Story By Izuchukwu Ozoemena
As increased smuggling and other criminal activities within the nation’s major inland waterways and creeks assume a dangerous dimension, two specialized security patrol boats acquired at over $100 million by the Nigeria Customs Service more than three years ago are currently rotting away at the Marina jetty, Lagos, investigations have revealed.
The Marine Commands of the service have been rendered ineffective due to the total absence of patrol boats and other operational equipment expected to be used to give teeth to their operations.
The boats which were acquired by the immediate- past Comptroller General of the service, Alhaji Dikko Abdullahi Inde, were meant for dedicated patrols by the marine commands as part of efforts to curb the increasing menace of smugglers on the nation’s waterways.
The ultramodern boats which were built in a shipyard in Turkey, were designed and fabricated to withstand rough seas and armed attacks from smugglers and sea pirates. The shipyard it was learnt also trained some personnel of the service to handle the boats.
Sources close to the customs high command disclosed that the service spends over N500million annually to maintain the two patrol boats christened ‘Customs Pride’ and ‘Group of Nine’ acquired since 2015. Efforts by Business and Maritime West Africa to authenticate the claim before going to press did not yield results, as the listed phone numbers of the public relations officer of the service, Deputy Comptroller Joseph Atta were not reachable.
This sum, the sources claimed is part of the expenditure designed to run the engines as well as generating sets and other communication equipment on- board the boats anchored at the Marina, Lagos waterfront.
Following the acquisition of the two boats, the service had told stakeholders in 2015 that the crafts would be commissioned and deployed to patrol the nation’s inland waters, a promise that has not been fulfilled after three years, as the boats are still tied at the jetty rotting away.
The service later slated the commissioning and subsequent deployment of the patrol boats to 2016, which was also never done.
It is recalled that former Customs Area Controller (CAC) in charge of the Western Marine Command of the service, Umar Yusuf, during a media briefing, attributed the delay to the need to install guns on the boats before commissioning and deployment for operational activities.
He had also claimed that one of the vessels was involved in an accident where it was anchored and had to be repaired. He also added that some officers of the command had already been trained on how to operate the boats.
Meanwhile, when he assumed office April last year, the current CAC in charge of the command, Sarkin Kebbi, told newsmen during a press conference that the two patrol boats were yet to be commissioned and deployed for operations due to the absence of adequate armory and a trained crew.
Kebbi promised that the boats would soon be engaged appropriately to counter the nefarious activities of smugglers along the creeks.
Nearly nine months after Kebbi's promise, however, the service is yet to commission the boats and deploy them to combat the worsening cases of smuggling and insecurity in the nation's waterways.