We will not succumb to their threats, even with their charms we will get smugglers arrested- Akande
Deputy Comptroller Bamidele Akande, Customs Area Controller, Ogun State Command of the Nigeria Customs Service(NCS) in this interview with Ships & Ports’ Shulammite Olowofoyeku, bares his mind on the challenges of policing the dreaded Ogun state border towns, recent attacks on officers and measures taken to ensure that all loopholes for revenue leakage are blocked.
Considering the notorious nature of the border towns in Ogun State how do you feel when you were asked to take up the mantle of leadership in the command?
I was grateful to God and to my Comptroller General for given me the rare privilege and opportunity to serve at this level. Well Ogun command is a peculiar environment and most volatile for the country. There are indeed many approved border crossing into the command, starting from the one closest to Badagry which is Ijokin ,we have Idiroko border crossing which is the biggest, Ifoyin Tedo , Alari, Ijohoun, Ogunbe, Imeko and then Ilara, all these are approved border crossings but there are also several illegal unauthorized border crossings spreading right across the command. So, it is indeed a task and I tell you a difficult one to police all the routes but we are trying our best because we have been achieving results in ensuring that those illegal routes are blocked.
How have you been coping with the recent and numerous attacks on officers of the command which sometimes have even led to deaths?
It is difficult, it is stressful but with God Almighty and the CG, we are very well prepared for the task and we have been doing our very best in ensuring that we did not record as much causalities as would have expected from an organization that is charged with this kind of responsibility that we have to discharge here. Granted, the smugglers use charms, but from experience, I believe is more of a psychological thing. Even with the charms we still get them arrested. We have not had as much casualty when compared with how frequent the attacks are. We have spent time in training and retraining our officers and we have level headed officers in charge of patrols. We carefully select those who should bear arms and weapons and we train them very well.
How many cases of injuries or deaths have you recorded so far?
I wouldn’t want to give you details of injuries and deaths recorded but since I took over the command, we have not recorded a single death amongst our officers. And I tell you the solution to the frequent clashes like what we have been doing is enlightenment and quite consultation with the community leaders. We have gone down to reach out to those who are unemployed and who think smuggling is a profession and therefore have the right to carry on. We have also been meeting regularly with the traditional rulers in the commands and we have established rapport. On their side, they are managing and re- educating their people on the need to eschew smuggling and its attendant violence.
You performed creditably well in your first quarter report, what strategies did you adopt in the face of these challenges?
Well, I did an assessment of the situation here when I arrived. My assessment was not limited to the preventive arm of our operation but it extended to the revenue arm of our operation and even to excise which most reporters are not too conversant with. Ogun command has a number of excisable factories and they have product on which excise duties are collected. I looked at excise and re-tuned the mind of our officers to how excise supervision was suppose to take place and small factories producing excisable product were discovered in the process and we brought them under control. Some of them are already contributing their little quota to the increased revenue you have seen. That is with regard to the excise part of it. The bigger factories that have been paying excise duties were also encourage. I have had meetings with them and I know where their problems are and where we could assist and offer suggestion and advice, we have not been hesitant. The arm that is well known by most journalists is on revenue generation and we are also doing a lot in that aspect. Although, the revenue profile of the command as regards imports is low, we have been trying our best in encouraging importers and their agents to take their consignments from this end so that more people will patronize the Idiroko end of the border. On the issue of paying duty on vehicles, I gave it a multidimensional approach. First we sensitize the general trading public through awareness and reaching down to traders and other interested parties on the need to pay duty on their vehicles. On the other end, I reinvigorate our enforcement activities; previously the number of vehicles that will be calling to pay duties was almost like half of what we are recording now. What I met on the ground was between 600 and 700 vehicles coming to pay duties on a monthly basis but within the first two months I resumed office, we were able to up the scale, we have about 1,300 and 1,400 vehicles coming to pay duty now. This is as the result of the multi – dimensional approach I adopted which off course has yielded to increase revenue for the command. They wouldn’t risk losing their vehicles, because they know when their vehicles are seized, I will not entertain their notorious plea of “I don’t know” because we have carried the campaign to the grassroots, so ignorance is not an excuse. So these alone has left a lot of traders and the importing public to have a change of heart and beginning to do the correct thing of coming to clear their vehicles and pay the correct duties to the coffers of the Federal government.
You mentioned creating awareness, how did you do it?
We have been holding consultations and meetings with the trading public, clearing agents, importers, traditional ruler and even with youth leaders. The campaigns have been yielding results, though, we are not there yet but I’m certain we will get there someday.
How soon will your officers return to Ajilete or could it be said that you have succumb to the threats of the smugglers?
We have not been pushed away, neither have we succumbed to their threats. There was an incident that happened and we want to make room for peace making. We want to make sure that we have peace that is going to be lasting, not just one that will enable us to hurriedly assemble our men and go back to Ajilete, only for the community to rise up and begin to attack our men who of course will not let it go by without taking action to defend themselves. It is such instances that led to crisis in the past, so we want a lasting peace that is why we are doing very wide consultation even with other traditional rulers. Everybody needs a peaceful atmosphere to operate. It is because of the need for peace that is why we have not returned to Ajilete but our absence there have not proved detrimental to our operations in any way because we have re strategize and the Ajilete point is still well covered. We shall return in due course when peace is fully restored, we are in the process.
What is your greatest challenge?
My greatest challenge is having peace, tranquility, and a good working environment for my officers and men for them to meet and surpassed the target. Because if we have frequent disruption, we will in no way be able to achieve the set target. So having a conducive atmosphere is my first target, good working environment with the appropriate tools already supply by the Service, I think we will get there.
What will be your message to smugglers?
My message to them is that smuggling is not a profession, the earlier they stop it the better for them because we are going to be unrelenting and we are becoming hard and harder on them and I tell you this is the reason for the frequent clashes.
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