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Beyond the seizure of 661 pump-action rifles

By Sulaimon Salau
08 February 2017   |   3:30 am
The seizure exposed the many challenges that the customs has to contend with, particularly the level of corruption, lack of scanners and adequate technologies at the ports.

Comptroller-General, Nigeria Customs Service, Col. Hameed Alli (rtd) (middle) displaying 661 pieces of pump action rifles seized from importers in Lagos.

It’s definitely not a mean feat that the Federal Operating Unit (FOU) of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) was able to intercept the 661 pump action rifle illegally imported into the country.

The seizure exposed the many challenges that the customs has to contend with, particularly the level of corruption, lack of scanners and adequate technologies at the ports.

The Service had apprehended six culprits in connection with the cargo and they are in custody at the headquarters in Abuja for in house investigation, after which they will be handed over to the Nigerian Police for proper prosecution.

The six suspects are: Oscar Okafor (Importer), Mahmud Hassan (Clearing Agent) and Sadique Mustapha (who accompanied the consignment to its destination) Abdullahi I. (customs officer), with service number 44483 ASC, Odiba Haruna Inah, with service number 133386 ACIC, and one Yola I.B also a customs officer.

As investigation continues, Nigerians are asking for the government to ensure that the matter is not swept under the carpet. Also that the importer should be thoroughly quizzed to reveal his mission and those behind the deal, believing that an ordinary Nigerian can not do such deal without the influence of some “mighty forces”.

However, the seizure has elicited divergent views from stakeholders who queried the commitment of officers who compromise to sabotage the welfare and prosperity of the nation, by allowing the container to escape from the ports despite the rigorous process of clearing cargo.

For the Nigerian Senate, the interesting aspect of the scenario is that the Comptroller-General of Customs, Ahmeed Ali, does not wear uniform. The law makers have accused Ali of refusing to wear official uniform of the customs after two years of his appointment.

The Chief Operating Officer, Goldwater and Riversand Consults, Captain Aliyu Umar Babangida, in a chat with The Guardian said the Federal Government should follow the law on saboteurs to deal with the officers involved in the arms importation, suggesting that the culprits should be hung for putting the security of the nation in jeopardy.

“Reports showed that the customs officers were involved in the deal, while three of them were declared wanted for clearing the goods. What happens to the Nigerian law on sabotage. That is the question we should be asking the president. Where is the law on sabotage, particularly on men in uniforms, those customs officers should be hung,”

He continued: “Whatever it is, the issue is this; if I am going to forgive anybody for doing that it’s not a customs officer, any civilian can ignorantly do it, but for a customs officer, you can as well tell me we should forgive a Road Safety officer for driving one way. The moment those officers are tried as saboteurs and what the law stipulated is done to them, everybody will sit tight,”

Babangida, who is a defense and security expert said: “The smuggler actual did it because there were willing hands in the customs to accommodate him. It takes two to tangle. That Okafor that brought in the arms actually did so because he knew there were bad eggs in the customs that were ready to collect money and make him go and kill Nigerians with his weapons.

“The government is trying to secure the nation and somebody is harbouring those that are killing us, he is a saboture. When you handle the customs officers properly, you will see that the prospective businessmen will find other countries for their wares,” he said.

For the customs to change the orientation of officer, he said: “Where there is responsibility there must be rights. What I am simply saying is that this excuse that our borders are porous does not hold any water. We have been at it since 1960 that our borders are porous. The real problem is that Nigeria is a grand population of indolence. We are so indolent, we create excuses. If I were the customs comptroller general, one incident at my port, one customs head. If you like you can go and shake hands with your men to get them to order but, one incident at my port, one chieftain will go. Whatever it requires to hold my port properly, put it in writing and bring it to me, I will go and make sure the president doesn’t sleep until I have it. But when I give it to you, you will give me results or I take your job,”

On the uniform issue, Babangida said this is not an issue, but service delivery should be paramount. “I don’t care if Ali goes to the office naked. It is not about batches of ranks and uniforms, its about results. If Ali decides not to wear clothes to the office, so be it; let him give us results. Comptroller-Generals and Inspector-General in this country since 1960 are known for elaborate ranks and badges, they don’t get results. We don’t judge people by the uniforms and the badges they wear, the senators better know that, we judge them by results. A controller wearing all the badges on this earth and cannot give us result, he is not a controller in my eyes. Most of our politicians are indolent, that is why the Senate can use our mandate time to discuss such a matter. In other countries of the world, people don’t even wear uniforms, they wear mufti. Go to the United States you will see their coastal guards in mufti doing a good job,” Babangida said.

The National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), advised that infrastructure relating to tools for trade facilitation at the ports and border areas be strengthened to reduce the risk of escapes of such illegal arms.

Deputy National President, Seaport, Obums Anene said: “It is our belief that the use of transire at the moment as a tool for trade facilitation be given adequate attention because of the inherent abuse thereto.

“Let it be on record that it is in the public notice that the major problem facing customs operation is the in-ability of importers to comply with import and export regulations. In this regard, it is our view that laws are made to be obeyed and respected by the stakeholders and in particular, the importers and exporters,” he said.

The freight forwarders however called for expansion of investigation on the illegal imports, saying: “Every carrier and its representative in shipping operation is expected to know the content of laden containers on board the vessel. It is wrong and injustice to the officers of the Service in the course of investigation, if action is limited on them only, the agents and the importers. Every other persons involved in the physical examination and duly endorsed should be investigated for not reporting.

He also suggested that all gallant officers involved in the interception of the container should be rewarded to serve as encouragement for other officers in the course of their duties.

The Managing Director, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Ms Hadiza Bala Usman, also emphasised that the scope of investigation in respect of this deadly cargo should be broad and thorough.

Usman however enjoined all the security agencies serving in the port, to be extra vigilant, to avoid a re-occurrence of such totally prohibited cargo entering and exiting the port.