Customs Marine Commands And Smuggling At Creeks, Rivers

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 In the last few months, the Western Marine command of the Nigeria Customs Service has been in seizure spree, seizing petroleum products, foreign parboiled rice among others. YUSUF BABALOLA writes.

The marine command of the Nigeria Customs Service is the amphibian arm of the Nigeria Customs Service that engage smugglers who smuggle contraband or banned goods through the Creeks, Rivers and waters across the country.

The unit divided into the Western and Eastern Marine command has the western command covering the whole southwest while the eastern unit is combating smuggling from the Eastern and Northern flanks of the country.

But, despite the challenges of modern crafts to combat the rampaging smugglers, the unit has continued to be a nightmare to smugglers who face the heat of the Federal Operations Unit (FOU) Zone A of the service.

The unit also involved in ensuring vessels plying their trade and discharging cargoes and petroleum products in the country have the appropriate permits and bonds needed to operate on the nation’s water.

Before now, smugglers have been having a field day smuggling contrabands and banned items through the waters into the country with little or no resistance but, this has changed in the last few months as the command has renewed its anti-smuggling drive smashing smuggling rings using the nation’s water to perpetrate their economic crimes.

For instance, in the last six months, the command has dealt heavy blow on smugglers as they forfeit goods worth several millions of naira to the federal government. The command also stepped up patrol surveillance at the creeks within their area of coverage at Apapa, which has led to massive seizures of rice and petroleum products.

Season Of Seizures by the Command

Since his assumption of office, Comptroller Sarkin-Kebbi Mustapha has seized smuggled items worth over N500million. A month after assumption of duty at the Western Marine command, Compt. Sarkin Kebbi Mustapha impounded a total of 94150kg bags of foreign parboiled rice and 66 kegs of 25kg petroleum products worth over N6.8million with duty of N4.8million and Duty Paid Value (DPV) at N12million.

Also, in June, the Command intercepted Cannabis estimated at over N250million along Badagry axis, smuggled into Nigeria from Ghana. Also, in July, the unit seized another 138 bales of second hand clothes, 10 bags of second hand clothes, eight sacks of children foot wears of rubber sandals, 477 cartons of frozen poultry products and 400 bags of foreign rice.

A breakdown of the seizure showed that the goods valued at N12, 073, 692 with a duty of N3, 348, 189, 40 and a Duty Paid Value (DPV) of N12, 509, 896. While 80 big bales, 58 small bales and 10 sacks of second hand clothes is valued at N6,100,000.00, its duty is put at N1,220,000.00, just as its DPV amounts to N7,320,000.00.

Similarly, eight sacks of children rubber sandals valued at N200,000.00, came with a duty of N40,000.00 and a DPV of N240,000; 477 cartons of frozen poultry products is valued at N2,862,000. For the 400 bags of foreign parboiled rice of 50kg each, the value is put at N2, 911, 692 just as the duty is N2, 038, 184. The DPV is N4, 949,876.4.

Last week, the command busted a ring specialised in smuggling petroleum products through the Creeks. The unit made a seizure of 43,750 litres of Petroleum Motor Spirit (PMS) at Gbao and Yekemeh Creek in Lagos. According to him, the seized petroleum product has a Duty Paid Value (DPV) of N6.3million.

Other seizures according to the CAC include 348 cartons and 25 sacks of assorted foreign soaps valued at N3.2 million. The seizure also included 438 used tyres valued at N2.1 million and 300 bags of rice worth N2.1 million. Interceptions according to the CAC was based on intelligence security network of the Command at strategic areas of operations.

Training of Officers

The CAC has attributed the feat in seizure haul to training and retraining of his officers who he said he has done three times in the last six months he assumed office. “I have trained my officers three times since I assumed office here, the Navy has been in the forefront of helping in training and it has paid off due to the seizure haul we have been recording in recent time.”

Operational Challenges 

Even though, the Command is faced with operational challenges such as non-availability of craft or seagoing vessels to combat smugglers in the high-sea, the Command was still able to turn the challenge to its strength.

On assumption of duty, Sarkin-Kebbi stated that he inherited dilapidated boats however disclosed that he had made a presentation to the customs headquarters and had gotten assurance from the headquarters to provide them with operational tools even as he added that the command was making use of the available ones at the moment to work leading to remarkable successes being recorded by the command.

“If you have sea going vessels and you patrol with them, then they need to be armed. Presently, they are not armed but a contract has already been awarded to arm those vessels because they are not going to stay in this shallow water, they go to the high sea, they need to be armed.

“So, within the next few months, they are going to arm them and hand them over to us to work with. The CGC felt since we use these ones to go to the high seas, we need them to be armed to protect ourselves and do our job.”

According to him, “WMC is purely an enforcement unit and we have the mandate to fully implement government’s trade policies to suppress smuggling for our local industries to thrive. The land borders are now too hot for smugglers, so they have moved their illegal activities to the waterways and the creeks, and we are battled ready to curtail them. It is the desire of WMC to ensure that the waterways are safe from the activities of nefarious business men and women, thereby engendering the security of our country while smuggling is reduced to the barest minimum”.

He warned smugglers and criminals in the nation’s waterways to stay clear as the men and officers of WMC will not rest on its oars until they smoke out smugglers out of the command areas of jurisdiction.

Need For Barrack And Office Accommodation 

The WMC CAC lauded the Comptroller General of Customs, Colonel Hameed Ibrahim Ali (retired) and his management team for their support in the strides the command has made since he took over. According to him, the support of Ali and his management team has boosted the moral of officers and men of his command.

Activities such as promotion and postings are done on merit and transparent for everyone to see. Also, we will urge the CGC to please do something about office accommodation and building of barracks for our officers. That has been one of our greatest challenge and we believe that something will be done about it.

Sensitising Community Leaders 

The CAC disclosed that since he assumed office, he has been engaging in sensitisation of communities bothering the Rivers telling them the harmful effects of smuggling to the nation’s economy.

“I have met with religious traditional and leaders of thought sensitising them over injurious effect of smuggling to the nation’s economy. We have told them to enroll their children in school and not to let them see smuggling as a legitimate job.