Attacks on officers of the Nigeria Customs Service, especially the anti-smuggling team of Federal Operations Units, by smugglers, have reached a level that should evoke the feelings and concerns of all right-thinking persons.
Though, this category of Customs officers have been subjects of vicious attacks by dare devil smugglers from time immemorial, these barbaric acts have reached a crescendo in recent times where some of the victims lost their lives in such incidents.
Also, in January, 2018, a customs operative, Muhammed Maigari, was dealt with a life-threatening machette cut on his shoulder by armed smugglers at Ibeji River around Idogo-Ifoyintedo axis in Ipokia Local Government Area of Ogun state.
In April, 2018, one Rasheed Abdulsalam, attached to the Lagos Federal Operations Unit of the Customs, was abducted by smugglers who laid an ambush for his patrol team around Sango-Otta axis of Ogun State.
We are not sure if he was ever found since his disappearance two years ago.
May 12th, 2018, there was another incident at Ilara in Imeko Afon Local Council Development Area of Ogun State.
The accounts of fatalities of customs officers in recent years are unending and the numbers inexhaustible.
We view the spate of attacks on these dutiful officers with grievous concerns and are deeply worried by the seeming inertia of authority to take necessary steps in curbing the dastardly act.
We are fully aware of the hazardous nature of the assignments of these officers for which they too are conscious of the implications.
They are natural targets of attacks by smugglers who regard them as unnecessary irritants who have come to stop their source of livelihood.
Expectedly, the smugglers would not bat an eye lid to remove such impediments from their way.
This is why the management of the service should do more than what it is currently doing to safe guard the lives of these officers whose duties naturally expose them to danger.
We are not unmindful of the provision of utility vehicles for the patrol teams, which are most of the time, grossly inadequate.
We commend the precautionary measures taken by the Customs authority through reinforcement of patrol teams with military personnel whenever they are going on sting operations.
We also laud the payment of special allowances such as hazards allowance for this category of officers to boost their morale but which we learnt is either outrightly withheld by some unscrupulous superior officers or delayed in payment.
To us, these measures are not only grossly inadequate but are not commensurate with the huge risks and dangers these officers are exposed to.
This platform feels deep pains at the incessant attacks on these officers, some of who lost their lives in the process and the seeming levity with which the concerned authority is treating the worrisome situation.
We believe that the Customs high command is making efforts within the resources at its disposal to safeguard the lives of these officers.
However, this platform notes that such efforts are not only outdated but have paled into insignificance in the technologically- driven world when smuggling has become high-tech.
We blame the Federal government for exposing the lives of not only the Customs officers to danger, but officers of all other security agencies who have the statutory responsibility to monitor our borders.
While many countries of the world have deployed advanced technology to monitor their borders, Nigeria is still relying on manual patrol and monitoring of the vast 5,000 km borders of the country by ill-equipped and less motivated officers.
The government needs to stay one step ahead and implement border control measures along these illegal points and various technologies exist for this as well.
Surveillance technology that uses unmanned solar powered ground sensors and night vision telescopes exists.
Nigerian government should embrace the use of border satellite surveillance technology to have effective and efficient control of our otherwise loose and porous borders.
For instance, Australia has a coastline that stretches for 37,000 kilometers. How can such a vast expanse be monitored and managed? The only solution for most countries in the world is satellite technology.
Satellite plays many roles in securing the border. The first is visibility. Earth observation satellites provide detailed images of hot spots where border crossings peak.
In the US, the Department of Homeland Security shares data from military reconnaissance satellites with local, state and Federal agencies responsible for immigration and anti-smuggling programs. Sensors are able to penetrate cloud cover, detect chemical traces and even identify objects inside buildings.
India uses the RISAT and Cartosat spacecraft to capture still images as well as high-resolution video of the nation’s disputed borders.
South Africa has used satellite imagery to track activity at border control posts between that nation and Zimbabwe.
With the use of technology, Customs officers would not be exposed to unnecessary risks as they will no longer be chasing smugglers around the towns and bushes where most of them are attacked and killed.
Contraband goods , arms and ammunitions would have been detected and prevented from entry.
The only duty for these officers, which to us will be less risky, would be to mop up the few that may come through the sea ports as a result of compromising attitude of some unscrupulous officers.
As this suggestion may seem as far- fetched in the present situation, we believe it is not only feasible but achievable, given the political will of government and the Customs High command.
However, before Nigeria embraces the border surveillance control system, we believe that the Customs hierarchy could still do more within the limited resources at its disposal.
Adequate compensatory regime for officers who are attacked in the course of discharging their statutory duties as well as those who lose their lives should be in place.
Such compensation should also not be delayed as we learnt some unscrupulous superior officers either delay the payment, divert it or pilfer the amount approved.
In addition, the Customs high command should show more concern to the welfare of the victims and their dependants more than it is presently doing, not only financially but morally.
A visit to the victims or members of their families, in case of the deceased, by high ranking officers like the Comptroller- General or any of his deputies, will also go a long way in assuaging the loss.
This ‘personal touch’ approach, to our mind, will enhance the confidence of these officers who risk their lives for the good of the country.
We also advise that the sensitization campaigns by the Customs at the border towns and villages to enlighten the people of these communities on the evil of smuggling should be sustained and enhanced.
The Customs authority should also have special rapport with all the traditional rulers, community leaders, chiefs and youth leaders in all the border stations with the aim of getting their support and cooperation in the fight against smuggling.
Such collaboration and synergy will engender information sharing.
The Customs authority should also devise means of tackling border corruption among its officers who aid and abet smuggling.
More often than not, it was some of these officers on patrol as well as those who are stationed at the borders who collude with smugglers for their pecuniary interests.
It is no longer news how officers at the borders give vital information to smugglers on when and how to pass their contraband goods through the border for agreed fees.
We also learnt that their superiors in the office share from this loot.
As long as border corruption persists among the patrol officers and their counterparts at the borders, smuggling will continue to thrive and attempt by few genuine officers to curb it will result in attacks and even death.
This platform notes with sadness that it was the misdemeanour of some unscrupulous officers who collude with smugglers that exposes the lives of the genuine ones who are not compromised in their duties to danger.
A smuggler who has ‘’settled’’ for his contraband to have easy access will become desperate and violent to the point of maiming or killing the genuine officer who wants to stop the passage of the goods.
We implore the Customs High Command led by the no nonsense retired army Colonel, Hameed Ali, to search and rout these unscrupulous officers and their collaborating superiors out of the service to make the fight against smuggling effective.
This will not also scale down the incessant attacks on innocent officers but gain the confidence and sympathy of the public in case of such attacks.