In this Interview with journalists in Abeokuta, Customs Area Controller of Ogun I Command, Comptroller Dera Nnadi explained how he got over 35 traditional rulers commitment to suppress smuggling and promote legitimate trade.
His interaction with the royal fathers was before his recent visit to Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State
He described Ogun State as a place with the highest amount of border routes whose narrative could evolve from being a hot bed of smuggling activities to an area of flourishing legitimate trade that will attract investors.
Olamide Osho was there
During your rounds of engagement with critical stakeholders, especially in the areas where some customs officers were killed in the process of doing their jobs, where you able to talk to the kings so that the perpetrators can be identified and brought to book?
Yes, we held interactions with the council of Obas in Yewa Land. There were over 35 traditional rulers seated; with the paramount ruler of Ilaro and chairman of the Council presiding. I received commitment from the Obas that moving forward; they are going to give in more than they have been giving to Customs to stem the tide of attacks on Customs officers. I also passed a message to them that going by history, as recorded by Augustin Asiwaju and Sunday Afolayan, Yewa land has been known as a very peaceful place, love their neigbours and coexist, and go about their legitimate trade. They were never known for such smuggling that we are witnessing today.
I told the Kabiyesis that they should go back in history and know at what point things deteriorated to this level, and I got commitment from them that they are going to do that. I also told them that it does not help us both as a nation, state and government agency that anytime we open the pages of newspapers, the front pages are portraying Ogun as a war zone and Yewa land as a killing field. It does not help anybody. It scares away investors and those that want to come and develop the state.
We told them that we are going to change the narrative, and they should help us educate their youths and subjects to stop the attacks on government agencies so that these front pages that portray Ogun as a war zone will stop. Henceforth, under the command’s present leadership, we want this narrative to change. What we want to see is that Ogun is a place where the indigenes cooperate with Customs to arrest criminals; not a place where Customs officers are killed. I think we have had enough of that.
Where there any arrest made during the interception of the cannabis sativa? There are also used toys among the seizures made, are they also contrabands?
Yes, two people were arrested with their motorcycles used as means of conveyance, but they have been granted bail.
On the used toys, they were found alongside the used clothing that is absolute prohibition. By our law, whenever you are seizing banned items and you find other items with them, it might mean such is being used for concealing the contrabands, so they are equally going to be seized.
Is it right for Customs officers to intercept items far away from the borders, within the city and in warehouses?
I am a product of various American security training, and one of the basic things I learnt is that every question asked is very important. This question will shed more light on some of the myths being propagated by the uninformed who don’t know or have a better understanding and grip of Customs operations.
Should Customs intercept rice inside the city and should they go into stores to raid? Yes and those activities are backed by the law. Section 158 of the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA) permits Customs officers to patrol everywhere and make interventions if they suspect that something is illegal as well as the Customs law is concerned. Also, section 146 and 147 permits Customs to come into any premises without warrant to search anywhere.
Is it that officers at the border posts are not active or they have been bribed to look the other way and let these contrabands pass and get into town? With the Federal Operating Unit (FOU) coming into the states to do the jobs already assigned to State Commands, does it mean that these commands are not active?
Customs officers at the border areas are not compromised. Nobody throws his hand into the air and catches all the air, and that is why trade is about supply chain; when you miss one, your colleagues can stop it at the other end. Sometime last week, I read of the large quantities of drugs that came into Nigeria. So the question is, why didn’t the security agents in the country they left not intercept them? They were arrested here because of intelligence; there was exchange of information.
When items escape the border and gets into the city, it does not legitimise the item that has been smuggled. I have always stated in the past that if you steal a car in Lagos and find your way by any means to Maiduguri with the car, that does not stop the police from considering the vehicle as a stolen car and arrest it; and it does not legitimise the car as being valid for use by the thief. It still remains a stolen car. So when they succeed by any means, either by attacking officers, like those that just killed our colleague at the river escaped with the rice, which will also find its way into the city. Are we not going to arrest them?
These are the circumstances under which these products enter into the country. Taxing luxury items and intervening on contraband no matter where you find them is a legitimate responsibility and duty of the Nigeria Customs Service.
On the FOU coming into the states to do their work, it is a supply chain. It is expected that various levels of interventions must exist in the conduct of our operations. Even among the FOU operatives, there are intervention units too, same for my Command. Even the media owe it as a responsibility to make such interventions by reporting to Customs whenever they see some illegal activities. They have to put their ears on the ground and then share intelligence with the service, as they are closer to the masses than the rest of us.
Q:There is a petition against Customs concerning the arrest of some individuals made by the FOU under your area of jurisdiction and they are complaining of the continued detention of these persons in custody. Does the Service have the legal backing to continue to hold them in detention?
The matter you are referring to is already in court, so it will amount to prejudice to start discussing it here. The people involved have been charged to court and they are being remanded.
There has been an allegation by the people of Fagbohun community that Customs officer burnt their houses and raped their wives. What is the Service doing in terms of synergy and discussions with such communities?
On the issue of arson and rape, Fagbohun community exists in reality and Google map can also take one there. I would leave it to the press to go to the community and see things for themselves; take pictures of the burnt houses and show it to the world. It is not a case of he who alleges must come with proof; it is now the responsibility of the press which happens to be the watchdog of the society and the mouthpiece of everybody to go and confirm these allegations. Also, I don’t want to believe that a man would have the time to rape a woman in a burning house.
