Hameed Ali reads the riot act to Comptrollers over arms import into the country through the seaports forcing them to sit up
By Stephen Ubanna
Importers plying the European country of Turkey to bring cargo into the country are no longer finding it funny. This is because Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General , Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, and his men have beamed their search light on vessels coming from Turkey to discharge cargoes in Nigeria seaports.
The close watch became more worrisome to the importers with officials of their clearing agencies in the last five months. This is because of the mysterious discharge of arms and ammunitions into the country through the Sifax terminal of Tin-can Island port.
Between May and September 5,2017, two different arms import from Turkey had been discharged at the Tin-can Island port. The question on the lips of most people was how the importer of the arms which was brought into the country with three different Containers at different times was able to beat the Turkey Customs and other security personnel at the sea port to load the Containers at the different times into the vessels that were coming into Nigeria.
According to a source, it is either the bill of lading showcasing the items on the distinct Containers contained different items and trans-loaded on the middle of the sea or it is a deal between the importer and his Turkish agent and the Customs officials, thus making it impossible for any of the Containers to be scanned. This is evident going by the seizures of September 6and 7, 2017. The Bill of lading of the seized ”20” loaded with the Pump Action rifles indicates that the content was ”wash hand basins and water closets”.
While Ali, the Customs boss has ordered a full scale investigation to uncover the importer of the arms already seized between May and September 7, 2017, , information broke out on Monday, September 18, 2017, from unofficial sources, that another ”20” mysterious arms import from Turkey allegedly carrying over 400 pieces of Pump Action rifles was discharged at Tincan-Island port. It was a big embarrassment to the Command, as officers kept it a closely guided secret.
The Magazine made several efforts to speak to Bashar Yusuf, Comptroller ,Tincan Island Command and Uche Ejieseme, a Deputy Assistant Superintendent of Customs and the Command’s Image maker through calls and visits did no not materialise as the duo were out of Lagos. Yusuf, the Comptroller, is expecting to be briefed by Dera Nnadi, the Deputy Comptroller of Customs.
As at Tuesday, September 19, 2019, Nnadi was said to have closed his office to visitors to enable him prepare his report about the alleged arms seizure to prepare the ground for the second visit of Ali, the Comptroller General to the Command within two months over the alleged arms seizures.
Many people believe that Ali, the Customs boss may have laid the foundation for the close watch and monitoring of cargoes discharged at the nation’s seaports and airport with the Customs migration to the latest information technology tools, ICT, to bouy up the service, in line with the 21st century Customs operations. The upgrading of the service ICT, a source confirmed, got the nod of the Customs helmsman.
Perhaps, to prepare the officers on the use of the Customs latest ICT for proper monitoring of cargoes coming into the country, the Customs Authority had prepared a course curriculum to cover vast areas in the 21st Customs operations in line with World Customs Organisations, WCO, standard. The training, according to Customs sources, had been prepared for ogficers and men of the service on the anticipated Nigeria Customs Integrated Information system 2, which is an advanced version of the earlier system, seen as a major tool of legitimate trade facilitation.
The Tin-can Island Command was said to have started the training of its personnel because of the nterest of Yusuf, the Customs boss on ICT. He was said to have been involved in the upgrading of the Customs ICT s a WCO trainer. The training has been of immense help to the officers in doing their job. It is not surprising why the Command is making spectacular arms seizures. There might have been some mistakes in which Containers carrying prohibited items released from the ports had fallen into the waiting hands of Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A , personnel. The interception of such Containers released from the ports or Offshore terminals may have given the ammunition to Mohammed Garba, the Comptroller , to shine as he made it a point of duty to brief the media on the activities of the Command monthly. Most of the intercepted Containers were released at the terminals affiliated to Tin-can Island Command.
Worried at the rate at which cargo released and exited from the seaports in Lagos fall into the waiting hand of Dauda Ashghi, the Deputy Comptroller of the Command in-charge of Enforcement and his men on the Roving team may have given him the opportunity read the riot act to officers at the last Customs parade. The parade ended with a meeting with the officers in-charge of the Offshore terminals which include Denca, Unity, Sifax among others. The officers may have blocked all the loopholes exploited by agents to cow examination to submission to sign their release and exit documents.
But Charles Okpabi Jack, a Chief Superintendent of Customs and Head of the Roving team and his men remained undaunted by the measures put in place by the Command and its management as they devised new strategies to beat Operatives of the seaports to it. They may not be making much seizures of cargoes released from Tin-can Island its terminals for now, but Garba has told those that care to listen that there is no cause for alarm. He is optimistic to sustain the Command’s monthly press briefing.