The customs service should wake up to its responsibility

The recent seizure by the Nigerian Customs Service of 661 Pump Action Rifles illegally imported into the country from China has brought to the fore the urgent need for the nation’s security services to review their operational strategies for a more effective service delivery. The cache of arms packed in 49 boxes had been cleared by the customs at the Tin Can Island port a few days before a special task force on patrol intercepted the container at Oshodi in Lagos. Preliminary findings, according to the Comptroller-General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd), showed that the arms were concealed as steel doors to beat security checks at the port.

Although Ali has commended the special patrol team for intercepting these dangerous weapons and ordered an investigation into the failure of the service to detect the arms at the port, the incident must nonetheless be very embarrassing to the customs service. It is their professional sloppiness at the nation’s boarders that has led to the massive illegal importation of Small and Light Weapons (SALWs) into the country.

Therefore, the investigation promised by the customs service boss must not only be speedy and thorough, but that its outcome must be made public. For instance, the public needs to know why in spite of the huge budgetary allocation to the service for provision of scanning equipment as well as the crowd of security agencies at the ports, such illicit importations still enter the country. More important to the public would be the specific measures the service is taking to prevent recurrence.

At a time sundry criminal gangs are creating territories for themselves, either in the guise of religion (Boko Haram in the North-east) or militancy (Avengers in the Niger Delta) or the kidnappers that now target schools, further infiltration of arms into the country is one luxury we cannot afford. So, the Customs should wake up and be alive to its responsibility.

We say this because we had called attention in the past to the growing influx and menace of SALWs in the country and that there is urgent need to address the menace of arms proliferation that has posed a clear and present danger to the security of the nation. Indeed, available statistics paint a grim picture of a disaster waiting to happen. And the pity is that the response from the authorities is too lackadaisical to inspire hope that gun-running would be effectively brought under control soonest.

A recent research revealed that out of the 857 million small arms and light weapons in the world, 500 million are illegal with 100 million found in sub- Saharan Africa. About 7.5 per cent of that is in Nigeria. This damning figure was confirmed by the findings at a National Consultation on Physical Security and Stockpile Management in Abuja. With 70 per cent of the West African sub-region’s SALWs, 90 per cent of which are in the hands of non-state actors, any wonder why there is so much strife in the country? And the pertinent question is: How did the arms get into the country? The answer is obvious: The Customs Service has been derelict in the performance of its duty.

Yet the same service that has been lame in the face of massive illegal importation of illicit arms has suddenly found strength to flex muscles with the Rivers State Government that imported two aircraft for security surveillance. But unable to pay the huge duties imposed by the customs service, it decided to donate them to the federal government. Short of playing politics, the customs had no business entering into the controversy.

Certainly, the service has enough on its plate to chew and straying into the political arena will not only be an overflow but also a huge and an unnecessary distraction.