Fear grips Customs personnel working at Seme land border over alleged killing of indigenes of host Communities while pursuing Smugglers
By Stephen Ubanna
For much of last week, officials of Seme Command of the Nigeria Customs Services, NCS, made elaborate arrangement to receive Hameed Ali, a retd Colonel and Comptroller General, NCS. The magazine learnt that Victor Dimka, the Controller took advantage of the planned visit to invite the Paramount rulers, Chiefs, Baales and other stakeholders including the Youth leaders in the Border Communities to be at the Command to meet with the Customs helmsman to lodge their complains.
Dimka has every reason of inviting stakeholders in the border communities and opinion leaders. This is because of the frequent clashes between his men chasing alleged smugglers and youths of the host Communities.
Many believe the incessant killings became worse since Dimka assumed leadership of the Command. The Seme Customs boss disclosed that the frequent clashes between his men and youths of the host Communities have put the officers under perpetual fear including himself. Signs that he is living in fear is evident going by the number of heavily armed officers stationed at his official quarters which is backing the Atlantic Ocean. The officers, the magazine was informed scrutinises visitors for fear of any attack. Moreso, he has mounted a CCTV in his house to monitor visitors coming to see him. It was learnt that on several occasions, he has turned back some senior officers who had come to see him after close of work. Indeed, he confirmed that it is now a crime to wear Customs uniform within the border area as an officer driving to the office was recently burnt with his vehicle. Also, some youths of the host Communities have fallen victim to the officers sporadic-shootings.
A source who spoke to the magazine said the officers commit the crime of killing while chasing alleged smugglers with unbranded vehicles to the village. The source said officers should be blamed for the clashes at the land border as they collect money from the smugglers and still seize their vehicles and goods. He said no smuggler can fly any car into the country without passing through the Customs checkpoints along the Lagos-Badagry road. Only, recently, some officers from the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, zone A, Ikeja, Lagos, had shot sporadically at Ajara Community in Topo area of Badagry while chasing smugglers the gun shots hit four indigenes of the Community. The killing is coming at a time when the Customs authorities want the Controllers to train and retrain their men on weapons handling and sensitise them on the” Rules of Engagement”.
Charles Edike, an Assistant Comptroller General and Coordinator of Zone A, who was at Seme on Wednesday, September 28, 2016, was said to have witnessed the training of the officers on weapons handling but still believe that a lot need to be done.
Many believe that Ali could not attend the seme meeting because of the recent scam at the Command. He was at Ogun and Idiroko Command where he met with paramount rulers, Chiefs, Baales and Community leaders who made a case for employment of their youths. He was however happy at the good working relationship between the officers and indigenes of the border Communities which is facilitating trade in the land border. He commended Multafu Wainda, the Controller for maintaining peace in the border area.
Edike who was at Seme bared his mind to the people,” we are concerned about the incessant clashes between some members of the Seme border Communities and the Customs personnel”. He decried a situation where officers have been injured, maimed and killed’’.
“It ought not to be so”, he said. He urged the Paramount rulers, Chiefs and Baales to call the youths in their communities to order in the interest of peace. According to him, the trouble in the border area can be avoided if the youths respect constituted authorities. “if you are driving and an officer stops you at a checkpoint, stop and hear what he has to say. Ask him to take you to their office to meet the boss if you are not satisfied with his action and conduct”. He disclosed that often, officers stop vehicles at checkpoints to ensure that there is no concealment of arms and ammunitions, drugs or contraband goods. He said the Customs “stop and check”, policy has punctured many robbery and kidnap cases along the border area and noted that Customs personnel would not molest traders who bring in their goods through the appropriate routes. He urged the people to protect officers living in their communities. He gave an instance of a recent case at Shaki Community in Oyo state where some angry people had attacked the Customs office but the villagers came out in full force to repel the attackers. It was a big relief to Tope Ogunkua, the Controller who has made the state too hot for smugglers. Edike said trouble can be avoided if the people do the right thing. He listed the items which can not be brought into the country in commercial quantities and those on the outright ban list. The first item on the import prohibition list, according to him are pork and beef. Others are frozen products, box egg, refined vegetable oil, Spaghetti, fruit juice, bottle water, bagged cement, medicaments, waste pharmaceuticals.
He said soap and detergents, domestic articles, retreade tyres, corrugated pipes and bars, footwears excluding safety shoes, suit cases, used compressors, used fridges,Tokunbo vehicles of over 15 years are not allowed to enter into the country in commercial quantities.
The items banned by the government, he said, are air pistols, Airmill graphic printing paper, blank invoices, coupon, cowries, instruments pertaining to loading of catridges, manilas, matches made with white phospherous and meat. Banned items on the export list, he said, include scrap metals, artefacts and antiquities, wild life animals declared as endangered species such as Croco dile, Lizard, monkey, Zebra, Elephant and Timber. He however, said those interested in exporting theTimber need to get the appropriate specification from the Federal Ministry of Environment and Department of Forestry. He said those who may want to smuggle the item out of the country would run into trouble with Customs. In addition, he said all imported goods are not expected to be exported and cleared the air over rice imports, stating that it is not on the import prohibition list but cannot be imported through the land border except through the sea port. He confirmed that there have been cases where imported vehicles have been exported on Customs approval. He cited an instance of a man who imported a Roke Royce but declared it as a land rover at the port. But, when the car developed mechanical fault, he approached the Customs Authorities for help to take it to the manufacturers for repair. He disclosed that it was at that point the importer was caught for wrong declaration. He was given an Import Certificate to enable him take the vehicle out of the country for repairs after nine years of usage in the country. He was said to have been given a Debit Note of N93 million. The import certificate exempt him from payment of duty but only on the things changed on the vehicle. He urged importers to take Customs personnel into confidence to enjoy their business.