By Stephen Ubanna
The last may not have been heard about the Nigeria Arms syndicate based in Turkey who ship Arms to Nigeria. The syndicate , according to Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, investigation preside over the export of a haul of Pump Action rifles from Turkey to Nigeria Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, is still working round the clock to to get to the root of the matter using his military background.
He had initiated a meeting with Hakan Cakil, the Turkish Ambassador to Nigeria at the instance of President Muhammadu Buhari to rub minds on the Arms exports from Turkey to Nigeria. Prior to the meeting, the duo were said to have be talking secretly as Cakil, the Turkish Ambassador was said to have been relating to his home government about the meeting .
The first attempt to hold the meeting was cancelled at the last minute. At long last, it was held on Tuesday, September 26, 2017, at the Abuja Customs Headquarters. it was said to be a close door meeting. But the snippets to the meeting was made public by Joseph Attah, a Deputy Comptroller, and the NCS spokesman. Attah disclosed that the meeting was held between officials of the NCS led by the Comptroller General and the Turkish Embassy led by Cakil, the Ambassador . Attah said it was held to fashion out ways of dealing with the recurring cases of illegal Arms importation from Turkey to Nigeria.
At the meeting, Ali, the Customs boss was said to have looked at the Turkish Ambassador eye ball to eye ball. Sources told the Magazine that it was a very stormy meeting as the Nigeria Customs boss tried to convince the Turkish Ambassador that there is a complicity between the Turkish government and the Nigeria’s Arms syndicate. Ali may be speaking the mind of Buhari.
The ambassador, it was learnt tried to wriggle out of the allegation , insisting that his country had always supported Nigeria security efforts. He insists that there is no way the Turkish government could support the shipment of Arms to Nigeria because of the cordial relationship between the two countries. Cakil, it was gathered made spirited efforts to convince his host that his country has no hand in the Arms export to the Country.
Given the seriousness of the Comptroller General’s allegation against the Turkish government, the Ambassador promised to take the message back to his home government. Tayyip Erdogan , President of Turkey may be waiting for the outcome of the meeting between the Ambassador and the Nigeria Customs team. This is because he had already met with Buhari, his Nigeria counterpart on the matter at the just concluded United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York, United States.
The success story of Barsh Ysuf, Comptroller, Tin-can Island and his men at the port including the Command Enforcement operatives may have facilitated the holding the meeting between the duo. Many believe that it would have been difficult for the Ambassador to believe that Arms were being exported to Nigeria from Turkey if the NCS had no evidence to prove it.
The road to the major Arms seizures that had been made at the port began with the recent mass transfer of officers in Customs formations across the country. The mass transfer led the deployment of new Assistant and Deputy Comptrollers and other senior officers including officers of the Service including Inspectorate cadre to the Command.
Yusuf, the Tin-can Island Customs boss was faced with the task of deploying the officers to the various departments in the Command and the terminals including the Enforcement Unit. It was learnt that the new Assistant and Deputy Comptrollers posted to the Command used their contacts at the Headquarters to sway the Comptroller’s deployment to their own favour. Unknown to them the Customs boss has a mind of his own and was not ready to take orders from anybody except the Comptroller General. ”Go and ask who Barsh is , he would always say”.
The Comptroller shocked the lobbysts and, officers and men of the Command when he posted Dera Nnadi, the Imo state born Deputy Comptroller to the Enforcement Unit. There was the criticisms that he may not deliver because over 80 percent of the importers patronising the Tin-can Island port are Ibos. There was the fear that he may be influenced by the Importers. They got it wrong as the criticisms strengthened the resolve of Nnadi and his men to do the job . The May Arms import that fell into the waiting arms of Customs operatives at the port may have sent a signal to the importers that the game is up.
The Customs Deputy Comptroller , according to sources, was working hand -in- hand with the Command’ Intelligence Unit, CIU, operatives who were feeding him with information about activities at the port.
The Arms seizure may have given the ammunition to the Customs Anti-Corruption Unit to spell out the dos and don’ts by importers with their agents at the port. The Anti-Corruption flier , according to sources was pasted at strategic locations a the Command’s Enforcement Unit and Examination sites.
The anti-Corruption Unit was said to have made it clear that importers must make correct declaration in their bill of lading and ensure that their Containers are properly examined before taking it out from the port by the agent. They were also warned to desist from conniving with bank officials to forge cheques to facilitate the delivery of their cargoes or try to bribe their way to see that their cargoes are released without examination.
Nnadi and his men have no option but to implement the policy to the later without compromise. It is not surprising why Arms import from Turkey into the country through Tin-can Island port had continued to be intercepted with ease. Analysts had expected importers who indulge in false declaration or cleverly cheat the government in the past to turn a leaf or be ready to face the wrath of the law.
