The Usman Yahaya Stewardship Report
BY EGUONO ODJEGBA
Acting Controller of the Federal Operations Unit (FOU) Zone ‘A’, Nigeria Customs Service, Usman Biri Yahaya for many years to come will remain a defining reference point in the history of customs anti-smuggling operations.
A master of the jungle, hard boiled and unremitting in his official engagements, Yahiya has the uncanny capacity of sniffing illicit movements of questionable imports/exports, several kilometers away. He has the added agility and response quotient in intercepting such get away goods so much that like a genie, smugglers dread crossing his path.
As Controller FOU Zone A, Yahaya expectedly has the uncanny facility of being almost everywhere, courtesy of a retinue of his team operatives, propelled by a robust team spirit strategy, with Yahaya as the chief oracle. A believer in intelligence sourcing and application, those close to him says Yahaya often have a way of creeping in on smugglers, just as he is not averse in the least to heated chase, ambush or open confrontation, given the circumstances; and in line with customs rules of engagement.
And he has been around for a long time already, holding forth in enforcement drills under different assignments, which cuts across various fronts and formations, transcending commands and federal assignments, nationwide.
Quiet, reserved and almost taciturn, he has knack for big results, as much a reputation for record breaking. In the past ten years, his no mean achievement profile has earned him a place in the book of Customs Big League.
Thus, for many years to come, Yahaya will remain a defining reference point, not only in the history of FOU Zone A, but in the record of customs anti-smuggling operations; and as a factor in federal operations flagship unit.
It should be noted that FOU Zone ‘A’ is not a place for just any officer, those who gets there very often, earn being there as a matter of necessity. This is without prejudice to factors of natural mystic or those whose appointments were watered by beneficial spirits, and which must be regarded as such within the context of this observation.
Anyone who steers the affairs of the federal operations flagship unit is a no mean fellow, and it takes quite some balls to sit atop the affairs of the unit, regarded as customs stewardship hottest spot.
Perhaps, it is the only customs station that has played host to a controller appointment, with a reversal, both of which is happening within 24 hours record time. Of Yahaya’s stewardship account, perhaps many books will have to be written, to be able to capture the entire gamut; detailing his contributions to the service and fatherland.
This report therefore, can only capture a fraction of his stewardship, as his story cannot be told in one day. Having laid the background, it is instructive to begin with his present assignment, where he has made indelible marks, running through all sorts of landmines as it were, for the protection of the national economy.
It includes the safeguard of citizens, as Yahaya prosecutes the war against illicit and dangerous pharmaceutical products and other substances, full throttle. Sad enough, in the course of his assignments, in the past one year and a half, he has attracted a motley of adversary, and enmity instead of gratitude, in the like manner that tax collectors are often treated. But let us hurry past this act of ingratitude and peep into his stewardship.
His background already aforementioned, eminently prepared him for the task of the number one anti-smuggling sheriff in the South West. As luck would have it, he was until his latest appointment, the Unit Deputy Comptroller Enforcement; thus he merely climbed the ladder of higher responsibility in a familiar terrain.
But then, the news of his appointment logically sent apprehension across the land and jitters amongst smugglers and economic saboteurs, and for good reasons. Those who have known him closely in the course of his enforcement drive, says ‘you cannot negotiate with Yahaya when you are on the wrong side of customs trade.’
Our source volunteered even more information on Yahaya’s official idiosyncrasies. He said, “That man does not pretend, he does not give you false hope that a bad case can be mitigated to allow you negotiate release of goods that are in clear infraction; he does not do it.”
Expectedly, smugglers, duty evaders and other perpetrators of unlawful trade practices suffered intense raid, as his officers and men challenged every unlawful cargo movement, not minding whose ox is gored.
Overtime he became a nightmare of sort for all recalcitrant business people and their supporters. A jungle combatant, occasionally Yahaya will leave the comfort of his office for the jungle not just to give his men morale booster, but also lead in some offensives, sending panic across the land, anytime news of his arrival hits the wind.
From his Ikeja Lagos operational headquarters, Yahaya’s exploits resonates across the breath and length of the region, producing unforgettable echoes in Ogun, Osun, Ondo, Oyo, Ekiti and beyond.
With many laurels to his kitty from his impressive anti-smuggling feats, Yahaya not only motivates younger officers, but is a role model for many, in terms of his positive work culture, courage, discipline and openess.
