Eromosele Abiodun posits that the recent success recorded by the Nigeria Customs Service in arresting smugglers and importers of arms will make the country safer for investment to thrive
Smuggling severely harms the economy of a country in multidimensional ways. It undermines the local industry, discourages legal imports and reduces the volume of revenue collected from duties and levies by the state. Unfortunately a parallel underground economy has taken roots in Nigeria.
A major proportion of the revenue to be collected by the federal government is being lost, over and above the adverse impact that the smuggled items cause to local industry. Obviously, this cannot be done without connivance of the corrupt officials including those in the law enforcement agencies and everyone is aware of it but no action is being taken.
Markets and shops across the country are flooded with smuggled goods of any and all descriptions. Smuggled items through the Seme, Idiroko, Katsina, and Yobe borders form a major part of the informal economy volume of which ranges between 50 and 60 per cent of the formal economy. Smuggling has assumed an alarming proportion and turned out to be a parallel economy, which is depriving the country of its rightful levies including excise and customs duty worth hundreds of billions of naira.
As a result of the activities of smugglers, thousands of industrial units have been rendered sick, due to the availability of smuggled goods in open markets. Smuggling has now become a routine part of all economic activities in Nigeria which hardly raises any eye brows nor stirs the slightest fear of the law. Nigeria is facing the challenge of measuring and countering enormous revenue leakages and black money — its size estimated to be three time the regular economy. Aside this, the fragile security situation in some parts of Nigeria and the impact of arms smuggling on the situation is telling. Given Nigeria’s porous borders, a lot of small arms have found their way into the country, further worsening the cases of armed robbery, kidnapping etc.
Ending the menace
To put an end to this ugly situation, government agencies responsible for manning the borders are putting in extra effort. There has been an improvement in recent times.
For instance, this week in Lagos, the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), Federal Operations Unit (FOU), Ikeja arrested three men identified as Mr Oscan Okafor, Mahmud Hassan and Sadique Mustapha for the unlawful importation of 49 boxes containing a total number of 661 pieces of pump action rifles concealed in a container of steel doors and other merchandise goods.
Comptroller General of Customs (CGC), Col Hameed Ali (Rtd.) who disclosed this in a chat with journalists stated that the arms were cleared at the Apapa Port with the aid of two customs officers who are now been investigation.
He said the arms originated from Turkey and routed through China before it was smuggled into Nigeria and falsely declared as steal doors.
He said the roving team of the NCS federal operations unit while on patrol on Sunday, January 22, 2017, intercepted a Mack truck with registration number BDG 265 XG, conveying a 1×4 container with number: PONU/825914/3 along mile 2 Apapa-Oshodi express road.
The truck, he said, was immediately taken to the premises of FOU Zone A, Ikeja where physical examination revealed what was in the container.
While decrying the harm hard drugs and arms has inflicted on Nigerians over the years, he said: “These rifles are under absolute prohibition, therefore its importation is illegal. Such deadly contravention of the law is even more unacceptable considering the fragile security situation in some part of the country.
“Already, three suspects have been arrested in connection with this illegal importation. Investigation has already commenced and I have directed that the dragnet should be wide enough to fish out all persons involved in the importation and clearing of the consignment. The customs officers involved in the clearance of this container are with the Comptroller FOU Zone A, Ikeja.”
The seizure, he added, underscores the determination of the service to enforce all laws relating to importation and exportation of goods into and out of Nigeria thereby contributing to the economy, security and wellbeing of the country.
He added, “This feat is no doubt commendable and represents the new normal in the service where most officers and men are on a daily basis ensuring that illegalities are not allowed unchecked. I commend the FOU Zone A Comptroller, all officers and men involved in this great seizure.”
Ali also called on all Nigerians to work with the service by giving information that help in stopping unscrupulous elements from importing harmful products into the country.
That is not all, late last year; Tin Can Island Command of the NCS arrested a middle-aged man identified as Christian Mbachi over unlawful importation of rifles, bulletproof vests and gas mask concealed in a container of personal effect.
The Customs Area Comptroller of the command, Yusuf Bashar told journalists that the items which were carefully concealed in the two vehicles were being smuggled into Nigeria from the United States of America.