Ali, the Customs Comptroller General confirmed that the two previous cases of 661 Pump Action Rifles from Apapa, the premier port that was intercepted by Adamu Mohammed, then an Assistant Comptroller in-charge of the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, Ikeja, Roving team and now a Deputy Comptroller and the 440 pieces Arms seizure at Tin-can were already in Court. Nigerians are waiting to hear the outcome of the two cases.
Many believe that Nnadi and his men in the Enforcement Unit had made the port uncomfortable for fraudulent importers. This is because the Arms importers have continued to run into trouble with Customs personnel at the port. They described the present crop of officers at the Unit as being very lucky. as they had come at a time Arms imported through the port are being seized by Customs operatives and placed under its custody at the port.
Those who had been following the Tin-can Island Enforcement boss style of Administration describe him as good student of Yusuf, the Area Comptroller. They cited some cases which he had handled in the recent time. One of such cases was the one that was brought to the Unit by the Department of State Security, DSS, that had to do with an imported vehicle suspected to be carrying gun. The agent and the vehicle were handed over to the Unit while they continued with their investigation to ascertain whether what was found in the vehicle was really a gun. The agent and the vehicle were promptly detained by the Enforcement officials at the instance of Nnadi.
Only recently, the agent showed up with an Army officer to take delivery of the vehicle but was turned down. The Deputy Comptroller was said to have asked the agent some silent questions bordering on the findings of the DSS on the alleged gun that was found in the vehicle. It was learnt that the agent could not answer the questions but was barely murmuring. When he eventually volunteered an answer that their report indicates that it was a toy gun , he was not ready to bow to their pressure to release the vehicle which is still under the Unit Custody. The agent, insiders said could still be allowed to take delivery of the vehicle with the approval of the Comptroller and on payment of the relevant duties and charges.
Another case that was said to have been handled by the Unit was that brought by an agent who claimed that his client’s Container had been transferred to Square terminal by the Shipping Company that discharged it at the port. He was said to have been disappointed by the Customs Deputy Comptroller when he allegedly brought out a document to confirm that the Container in question was transferred to Classic terminal where it could only be cleared. The agent was said to have pressured Nnadi to see what he can do to help out but was asked to stop it. The agent’s only option is to apply for a change of terminal. This is because the Enforcement Unit of the FOU, Zone A, Ikeja, already has a copy of the documents containing the Containers that needed to be transferred to the terminals. There are fears in Customs circles that if the agent fail to heed to the instruction to take delivery of the Container at Clasic and insist on clearing it at Square terminal and the officials of the FOU, Zone A Command show up to escort the Containers earmarked for transfer to their respective offshore terminals and did not find that particular one, it may be considered as having been diverted and they would go for it.
Insiders told the Magazine that with what Yusuf and his men had achieved in the last few months at the port which may have endeared the Comptroller General that he promised to reward the officers involved in the Arms seizure both in cash and in kind, it means that many officers in the Command may be wearing new ranks, including the Area Comptroller. He had made a similar promise at FOU, Zone A, Ikeja, earlier this year. Mahmud Haruna, the then Comptroller of the Command was promoted to an acting Assistant Comptroller General, Enforcement and Investigation, a rank , he eventually retired with last August.Mohammed, the arrow head , Some members of the Command Roving team who had played a part in the seizure and arrest of the alleged importer and the agent were promoted recently to encourage other officers to sit up.
Indeed,Yusuf and his men on the Enforcement Unit at the Tin-can Island port may have tightened up security at the port that it will be difficult for Arms imports through the port to escape the eagle eye of his men at the port into the waiting hands of . Mohammed Garba UBA Comptroller, FOU, Zone A, A, men, along the Oshodi-Apapa Express way, but the Command Enforcement Unit operatives are said to have devised new strategie of making spectacular seizures in the recent time.
This is evident by the seizures that Charles Opabi Jack , a Chief Superintendent of Customs and Head of the Command’s roving team and his men had made which had the UBA, Comptroller of the Command, one to feared. The team, sources informed the Magazine, had succeeded in blocking all the illegal routes at the seaports, airports and land border stations used by smugglers to ensure that dangerous weapons and other prohibited items did not enter into the country .
Only recently Jack and his men were said to have intercepted 13 assorted vehicles based on information from the illegal garrage where it was packed. Ali, the Customs boss had alluded to the assorted vehicle seizures at Tin-can Island port recently when he said the owners of the vehicles are yet to show up. Many believe that the refusal of the vehicle importers to show up is an invitation to outright seizure as the case files of the vehicles and others still in detention may likely be taken Court for condemnation to give legal backing to the seizure.
Speculation are rife that if the Comptroller General could fulfill his promise of rewarding the officers who had excelled in their job, the FOU, Zone A, Customs boss and his men in the Roving team including Dauda Ashghi, the Command Deputy Comptroller Enforcement who had thrown his weight behind the Roving team are most likely going to wear new ranks soon.