Arms Seizures At Tincan Port: Like Guns Like Turkey

Compt Yusuf Bashar, Customs Area Controller, Tincan Island Customs Command, Lagos

“Generally, anytime we have interceptions like this, it requires a lot of intelligence and profiling of importers,”Compt. Bashir Yusuf.

Great statement from the man of the moment. When such seizures of that magnitude are made Customs, it is a big deal.  Bashir Yusuf, Controller of Tincan Customs and ACG Monday Abueh, Coordinator, Zone A, must be the proudest civil servants in Nigeria today walking lithely in the clouds.

When you seize 400 action pump guns from the market or from entering the market, where defiant, desperate and nihilistic militants, kidnappers, armed bandits, politicians thugs, university and downtown cultists are thirstily waiting to buy, you may have, nay, you have saved lives from deaths by Boko Haram pogrom, from kidnappers’ soulless clutches, from ethnic irredentists wanton massacres, and from the many irrepressible highway robbers and armed burglars.

This goes to show the import of the gun seizures at Tin Can Island Port, Lagos by the Customs. Kudos to Comptroller Bashir.

The pertinent questions at this juncture now are: why the frequency and regularity of imports of arms and ammunition into Nigeria though the supposedly well-fortified Nigerian ports? Why would an importer, or importers, be this daring? Or wasteful? Does this development not open a big vista as to why Nigerian markets are flooded with contrabands like poultry products (turkey and chicken), fairly used cloths, panties, brassiere, shoes, bed sheets, pyjamas, generating sets, electronics? You could call Nigeria a dust bin country, having lost a sense of shame!

But for the vigilance, patriotism, sincerity and selflessness of Bashir and his officers, the last two seizures would not have happened, the guns might have ended up in Southern Kaduna or Maiduguri or Madagali and might have felled many innocent but hapless Nigerians.

Now and then trailer loads of frozen chicken and turkey are apprehended by the ever busy men of the Federal Operations Unit (FOU) of the Nigeria Customs Service. The chicken and turkey are assumed inedible and therefore to be disposed of by burning or burying. At the burying or burning ceremony, the customs controller takes charge, supervising the burial with gusto and pride. He, oftentimes, presents the truck or the driver, or the truck or the driver for the media to behold. No interviews. But not once ever has the controller or his PRO presented the importer who had been supposedly ‘profiled’ before the arrest. Not once ever. And no court case is ever brought to the limelight thereafter. The big masquerade remains unmasked and the result is that imported frozen chicken and turkey are the number delicacies on the dining table of Lagosians and indeed all Nigerians. It is now deducible that this burning and burials of poultry products are a mere circus show.

Agreed, CEMA has some classified provisions for the importation of guns and to avoid litigation we are told, it is the reason the importer is not ordinarily brought forward for public opprobrium when his evil freight is being shown to the press, to the Nigerian people.

When gun seizures occur in such a relative short time space, one then wonders the volumes of gun cargo that enter safely and which is why gun booms everywhere in Nigeria, and this certainly explains the audacity, the malevolence of criminals in Nigeria of today. They will always access super sophisticated ammunition that come in mostly in large quantities through the ports. We therefore need to praise Comptroller Bashir, not the Customs, because his likes in the Service are one in one thousand.

In Nigerian ports, somebody, nay, most people only pretend to be doing their jobs. Before a good arrives in the home of a Nigerian importer, it comes through a simple, easily manageable logistics route. For brevity, the importer fills a form M in a bank which explains why he needs money for what. He buys and ships the goods to Nigeria, attended by a submission of a ship manifest to customs, NIMASA and the Nigerian Ports Authority by the shipping lines. What are the jobs of these government agents in the safe berth and passage of the vessels and the cargo?

The NIMASA strictly ensures that the larger body of the vessel and the crew and the cargo are guaranteed safe voyage through Nigerian territorial waters to the anchorage where it is handed over to NPA. NIMASA collects a fee in dollars for that. It is not their business what a container contains. NPA tows it to its final berth at the quayside where the terminal operator takes charge. It is not NPA business to poke nose into a container. Why should the shipping line that brought the contraband not be accountable? Why carry a cargo whose profile or content you are ignorant of? Any sense in that?

But it is the duty and responsibility of the Customs, upon payment of duty on an import, to exam the cargo primarily for duty payment purposes and where they sniff something unusual, invite agencies like SON, NAFDAC, Port Health, Quarantine, to take a second look depending on the nature of the cargo. Where are these agencies? They are anonymous around the ports.

But, strangely, one should not blame the Customs. Blame governmental intransigence or excesses. In the time of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, the all-powerful Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala in 2011 had by fiat ordered the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) out of the ports, limiting their job to perfunctory invitation and meretinous examination of cargo. This left Customs exposed, the nation in danger and in the killer jaws of the many heartless importers in Nigeria.

Ever since, what you have in homes are shining but redundant electrical appliances. Your table or ceiling fan will rather sing than fan you; electric pressing irons are changed every three months while electric light bulbs last only two nights. This is missing the services of the Standards Organisation of Nigeria.

NAFDAC officials too are hardly in the ports. But for the enduring work done by the woman of substance, a patriot incomparable, the very beautiful Professor Dora Akunyili of blessed memory, half the population of Nigeria would have committed self-immolation. Till date, drug importers are afraid of her ghost and will not dare to import substandard drugs into our motherland.

Running towards the tail end, the Customs take the immediate blame. When have the Customs scanners become disused? After all, they worked perfectly for ten years under the supervision of foreigners like Cotecna and SGS. Pure sabotage. These machines were damaged by fifth columnists in customs in collusion with, most likely, the gun runners, the drug mafias. Let the Comptroller       General of Customs Hameed Ali, rejuvenate and add fresh searing fire to his reforms. Besides promoting everyone in Customs at a go, some elements need demotion while others need eviction outright.

And as long as the Customs exhibit to us the media a seized exhibit without producing the culprit, the traitor importer, such hideous importations will thrive and one in a hundred of such projects will be busted by customs.

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