Some leaders of the host communities in Yewa land complained about conduct of Customs operatives vehicles on the roads and the issue of camp boys, which formed parts of your discussions during your engagement with critical stakeholders. To what extend should traditional rulers look forward to seeing better relationship and as they put it ‘respect for their offices’?
We are working on it to the extent that I have visited some of the traditional rulers privately in their palaces. Recall that before I became the Customs Area Controller, with my predecessor we visited 35 individually in their palaces. My team has also sat with the Council of Obas of Yewa land and about three of them complained about issues related to what you said and I told them that we are improving on our rules of engagement. We will continue to educate our officers on their conduct during stop and search. Every anti-smuggling operation is a dynamic process, there is no hard and fast rule that says this is how it will stop because crime is also dynamic.
Security is something that is very important, it is only in this part of the world that we pretend that we are one thing or the other, and therefore should be absolved from security checks. That is wrong, and nobody is above the law. However, I must advocate that in conducting these checks we must give respect to which it is due. Traditional institutions are respected all over the world, so we must respect them. We will educate our officers on how to conduct such searches and interventions.
Again, on the issue of camp boys, we have been advocating that their function should only be limited to running errands such as shining shoes, cleaning uniforms, buying food and helping to offload seizures. They are not Customs officers and therefore, a contravention of section 10 of the CEMA anytime they conduct the job of an officer. It is not their job.
Some of the traditional rulers during the visit to Yewa stated that most of the complaints emanated from activities of operatives of the FOU, while the burden falls back to your Command. Is there good communication between the leadership of the FOU and what are you doing to correct these issues sir?
Let me reiterate that the Nigeria Customs Service is one; the FOU does not wear a different uniform from ours. It is just an administrative convenience that they are called FOU. They are part of us, so I take responsibility for all the things they do, just like I will take the glory for whatever they will achieve that is good. I will not sit here and isolate myself from my colleagues; we are engaging ourselves. As a matter of fact, the Ogun 1 Command initiated a forum comprising of the FOU, border drill, taskforce, Oyo/Osun Command. All the border commands hold their meetings at the FOU ‘A’, Ikeja. We are trying to create a synergy.
I also appreciate the fact that all the Obas in Yewa land who spoke never attributed any of the crises to Ogun 1 Command. This shows that we have improved so much on our level of rules of engagement and we hope to continue to relate with our colleagues at FOU to further enable them emulate that too. The new Controller at the FOU is a friend, so the synergy will even be better than it used to be.
One of the rulers mentioned that there are over 1,000 illegal/unapproved routes around the region and the shortage of officers to oversee the area. What innovative approach are you going to introduce to tackle this?
On the unapproved routes, we have started working on it and the first step was to identify all the border areas. Don’t forget that Ogun State has the highest number of entry points into the country. If you go to Katsina you will only hear of Jibia; in Sokoto it is just Ilela; in the South-East you here of Mfun and in the South-South you see all the littoral states having just the waterfronts to contend with. But here, there are so many borders; you have Ilara, Obele, Ijofi, Ijoun, etc. Look at that! So to whom much is given, much is expected. It is an unusual situation.
What we should be talking about is the current effort of the Service through the E-Customs which incorporates the use of technology in the enforcement of operations. Hopefully, very soon we would have advanced to that. Right here I can receive intelligence via phone call that something is happening somewhere, but we never had such privilege before. I can now get information in real time with photographs and video of what is going on. We shouldn’t take this for granted. As Nigerians, we shouldn’t see it as if we are still on a spot; we should appreciate the level of improvement we have made. Good things are happening here too and that should be amplified.
Having visited traditional rulers which is one of the core areas of Customs’ civic engagement, I would like to know what you will be bringing to the table differently from your predecessors, that will enhance theses engagements, as well as make your operations proactive?
When I was DC Admin, I chaired a committee that engaged the Ogun State chapter of the National Youth Council of Nigeria. We planned a rally and youth conference to sensitise Ogun communities against the dangers of smuggling. We also had similar engagements with youths in Ipokia Local Government Area at Ipokia Kingdom. However, rising from my meeting with the traditional rulers, the need to hold such rally again is so desirable. These are parts of the things we are bringing onboard in engaging the communities.
One of the main things I preached at the meeting with the Obas of Yewa land is that we should change the face of reporting Ogun State and Yewa land as a war zone. There is the saying about the man with the hammer and every other thing in front of him looking like a nail: if we have this idea that Ogun is a war zone, even if you come for peace, everybody else prepares for war. It is not good.
I will charge the media to help us change that narrative of everybody seeing Ogun as a war zone.
What is the readiness level of the command to tackle smugglers during the December period when their activities are always at the peak?
All our celebrations are associated with the eating of rice and foreign rice has been banned. It is expected that there will be lots of people trying to smuggle rice, turkey, vegetable oil and other items in order to raise money for the festive period. With the 10 brand new operational vehicles and the preparedness of our officers, we are ready for them. We are not going to allow smuggling; we will intensify our effort.
However, we are also appealing to them that for the sake of their lives and ours, they should not raise arms against Customs officers anymore. We are ready; the message is that they should steer clear.