FOU A under his watch made a total of N2,030,962,513.19 in the recovery of customs receipt vide issuances of Demand Notices (DN). This is in addition to a cumulative Duty Paid Value (DPA) of N21,806,234,001.8 made from seizures, some of which are intriguing and novel. For the period under review, Yahaya matched seizures with arrest of suspects, totaling 116, which cases are at various stages of investigations and prosecution.
Some of his spectacular seizures include a vehicle ingeniously insulated from security question, as it were, as the vehicle was adorned with a Covid-19 sticker, as a decoy to give the vehicle immediate passage, at the heat of the Corona Virus pandemic. His eagle officers refused to fall for the trick, and the vehicle was later discovered to be conveying smuggled foreign frozen poultry products.
Under him, the unit recorded the highest single seizure of vehicles and a sprinkling of contraband items, with a DPV of N10billion, within Ibadan axis, the Oyo State capital.
Before his current appointment, he served as Coordinator of the CG Strike Force Zone A, May 14 May to December 27, 2019; and the value of his seizures within the brief stint as Strike Force Coordinator, was well over N7billion.
Of significance is the seizure of two trailer loads of unregistered drugs, between 14 and 15 July, 2019, with a Duty Paid Value of N310, 600,000. The morality and imperative of the above seizures was succinctly captured by him during a press briefing to showcase the seizures. He said, “You are well aware of the danger and harm posed to human health by the consumption of these unregistered drugs trafficked by unscrupulous and unpatriotic individuals”, adding:
“As you can see, besides the enormous volume of rice seizures and other offensive items such as imported vegetable oil, imported frozen poultry products, second hand clothing and others, our effort at intercepting unregistered and hard drugs is yielding tremendous results.
“For instance, just between 14 and 15 July, 2019, the CGC Strike force Zone A intercepted two trailer loads of unregistered drugs with a Duty Paid Value of N310,600,000.
He noted that the growing incidence of heart failure, kidney failure, mental illness, suicide and upsurge in criminality are part of the dangers associated with consumption of fake and hard drugs.
Also, between 20 May and 31 December, 2019, the anti-smuggling czar made a total of N1, 784,694,517 in revenue receipts, recovered from concealments and underpayments. It will be recalled that shortly after taking over the mantle of leadership at FOU Ikeja Lagos, the unit landed the seizure of 147 sacks of pangolin scales weighing 9,504.1kg, with a net value of N10.26 billion.
To underscore the importance of the above seizure, the Comptroller-General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (Rtd), physically graced the press briefing, and in spite of his famed conservative official posturing, treated Yahaya to an extravagant commendation.
The Customs boss said that the seizures underscores the determination of the service to enforce all laws relating to importation and exportation of goods, thereby contributing to the economy, security and well-being of every Nigerian.
Under Yaahaya, the unit recorded a total DPV of N20, 897,553,880.08 between January to December, 2020; while total receipt recovery stood at N1, 752,094,037.94. Beneath the façade of his stern and austere disposition to total blockade of revenue leakages and monitoring of controlled products, lies the patriotic zeal for facilitation of legitimate trade.
According to Yahaya, no consignment or goods on transit would be unjustifiably delayed for as long as the items are in compliance and in line with the extant guidelines on the procedure for import and export clearance.
Hear him, “We are totally committed to the course of facilitating legitimate trade. We shall remain determined at enforcing the federal government fiscal policies, extant regulations and guidelines on import/export; without fear or favour”, he said.
Under his watch, the unit recorded few cases of conflicts and confrontations, leading to injuries, and occasionally, death. For Yahaya, each such occasion was a moment of intense pains, unknown to many. Those close to him inform that it was always a moment of personal agony, but with a resultant helplessness, as government job must continue to be carried out in line with stipulated methodology, rules and guidelines.
It is perhaps for this reason that Yahaya often appealed to traditional rulers, teachers, religious leaders and parents to urge the youths and their wards not to allow themselves to be used by economic saboteurs.
A recipient of the World Customs Organization (WCO) prestigious award for ‘Exceptional Service to International Customs Community’; the commendation letter was delivered to Yahaya by no one than the CGC, Col. Ali.
Yahaya also bagged the CGC’s award on Exhibition of Gallantry in the Protection of Customs Facilities during the “End SARS Protest. There are other awards and commendation letters beside, attesting to his selfless, exemplary and professional manner.
It is also noteworthy that Yahaya received the CGC’s commendation letter for the arrest of some suspected notorious smugglers on the Headquarters wanted list.