The out-going Customs Area Controller in charge of Federal Operations Unit (FOU) Zone ‘A’, Comptroller; Mohammed Garba Uba has singled out land borders located within the Ogun State axis as the most notorious for Customs officers.
Uba, who was last week transferred to the Seme border command, said this while appraising his 15 months stay in Ikeja, Lagos, from where he superintended anti-smuggling activities of the FOU Zone ‘A’ which has jurisdiction across the South Western part of the country.
He however acknowledged that intercepting several exotic vehicles are one of his greatest milestones in the unit.
He also lamented the high rate of attacks on officers as one of his greatest challenges as the Controller in charge of the unit, even as he insisted that Ogun state is the most difficult place to manage as a Controller. He specifically accused residents of that state of supporting smugglers and sabotaging the Customs anti-smuggling drive.
Justifying his position, he told journalists: "What I know is, in the whole of this South West Zone, the most difficult place to fight smuggling is Ogun state. I worked there when I was a Deputy Controller, it is a place whereby you pursue people who are carrying goods that are illegally brought in, and the whole community will rise against you. Instead of them to support you as a government agency they will rise against you”.
“And in whatever we do you always make sure that we follow the rules of engagement and avoid gunshots so that we will not go and be killing people because we are pursuing smugglers", he added.
Compt. Uba however called for proper education and enlightenment on the ills of smuggling and the need for locals and residents of border communities to collaborate with Customs, even as he acknowledged the existence of customs border community relations committees at all the border commands.
"No matter what we see and arrest the most important thing is to save life. So we will continue to educate them. All these border commands have what we call Customs Community Relations which comprises of traders, agents, and traditional rulers.”
“The essence is to educate the people against smuggling activities so that all these illegalities will come to end. Because even if after prosecuting the smugglers, they will end in the prison and the prison is managed by the government. So instead of bringing all those expenses why don't we channel these resources to the economy?”, he stressed.
Even though the outgoing Comptroller did not give details of attacks of customs personnel, Shipping Position Daily recalls there have been series of such cases in recent past between smugglers and villagers against customs personnel.
In one of such instances in January, an officer Muhammed Maigari, was brutally macheted by armed smugglers at Ibeji River around Idogo-Ifoyintedo axis in Ipokia Local Government Area of the state. Maigari is from the Federal Operations Unit, Ikeja but posted to Idiroko border axis.
Also in May in this year, smugglers and hoodlums attacked officials of the Nigeria Customs Service in Abeokuta, Ogun State, while trying to arrest a suspected rice smuggler. The attack happened in broad day light at the Ago-Ika area of the town, in Abeokuta North Local Government Area.
The hoodlums thereafter called for reinforcement from commercial motorcyclists towards ensuring that the smuggler’s vehicle was not towed away by Customs.
Again, in July 2018 hoodlums attacked customs officers who attempted to stop smugglers of rice in the Papalanto area along the Ilaro Road in Ogun State.
This face-off with customs personnel led to pandemonium, as commuters, drivers and residents, out of anger, blocked the high traffic prone Sango-Abeokuta Expressway for hours.
Recently, a crowd in Ogun State, attacked and nearly set ablaze an official of the Nigeria Customs Service for going after smugglers.
According to Joseph Attah, the national spokesperson of the Nigeria Customs Service, the officer was in hot pursuit of some fleeing suspected smugglers when some people in the area suddenly attacked him.