Customs: The Gains of Inter-Agency Cooperation

Nigeria has been grappling with numerous security challenges especially at the border posts. GLORIA EHIAGHE writes that growing cooperation among security agencies to tackle this menace continues to lead to greater successes.

When the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Col. Hameed Ali (Rtd) assumed office in September, 2015, he embarked on familiarization tours to get acquainted with customs management at the headquarters and all customs formations across the country. He also paid courtesy calls on heads of parastatals, agencies, key stakeholders, among others. Among these were service chiefs of security agencies.

At the naval headquarters, he solicited for the assistance of the Nigerian Navy through the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas, in training his officers operating in the marine arm of the service for efficient and effective surveillance of the waterways to curb the activities of sea robbers and smugglers who use the medium to carry out their nefarious acts. He mentioned that even among the already trained ones, it is only the navy that can update the skills and abilities of his officers.

This is part of his vision to re-professionalize the customs service and reposition it for effective service delivery.

“We will subject our people for training and retraining. We will request that some of our personnel come onboard with them (the navy) from time to time so that they can show us in practical terms how this thing should be done,” he reportedly told the CNS.

The Customs helmsman did not just stop there, he further requested the navy to do an inspection of the patrol boats newly acquired by the service and also certify that they are standard enough to carry on the task required of them. According to him, the tasks include joint patrol of the waterways to combat smuggling, a big issue whose prevalence is inimical to the economy.

“We will ask for the training of our men as we go along so that we have people that would know exactly what to do.  When they are in those waters, they will know exactly what to look for; if they see what they are looking for, how they’d go about arresting the situation will not be a problem.”

BMWA checks show that the Comptroller-General of Customs’ (CGC) moves have been paying off, as the collaboration among security agencies is yielding positive results.

For some time now, smuggling of prohibited items through the waterways has reduced with persistent onslaught on smugglers by officers and men of the marine arm of the service. The western and eastern marine commands have upped the ante in curtailing the smuggling of prohibited goods.

From recent press briefings on seizures made through these commands have emerged the fact that these seizures have been effected through collaboration with sister agencies, especially with the Nigeria Navy, resulting in the customs curbing smuggling and other maritime vices within the waterways. A case in point is the recent interception of two wooden boats laden with foreign parboiled rice along Badagry waterways in Lagos.

While briefing newsmen on the outcome of the seizure, the controller, western marine command, Comptroller Yusuf Umar lauded the efforts of the navy in stemming the tide on criminal activities on the waterways. He explained that the synergy between the two agencies of government was yielding positive result.

Also confirming the synergy between both security agencies, the Commander, NNS Beecroft, Commodore Abraham Adaji said both agencies keep relevant contact in the area of communication with the aim to nip smuggling in the bud. Navy’s role within the creeks, he maintained, is to complement that of the customs.

Still counting, not long the boats were intercepted another spectacular seizure by both agencies came through intercepting 26 jumbo bags of cannabis worth over a N100million at the Tanfi Island Harbor, Badagry. The seizure was made in collaboration with the naval officers operating at the forward operating base (FOB), Badagry.

At the eastern marine command, the inter-agency cooperation has also been yielding positive results. Recently, the Flag Officer Commanding, Eastern Naval Command, Rear Admiral Atiku Abdulkadir expressed his readiness to organize a training programme for customs officers of the marine unit on sea operations. His command also aided the customs in the seizure of two boats of rice on the high sea between the borders of Nigeria and Cameroon.

In order to check vessels that enter illegally into the country, the customs area controller, eastern marine command, Comptroller Usman Bello in a statement requested from the navy a list of foreign vessels that entered the country’s territorial waters periodically to check revenue leakages arising from some vessels granted temporary importation permit by the customs headquarters.

Still in the spirit of the inter-agency cooperation, officers and men of the 9 Brigade, Nigeria Army (NA) took some personnel of the Kirikiri Lighter Terminal command on one month rigorous training on drill, weapon handling, armory and range management as well as fitness programmes.

Speaking at the end of the programme, special guest of honour, Commander, NNS Beecroft, Commodore Abraham Adaji said “this training undertaken at 9 Brigade is testimony to the growing cooperation among our security services. This cooperation is not only in the area of training; it also manifest in other areas.

“Many have been observing the security services recording greater successes in the fight against illegal activities not just in our land borders but in our maritime borders too.”

He further stated that, “there is actually no better time to enhance this cooperation than now in view of the insecurity challenges that we face; the successes we are recording bear testimony to this need.”

The zonal coordinator in charge of zone A, Nigeria Customs Service, Assistant Comptroller-General Charles Edike while appreciating the synergy among security agencies called for more support and collaboration, just as he admonished the trained personnel to remain dedicated and continue to project the service in good light and be good ambassadors of the 9 Brigade.

At the event, the Commander, 9 Brigade, NA, Brigadier-General Bulama Biu said the training was in line with the vision of the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), Lieutenant-General Tukur Buratai to further assist and cooperate with sister agencies especially in the area of security. He noted that the training has not only enhanced the proficiency of officers but has further strengthened the existing relations between the Nigeria Customs Service and the Nigerian Army.

“In line with the CGC’s drive to re-professionalize the service for optimal service delivery and in accordance with the COAS to assist and cooperate with sister security agencies, this brigade was asked to conduct a four-week training for the KLT command.”

Biu noted that in view of the security and economic challenges the country is faced with, it is imperative for the personnel of the NCS as government agency charged with the responsibility of revenue generation and anti-smuggling activities to regularly sharpen their skills to prepare them for their operations especially in the area of anti-smuggling.

It was stressed that for optimal service delivery, all security agencies need one another to further enhance their operations especially in view of the security challenges the country is battling presently.