211 Pilfered Tramadol Cartons: Will Nigeria Customs shield officers, importer again?

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Hameed Ali, Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs Service

By Adegboyega Oni

A continuous importation of Tramadol drugs of various milligrams into the country is alarming. Despite series of seizures by the customs, one wonders why our seaports are still being flooded by Tramadol. This is no mean a work of a dare-devil syndicate of importers and their collaborators in the port systems, particularly in the customs and freight forwarding. There is no smoke without fire.

One can assume that the nefarious business is on the rise because the customs authority has never named any name either as an importer or a collaborator or carried out any prosecution in the court. As usual only the driver is arrested and paraded. The music next is, the perpetrators shall be brought to justice.       

However on Wednesday July 17, 2019, the Apapa Command of the Nigeria Customs Service paraded an ambulance driver and his escort caught smuggling 10 cartons of 225mg Tramadol tablets valued at N2,814,139.00 out of a terminal in Lagos Port Complex, Apapa. The ambulance is owned by Medbury Medicals Services contracted by the management of APM Terminals Limited to provide healthcare services for its staff.

Earlier before the suspects were paraded, the Customs Area Controller of the command, Comptroller Muhammed Abba-Kura said that on the night of Friday 12th July 2019 at about 2300 hour officers of the command on routine surveillance intercepted an ambulance (Hyundai) with registration number LND 605 XW LAGOS suspected to be laden with offending articles of trade.

Abba-Kura noted that upon examination, it was discovered that the ambulance was carrying 10 cartons of 225mg Tramadol and the two male suspects named Michael Ajibade (driver) and Olatunde Emmanuel (escort) were arrested.

He averred that upon further investigation into the matter, it was revealed that the drugs were pilfered from an undisclosed container at the AP Moller Terminals. He added that physical examination carried out revealed further that 211 cartons of drugs were missing from the container with a duty paid value of N59,378,332.09.

According to Abba-Kura, ‘’preliminary investigation has commenced, and we are currently working hard to ascertain the level of involvement of staff of the AP Moller Terminal with a view to getting to the root of this unfortunate incident and they will be charged to court of competent jurisdiction.’’

During an interrogation, the suspects – the driver and escort – stated that they were engaged by some people whose names they did not mention to use their ambulance to ferry the drugs out of the port. Even Abba-Kura stated categorically that any of his officers caught in the act will be made to face the wrath of the law as the investigation is ongoing. This sounds good. But how sincere he is?

Looking at the whole scenario, it is not possible for the driver and his escort to walk straight to the container stacking area in the APM Terminals and pilfer a container without being caught. Their assignment is just to taxi the drugs as an accident victim out of the port. But the real perpetrators are in customs, stevedore and terminal that are being heavily paid by customs agents on behalf of the importer to pilfer the container as an alternative method to beat the customs inspection and wheel the drug in ambulance out of the port blasting siren to create an emergency situation.   

But these people – importer and the collaborators – are not ghosts; they are Nigerians. If a thorough investigation is done as promised, they can easily be fished out except the people in the customs hierarchy including the Customs Area Controller and his management decide to sweep the matter under the carpet to protect their own.

In the recent past, perpetrators of seized Tramadol drugs were and have never been arrested or prosecuted despite promises of heaven and earth by the customs to fish them out and bring them to justice. Customs has kept mute over all the matters. The perpetrators are still at large. When justice is not done, crimes increase and the society is held in the jugular by criminals just as tramadol peddlers, I mean importers, are daily being emboldened to continue in the nefarious act and their collaborators in the port have continued to create a leeway for them to circumvent the laws.

One week after the incident now, the Apapa Customs Command is yet to tell Nigerians anything about its investigation. When an investigation into a case is deliberately prolonged, the matter goes underground and nothing is said about it anymore. The service does not need an elongated investigation to unravel who the perpetrators are; the CAC knows his officers even if not by names but by assignments. The society is waiting to hear the outcome of the investigation and the case must not end up like the ones before it.

Can Nigeria Customs Service live above board? To prove it, the importer and customs officers who may be caught in the act after investigation must be paraded publicly just as the driver and the escort were paraded; nothing like ‘shielding our own.’

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