Ogun State is one of the states in Nigeria that has international land borders which is considered to have contributed immensely in terms of revenue generation to the nation’s economy. Being one of the states that link most West African countries together, legitimate economic activities thrive heavily along the Idiroko border in the Ipokia Local Government Area and Ilara border in the Yewa North Local Government Area of the state.
Notwithstanding that these borders attract both legitimate international and local travellers across the frontier, there are however, several thousands of other unapproved routes available for smuggling activities from the neighbouring Benin Republic into the country which make the border somehow porous. The porosity of the borders has led to illicit and illegal activities such as smuggling, drug trafficking, human immigration/trafficking etc.
Apart from the porosity of the borders, the activities of the smugglers are also worrisome as they often attack Customs officers while carrying on their official duties thus leading to the death of many of the officers.
Their activities however, reached crescendo on 4th April, this year when one of the Customs personnel, Abdul Salami Rasheed, an Assistant Inspector of Customs attached to the Federal Operating Unit (FOU), was kidnapped by the smugglers at the Sango-Ota old Toll Gate, during a gun duel with operatives of the Service. They also destroyed two NCS’ vehicles: a Toyota Hilux with registration number AP 80 CS and Toyota Hummer Bus marked AQ 74 CS. Till date, the whereabouts of the officer still remains unknown.
This incident however, marked a tunning point in the modus operandi of the NCS personnel of Ogun Area Command who then declared a total war on the smugglers.
It was around this same period that the command got a new boss, in person of Comptroller Michael Agbara. Upon his arrival at the command, Agbara introduced some measures aimed at bringing smuggling activities to the barest minimum and his efforts at ridding Ogun border of smuggling activities appeared to be yielding the desired result within the past few months.
The new Comptroller’s efforts at combating smuggling activities have also brought him into a collision with these economic saboteurs as the smugglers also abducted one of his operatives attached to the Roving Patrol, Inspector Abdulahi Mohammed Kuso during another gun duel at Papa-Alanto in the Ewekoro Local Government Area of the state. Kuso was later macheted on the head, neck and other parts of the body before he was dropped off to die in the pool of his own blood. The NCS Inspector was, however, rescued and taken to the hospital for treatment.
Worried by these development and others, the Comptoller General of Customs (CGC), Col. Hameed Ali (rtd.), at a one-day national conference on Fast-tracking Port Reforms, called for a united front against smugglers.
Speaking at the conference tagged: “International Freight Transport: key To Unfolding The Potentials of Nigerian Seaports For Speedy Economic Recovery and Growth” and organised by Vintage Press Limited and Epsilon Limited among others, Ali said one way to improve performance of the agencies at the ports is actually to carry out an assessment of their operations, identify areas where “we made progress and those where we still have some bottlenecks and delays’’.
The CGC’s words of exhortation may have formed the fulcrum upon which Ogun Area Controller, Agbara resolved at tackling smuggling to a stand still. Sources within the NCS hinted that since assumption of duty in April this year, Agbara has embarked on sensitisation and consultative meetings with stakeholders in his command, particularly traditional rulers of the host border communities.
It was also revealed that Agbara mandated all the out-stations in the command to hold bi-monthly meetings with leaders, heads and stakeholders of the host communities, while he is busy at the command levels, going round to meet people and he has almost concluded that.
It was also confirmed that Agbara is planning to host a meeting of all the traditional rulers of border communities since it will not be easy for him to go round on a one-on-one basis. “That means he won’t do any other work now because they are too many”.
“So, in a very shot time, the Ogun CAC is going to meet with the kings, chiefs, baales and other traditional rulers of these border communities for us to brainstorm and tell them what we want them to do. CAC is equally planning to use it as a forum to sensitise them on the dangers and criminality involved in allowing smuggling in their domains and I hope that within this month of August, we should attain that”
Investigation however, revealed that Agbara’s crusade against rice smuggling has yielded positive result. For example, the command has recorded a total number of 20, 574 bags of rice between April when Agbara assumed duty in Ogun and July this year.
This is in sharp contrast to a seizure of 21, 789 bags of rice between January and Decembe, 2017. This invariably means that the total number of bags of rice which the command, under Agbara, intercepted in just four months is 1, 215 bags lesser than what it intercepted in the whole of year 2017.
His tougher stance on anti smuggling however, is a pointerto why he is always at loggerheads with the smugglers.
But notwithstanding his tougher anti smuggling measures, the unwholesome activities of the smugglers and the nation’s porous borders have made it difficult for the Ogun CAC to totally curb smuggling.
Investigations revealed that smugglers are, on a daily basis, evolving various antics to beat the Customs formation. In most cases, such acts are perpetrated at night when they flaunt their arms, ready for battle with the officers that come across their path.
For instance, it was gathered that smugglers, at times, would carry trucks of rice which had been re-bagged with the local bags to make them look like locally produced rice. ‘’But Customs’ intelligence reports always gave them out and “we were able to intercept them’’, it was gathered.
Further information has it that the smugglers also evolve the habit of using motorcycles popularly called “okada” to evacuate and bring into the country, several tons of rice. These motorcycles, according to customs source, often make use of the bush path to escape arrest.
“But we have always intercepted them and when you arrest them, lawyers would show up for their bail and to avoid being accused of human rights abuse, we always grant them administrative bail, pending the conclusion of investigations before charging them to court
“We have one of those okada riders intercepted along the bush parts in Oke-Odan; a 21-year-old Akeem Idowu, who attempted to disarm one of our officers but was shot in the leg. They brought him and we treated him. He is equally on an administrative bail, but the rice and his motorcycle are with us.
On revenue generation, the Ogun Command, under the control of Agbara, has performed well in the area of revenue generation to the coffers of the federal government as well as facilitating legitimate trade.
There are two areas of generating revenue: first are the duties collected on imports and the other is the excise duties realised on manufacturing companies within the command.
“We are doing well in terms of generating revenue on excise duties. What is affecting our revenue, particularly the import duties, is the non payment of duties on rice and vehicles. So, the revenue is dwindling on the import side, but we are achieving greater successes on the side of excise duties”.
While the command has resolved not to renege in its anti smuggling crusade, the command however,requires enough patrol vehicles to comb the border areas in order to achieve the desired result.
Iyiola sent this piece from Abeokuta.