By Stephen Ubanna
More facts have emerged how Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, allegedly recovered over N500 million from importers between December, 2016 and two weeks in the month of July 2017. This has to do with blocking areas of revenue leakages in the Command, ensuring that officials of the Revenue Department and the field officers do the right thing. over the years, there had been accusation against field officers, who are mostly of the Inspectors cadre who see their names on the roaster to be on the road to see it as job for the boys.
Maritime analysts posit that they become something else when they found their name on any team or task force where they can intimidate agents and their truck drivers with their guns. The situation was so bad in 2016 that some members of the then roving team were withdrawn to the office by the then Staff Officer on the advice of Adamu Mohammed , an Assistant Comptroller, and Head of the team.
Indeed, for years, officials of FOU, across the country had seen themselves as basically enforcement officers without much attention paid to revenue generation for the government. It is not surprising why an FOU Command which collect N100 million through issuance of Demand Notice, DN, in a year, see it as a big achievement and therefore should be commended by the Headquarters.
Insiders told the Magazine that the Command field Officers and Headquarter Task Force personnel had taken advantage of the fact that it is not their responsibility to generate revenue for the government to compromise.
The Magazine learnt of an instance where a Consignment seized by the Command found its way back to the importer’s warehouse. It was gathered that the deal leaked and the importer was asked to return the goods.
Sources told the Magazine that an Assistant Comptroller and a Deputy Comptroller who were fingered in the deal were investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. It was gathered that the Commission had bugged one of the senior officers phone. This is evident going by the questions allegedly asked him by the anti-graft agency in a close guarded meeting. He was said to have been asked why he answers call at odd hours of the day and mostly people from the same geo-political region.
The Commission has every reason to take on the officers. This is because over 90 percent of the Containerised cargoes coming into the country are owned by importers from the region while the remaining 10 percent imports which are basically chemicals and other items are shared between south west and Lebanese importers.
The Assistant Comptroller involved in the matter was said to have told his interrogators that he can answer calls at any time of the day because of the nature of his job. He was said to have told them that 90 percent of the importers patronising Apapa, Tincan Island and Port Multi-services Terminal Limited, PMTL, are from the south east, which makes compulsory to keep his phones open 24 hours daily.
According to what he had told his EFCC interrogators, an unexpected call may come in from men on the field which requires his attention or that of the Comptroller or from the Headquarters , if there is a problem that needed to solved urgently. They may have convinced the EFCC officials who allowed them to go.
While the two senior officers allegedly queried by the EFCC, in connection with the Container had been posted out, Mohammed Garba, Comptroller, FOU, Zone A, confirmed that the Customs Authority has internal mechanism for dealing with officers who violate Customs law.
Garba confirmed that officers who had been found guilty over one offence or the other had paid been sacked, suspended or demoted in rank. He may not be far from the truth. The officers involved in the release of a”40” Container load of pomp action rifles concealed with steel doors from APM terminal, Apapa,last year, would never forget their experience in a hurry. Some of them had lost their job, suspended and demoted on the recommendation of a disciplinary Committee set up by Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Service, NCS.
Many believe that but for the intervention of the FOU, Zone,A, personnel, in monitoring the movement of goods and services out of the ports and off-dock terminals in Lagos, money recovered so far, private pockets. It is surprising why agents whose importers Containers are taken to the Command on suspicion of infraction of government fiscal policy are given DN and an additional 25 percent penalty. This shows that the government may have lost billions of naira over the years through wrong Classification, under-declaration and underpayment.
Perhaps to ensure that the Command sustain the tempo of its revenue recovery drive for the government, Garba, the FOU, Zone A, Customs boss may have beamed his search light on the various teams set up by the Command to be on the road.
They are roving, Surveillance and Crack teams. It was gathered that the officers in-charge of the teams had made it clear to their field officers that they would not take any excuse for an answer if suspected Containers based on available information are allowed to be delivered to the warehouse of the importer by the importer.
This may have forced the field officers from the three teams set up by the Command to compete in impounding Containers. A visitor to the government warehouse and the Command’s mechanical workshop would be shocked at the rate atwhich Containers are impounded daily.
The activities of the Command’s teams on the road had made the Comptroller General’s Compliance team, who are also on the road to be ineffective. The team, for now, cannot boast of having made any reasonable seizure in the southwest geo-political Zone.
Their inability to find their footing in Lagos may have given critics the ammunition to describe them as ”non -existent in the south west and the need for the Colonel to take them to the land border stations where their services would be most needed. There are over 82 routes between Nigeria and Republic of Benin where smuggled goods can enter into Nigeria markets, according to an official of Nigeria Immigration Service, NIS, which requires urgent Customs attention.
Sources told the Magazine the Headquarters patrol team the along the Ota-Idiroko road are giving a good account of themselves as they have put rice, poultry products and vehicle smugglers in check. The implication of the group action on the Ota-Idiroko road is the rise in the price of rice which many thought had dropped as it was sold below N15,000.00 at Ota, the commercial nerve center of Ogun state. This is a big challenge to Ali, the Customs boss, to have a rethink on keeping the Compliance team at the ports.