A Customs Warlord

By Stephen Ubanna

more facts have emerged why  Jibril Musa , Yusuf Bashar, both  Comptrollers in-charge of Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, Apapa and Tincan  Island Commands respectively  and other Comptrollers within  Customs Formations in the south west geopolitical  region are keeping away from Mohammed Uba Gabar, Comptroller Federal Operations Unit, Zone A, Ikeja. They may have kept their distance from him to avoid being roped into trouble or seen as coming to beg for bad jobs released through the port or  the land border stations not to be intercepted by his men on the road.

The Comptrollers may have  read also  the body language of Garba from their meetings at the Zonal Headquarters, Yaba, that he is not ready to welcome any Comptroller to his  office who has no genuine reason of coming to see him. A close source told the Magazine that he wants the Comptrollers to go and do their job by ensuring that importers with their agents who use the seaports, airport, and land border stations  for their dirty business transactions are stopped.

Yusuf , the Kano state born Tincan Island  Customs boss may have known from the onset that Garba is a difficult customer that he had  warned his releasing officers and officers in-charge of the terminals to sit up. He was said to have told them that any of them who releases any Consignment which contravened the government fiscal policy or who is careless to allow his or her password to be used by another officer to release bad job would be made to answer the query himself’. He  was said to have made the officers understand that he has no password  or   interested in any job. ”There is no Comptroller’s job”, he was said to have told them.

A tradition had been established  in the past  where Controllers in Customs Formations in Lagos, Ogun and other states in the region pay both official and unofficial visit to  Comptrollers of  FOU, Zone A, to rub minds and  solicit for their  support to allow dirty jobs which they have interest in to go without being stopped by their men on the road. Past Comptrollers  of the Command were said to have played along  with them as they , benefited from such  deals.

Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, may have been given a low down of the rot at the Customs formations in the south west that he needed an officer that could be trusted  and based on merit to be deployed to the Command when Haruna, the then Comptroller of the Command was elevated to enviable rank of acting  Assistant Comptroller General and deployed to Customs Headquarters, Abuja.

His search for a Comptroller, perhaps, from the north to clear the mess being perpetuated at the ports , airport and land border stations in the region by Importers with their agents produced Garba, the Jigawa state born Comptroller,  described in Customs circles as a ”warlord”.

A source informed the Magazine that the Comptroller General  prior to the deployment of the Comptroller to the Command had invited him for a meeting where he had told him where he read the riot act to him.   ”if you go there and decides to compromise your position, I will not only sack you but I will prosecute you’, With the warning , garba  knew that he cannot afford to compromise his position.

It was learnt that on arrival to the Command to take over from Haruna, who is now the acting Comptroller General, Enforcement and Investigation at the Customs Headquarters, he was said to have taken time out study the environment and the structure  met on ground and their briefs.  This is because he knew he could not  do the job alone without getting the right officers who shared the same philosophy with him to head the Command  strategic Checks at Baji, Agbara, Ajilete, Ijebu-Ode and, the Oyo axis and including the patrol teams.  He also needed an officer to head the  Command’s Roving team. This is how Charles Okpabi Jack, a Chief Superintendent of Customs came to his mind. Having set up a proper structure to do the job,he went into action.

The Customs boss  was said to have directed Dauda Ashgi, a Deputy Comptroller who was specifically deployed from Enugu/Eboyi Command to head the Command’s Enforcement Unit to ensure proper supervision of the Unit.     Importers with their agents who initially saw him as a Comptroller who could not hurt a fly because of his gentleness or  one that could easily  be manipulated under the Ali Administration could tell better.

Importers and agents who could not bear the heat of Garba’s men on the road were said to have approached Haruna, the former Comptroller of the Command to use his position as an acting Assistant Comptroller General, Enforcement and Investigation to influence him to  soft-pedal in his anti-smuggling drive. Haruna was said to have reached out to the FOU, Zone A, Customs boss, but the response he got was very disappointing.  Garba had served as the Deputy Comptroller Imports, under Haruna, when he was the Comptroller, Ogun Command.

He was said to have withdrawn from interceding on behalf of the Importers and agents when he discovered that his former subordinate who is now calling the shot at the Command  is a hard nut to crack. Moreso, he do want the matter to get into the ears of Ali, who is waiting to get such reports to use the officer as a scapegoat for other senior officers .

It would be recalled that while at Ogun Command as the Deputy Comptroller , Imports, a petition had been written against the Command . The petitioner had alleged that agents who specialize in doing bad jobs and had been chased out of Seme and relocated to Idiroko , Ogun Command have been received with open hand hands by officials of the Command import Unit. The petitioner may have taken the step to dent Garba’s clean records in the Service but got it wrong. This is may have prepared for him for the task ahead.

Many believe that his outstanding performance since assumption of office at FOU, Zone a, is not unexpected.  He had carved  his teeth as an a thorough bred administrator when he was in the Department of Finance, Administration and Technical Services, FATS, at the Headquarters. He was said to have been in-charge of posting  which was then a goldmine  as there were officers who could pay any amount to remain in their lucrative positions at the ports and or border stations.