Bashar, who handed over the seized items to officials of the Department of State Services (DSS), said the discovery was made as a result of tact and intelligence deployed by operatives of the command in the discharge of their duties.
Among the items handed over are nine military bulletproof vests, one military helmet, a gas mask, one Omini American tactical rifle No. AR48634, one Moasberg American pump action rifle No. U648018,3500 hollow point pellet ammunition, 4,000 military air gun ammunition, 26 packs of military made food and one rifle punch, two military boots.
A director with the DSS, Tin-Can Island Command, Mr. Julius Odey, who received the items, explained that the arms were concealed in two vehicles, a Toyota Corolla car with chases No.2T1BR32E54C30941 2004 model and a Nissan Amanda car with chases No.5N1AA08A69N709789 2007 model.
Odey said while the items in the Toyota Corolla car were discovered to contain 40 pieces of Hardy X&W ammunition, the Nissan Amanda was discovered to contain two military rifles, military bullet proof vest, gas mask, two military boost, packs of already prepared military food and ammunition.
He said the items were declared as personal effects by their owner which allows it to come into the country duty free duty.
He explained that arms and ammunition are on the federal government absolute prohibited list, and not on the trade list, adding that this makes it illegal for any individual or group of persons to bring them in without necessary government approval.
Bullet-proof cars at Seme
Also late last year, the Seme Command of the NCS seized three bullet-proof cars with a Duty Paid Value of N76 million.
The Area Controller, Victor Dimka, a Customs Comptroller, disclosed this at a briefing held at the vehicle seat in the command.
He disclosed that individuals who desired to import bullet-proof cars into the country must get clearance from the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA).
According to him, “The command seized three bullet-proof cars with a Duty Paid Value of N76million and this was done through intelligence gathering by officers of the command. A particular bullet-proof car, which was a 2012 Mercedes C300, was intercepted at the Gbaji area of Badagry and it had an official plate number of FG 35 S02.”
“Due process must be followed in the importation of bullet-proof cars and the process is that the individual must apply to the ONSA and if it is approved, the office would send an approval certificate to the NCS and the individual would be allowed. All the cars that were seized have been handed over to the Department of State Security Service for further investigation,” he said.
Dimka also warned against attacks of Customs officers by smugglers.
“A situation where officers performing their legitimate duties are always ambushed and maimed with dangerous weapons would no longer be accepted or tolerated. Enough is enough. We are backed up by law so we are carrying out our legitimate duties by working to stem smuggling, so we are ready for war over this matter.
“Smuggling is dangerous to the economy, so anyone involved in it is considered as an enemy of the nation. We have upgraded ourselves and we have everything we need, so people should desist from smuggling or be ready to face the full wrath of the law,” Dimka said.
He reiterated the command’s commitment to surpass its revenue target for 2016, adding that all revenue loopholes have been effectively blocked.
CGC’s riot Act
Ali vowed recently to bring to book importers and freight forwarders who are bent on defrauding the federal government.
Specifically, he said importers who abuse the fast track facility meant to enhance trade facilitation and global best practices will face the full weight of the law.
The CGC read the riot act when he visited Apapa port command of the Nigeria Customs on his way from Cotonou where he made a two day working visit.
According to him, “We are out on a mission and we get information on matters such as this, we react. I am glad that the Apapa command was able to nip this in the board. I am here to strengthen the command, commend them for what they are doing and use the opportunity to send a very strong message to our partners who are either importers or freight Forwarding agents. Anybody got in this crime will be brought to book. Once you falsely declare and we discover it, it is automatic seizure. Whoever is involved will face the law and if there is any officer that connived with the importer he will be prosecuted and the minimum jail term is five years.”
He added, “It is instances like this that has continued to deter us from ascending to global best practices in trade facilitation. We will no longer trust in our stakeholders when we grant certain reprieve to ensure smooth clearing of goods and they turn around and abuse it. We have no option therefore than to subject every container that comes to our ports to 10 per cent inspection. That is going to course delay and increased expenses. At the end of the day, it is the poor consumer that will bear the cost.
“I therefore want to use this opportunity to say that in line with the law, we will fight corruption to its knees. That was the promise we made to this nation when we assumed duty. We are sure that anybody that has gone contrary to the law in the course of doing their job will be brought to book. We will use this as an example.”