsibility with due diligence and utmost sense of patriotism. We operate an open door policy to accommodate the support of patriotic Nigerians through sharing of useful information and other forms of information that may require our attention on legitimate trade or on our activities generally.
Let me use this opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to stemming the tide of smuggling in Ogun state and warn recalcitrant smugglers or would-be smugglers to steer clear of smuggling activities or face the consequences. Failure to heed this warning awaits them the full wrath of the law. Be that as it may, we want the gentlemen of the press to help escalate to the entire inhabitants of Ogun State that it is not business as usual. We are here to do our work and carry out our mandate. They should find us as equal partners if they resist the temptation of smuggling.
We are all Nigerians; we have no country other than this Nigeria. We must protect this country, we must contribute our quota, this country has great potential .The youths equally have great potentials, we urge you to help us escalate that the youths should desist from smuggling. They should look at their community and border communities, the smuggling chain, look at the reality, no development. They don’t go to school, people dwelling here have chances of vacancies in their community local government, yet, there is nobody to occupy or fill such vacancies because they have depended solely on smuggling.
If they go to school, and they happen to represent their communities very well, they will bring development to their communities and by so doing help in enhancing good life not only for themselves but equally for the entire community. We on our part as customs officers have made it that we are not ready to kill anybody because of smuggling but we shall make sure that we make them face the full wrath of the law and by so doing, they should know that they have no country other than Nigeria. They should have a change of attitude, have a change of mind, we will continually be on our guard.
The end of year period is usually a time of increased trade and smuggling activities. How prepared are you for this?
We are already in the ’ember’ months; we are not unaware of their tricks and desperation to increase their smuggling activities. What you have seen today is just a little of what we have done in October. In Abeokuta office and warehouse, we have about 23 vehicles , some are means of conveyance . In fact, there are Cannabis Sativa too which we have evacuated to the headquarters.
At the time of these seizures did you engage in any kind of force with the people involved?
We have gotten all the needed support from all the border communities we visited, both from the traditional institutions as well as the youths. Once you are fair and just in your dealings, chances are that your message will be accepted by majority because you are speaking from your mind. They saw us as partners in progress. They have heard that we have informed officers not to kill but officers must be alert on duty. We deploy intelligence to where these goods are parked. We go and evacuate so that once they are busy bringing out these contrabands from the creeks, they move on to supply to the owners, they are not the owners. If you engage pigs in wrestling, you will be dirty. Our officers are well trained, they work based on instruction. We allow them to do the hard work, instead of engaging them in shooting which could result in unintended consequences, we go at our convenience to evacuate and seize in line with the law. Secondly, we are talking about arrest of suspects, we are now leveraging on technology in the discharge of our mandate. If we kill, the pendulum will swing in their favour. Custom officers are being tried regularly for using the arms and ammunitions given to us for enforcement and defence, in the event of either maiming or killing. We have moved ahead of them…the economic havoc that befalls those investing in smuggling is huge. We are focused on achieving that, most people you see fighting customs for smuggled items are not the owners, some are thugs. The owners are in their lodges and homes resting. The more they bring, the more we seize and they will run out of financial stability. That is why right now, we don’t hear much about seizing them or arresting them. We want them to do the real job then we cause them financial misfortunes.
Three months ago, the CG of Nigeria Customs and Benin Republic signed an agreement to work together, to what extent has that agreement cascaded between you and your counterpart at the Benin Republic end of the border?
They are cooperating with us, we have had several meetings with the Customs of Benin Republic and I will say it’s very fruitful. If not for changes at their own side we would have met again.
There have been statements from above that the borders are partially opened, while some say it is open, some say only rice or vehicles cannot come in. Have you enlightened the community or importers and stakeholders as a whole on what should come in and what should not come in.
The border is open, there is restriction of goods that are not allowed to come in. For instance, government is working on making automobile come through the border but it has not been lifted. We have been carrying out enlightenment. When I took over, the youth organization in this community organized their yearly activity which Customs sponsored and a lot of papers were delivered. We share ideas and advice each other and tell them what is going on and what should be done.
We hobnob, we advise each other, we tell them what is going on and what should be done. Even our visitation to tertiary institutions, brought opportunities of expanding the scope in which the youths of the border communities were represented. As at now, we have been dealing with imports, genuine imports. If you hear someone say the border is closed, the person is not engaged in genuine trade and if you wish to know, we have not stopped there. Very soon, we will come to the border to make jingles in the air in English, French and various Nigerian languages. The jingles will constantly enlighten and remind people on what is prohibited or allowed.
You spoke about collaboration with sister agencies and you listed a number of them. I expect that the Nigerian Police Force is part of the sister agencies you collaborate with. Between Atan and Idiroko, I counted roughly 19 Police Checkpoints. What is being done about it?
We had a discussion with the Commissioner of Police, we raised these concerns and immediately, he swung into action. We have started addressing them, besides that, we have our monthly meetings with Heads of Security Agencies. We held one last month, we established a Committee to review these and other issues. If we cannot get to the Commissioner, those on ground usually nip these complaints in the bud. We also exchanged contacts so that whoever sees something wrong can contact the head of that agency. We just started last week, it is work in progress and we will get there.