A senior Customs officer informed   the Magazine, that there were such temptations but he  tactically avoided it to live his simple life  like  a typical  rich Hausa/Fulani trader in the ancient town of Kano.

He had another opportunity of exhibiting his true Character as a professional Customs officer when Ali set up a Committee on assumption of office under Austin Warikoru, the then Deputy Comptroller General, FATS, to look into the promotions and postings in Customs under the previous management. He was said to have played a key role in the posting of officers and his Judgements were well respected by Colleagues.

officers who were said to have made effort to reach out to  him through cronies with promises of mouth watery  financial inducements to remain at the ports or their lucrative border stations were disappointed. The Warikoru Committee was said to have scattered all the officers from the ports and land  border stations in the north to different Customs formations across the country. Most of those sit-tight Customs officers between the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Customs to Deputy Comptrollers were affected.

Garba who got his first Comptroller’s posting to Federal Operations, Zone C, Owerri, Imo state, was said  to have set example  with a   brother InLaw who allegedly brought into the country a truck load of rice which was promptly intercepted by his men on the road . The  Inlaw had cried out to the younger sister who told him clearly to avoid going to beg as he would not oblige him to  because  of  his philosophy in life.

H e may have heeded the instruction as  he bypassed him  with his documents to Abuja to get reprieve. He was said to have produced the necessary documents for the rice imports , which convinced the Committee that looked into the petition that he had not contravened the government fiscal policy.

Acting on the directive of the Customs Headquarters, he had released the Consignment to the Inlaw. A close Associate told the Magazine that but for the Headquarters intervention, the Inlaw would have forfeited the Consignment to the government.   There were several other Ibo based northern importers who were said to have forfeited their goods that fell into the waiting hands of Garba’s men on the road but were promptly seized by Garba.

Another incident that may have tested the will of the Customs boss was when a friend, a top police officer , introduced  a Chinese   exporter of Hides and Skin  based in Nigeria. The officer, according to sources had introduced the Chinese business man to the Comptroller to facilitate his export. He may have left his well respected friend without any show of anger.

An appreciative Chinese business man was very happy that he has gotten the revered Comptroller  of FOU, Zone A, to his side to do his business. He got it wrong as the Comptroller was said to have narrated the encounter with  the with the top Police officer and the Chinese to some of his men.

He was said to have directed Ashgi, the Deputy Comptroller, Enforcement and Jack, the officer In charge of the Roving team to arrest the Chinese businessman, anytime seen within the Command’s premises. The Chinese may have been informed about the Comptroller’s decision to arrest him that he kept away from the Command describing him as a wrong officer to deal with.  Barely two months ago one of the Command’s patrol teams intercepted a pick up carrying a large quantity of  Hides and Skin for export to China. It was a signal to the Chinese Hides and Skin exporters that it is no longer business as usual.

Indeed, garba’s performance at FOU, Zone A, has been very legendary. The monthly report of the Command’s activities speaks volume. Take the month of June , for instance, the Command had intercepted  Contraband with a Duty Paid Value, DPV, of about N334million. in the month of July, the  Command intercepted various Contrabands with a DPV of about N201 million.  The spectacular record was maintained in subsequent months by the Command.

Vehicle dealers within and outside Lagos have been under  its close watch . The dealer show casing  his vehicles for sales close to the Command’ premises would not hide his experience in a hurry when he was asked to produce the relevant documents of the vehicles on sales to show that it was not smuggled and that appropriate duties paid on the vehicles if imported through Nigeria port or it would be sealed.

The dealer was said to have hurriedly produced the documents to confirm that he is  doing a legitimate business. Other vehicle dealers are also coming up with their documents to prove that they are into legitimate business to to avoid Garba’s troubles.

Only recently, the Command sealed a hidden warehouse in Ikoyi where it impounded 51  assorted vehicles including four bullet proof vehicles. Last Friday, 9th November, 2017,  he had sent out Jack and his men on operation to Ogun state  to impound vehicles smuggled into the country. Sources told the Magazine that Jack had mobilized his men that Friday and followed the informant. There were indications going by the seriousness of the operation and the aggressiveness of the villagers where the smuggled vehicles are kept, the military and the police may have been involved in the operation to provide cover for the Customs personnel.

The Command moved a step further  recently to seal up unlicensed warehouses opposite the Tincan Island second gate used for trans loading into trucks bad jobs released at the port, confirming the Comptroller General impression of him as a warlord.

In spite of the fact that Garba’s  major concern is to sanitize the seaports and airport and minimize smuggling activities in the south west, those envious of his spectacular achievements see him as working to be recongnized by the Customs boss and to be recommended to President Muhammadu Buhari for higher position in the Service.

But those who have had the opportunity of interacting  with him descibed  him as an ”unambitious officer who never lobbied for any position”. He preferred living a quiet  life devoid of publicity, a source said. But he came to head a Command where he could hardly hide himself from the public or bar the maritime press from publicizing his activities.

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