We need to be empowered to perform our duties maximally- Binga
Acting Controller, Western Marine Command of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Deputy Comptroller Benjamin Binga in this interview says that with the acquisition of a sea going vessel for the command, activities which have been at the low ebb at the command may gradually witness a boost. Binga equally spoke on recent seizures, as well as challenges facing the command. He spoke with Ships & Ports’ Shulammite Olowofoyeku.
We have not heard lately from your command, so far how would you describe the level of activities here at the command?
The level of activities in the command has been at the low ebb. Low ebb in the sense that we don’t have serious activities going on in the command, smuggling activities at our territorial waters is also at the low ebb. If you don’t see what to arrest, you won’t arrest the air. But the landmark seizures we made recently I believe has crippled a lot of smugglers and they are thinking twice to risk bringing in their goods through the illegal routes. Also activities here have been on the low side as a result of inadequate provision of logistics. Actually, customs is having it at its best this time in terms of provision of logistics and welfare by our Comptroller General. To the best of my knowledge, the CG has so far provided for our welfare and logistics in terms of working tools. But all the same, we still need more to enable us perform maximally.
At present, how many operational boats do you have?
From records we have 32 boats. But not all are serviceable, as I speak to you 13 are faulty, 3 are already condemn, so we are left with 16 both serviceable and non serviceable. When I say serviceable, the term is relative. For instance a rickety vehicle can carry passengers which mean it is still moving and operational. Also a brand new car is moving on the roads. These are operational vehicles but you cannot compare their strength. If a smuggler has a new boat and we have a rickety boat, you certainly will not equate their movement in terms of activities. Although they are all operational, one will run faster than the other. Before you kick off the rickety one, the smuggler must have gone fast. Some of the boats here have been here for the past 10 to 15 years, so you cannot equate them with modern boats which we require. But it has been established that the CG through the Federal Government have approved two sea going vessels, one for the Western marine and the other for the Eastern marine. Sea going vessels go to the high sea to curb smuggling activities, the one we have here is only to patrol the hinter land and the creeks. You can’t carry them to the high sea. If we have one sea going vessel, we would be able to catch up with the smugglers right on the high sea. Actually we have one but it is longer operational. So for now we don’t have any sea going vessel in this command. We are expecting to get one any moment from now. Fuel and oil bunkers activities is mostly on the high sea even smuggling of goods. For instance, a smuggler who has sea going vessel and load his vessel with goods and pass it through the high sea but you with a boat we see him passing but you can’t reach him and you may not know where he is going to berth to arrest him. That is why sometimes they escape our arrest. But if we meet them on the high sea where these activities take place, it will be easy for us.
In 2011, a former controller of the command, comptroller Mammam Bah complained about the command not having a single modern boat ,yet the situation has been the same, don’t you think the Service has shifted its attention from the operations of the waterways to roads and land borders?
No, the Service has not shifted its attention from our operations, but you also know that acquiring a modern boat is a capital intensive project. So it is possible that our budget cannot cater for as many as possible, that is why they have to make special request to the Federal Executive Council, to give them special budget to purchase these items. For instance, customs by itself cannot buy two of these sea going vessels so we have to apply to the Federal Government to issue us such facilities.
Do you have any patrol van?
We are issued with five Hilux vans and we labeled all as beach patrols. At times smugglers will come and offload their smuggled goods near the beaches for eventual evacuation into the hinter land. As our officers patrol the beaches, they run into some of these abandoned goods ready for evacuation, once they swoop on them, we seize them.
How many out stations do you have?
We have an out station in Igbokoda area of Ondo state, we have in Kebbi state, Yekimi, Badagry, barbeach, Ikorodu, Ijora, Idiroko and headquarters base patrol here. They patrol round our waters here. Soon we are creating another patrol, which will be named anti-smuggling squad. Their primary assignment will be to patrol all the out stations just like a taskforce.
With the little logistics you have in place, I mean the obsolete boats; do you think the command will be able to effectively monitor all these out stations?
I said earlier on that customs is having its best of time under the management team led by the CGC in terms of logistics and welfare of officers. The CGC has just provided some recently and any moments from now, they will be issued out to the enforcements commands. But currently, our riffles are G3 and they are just few and are even becoming obsolete. You can imagine an out station having only two rifles. Sometimes you make seizures and mob try to attack you. With just two G3 rifles, you can’t send them packing because they can overpower you, but if we say 10 in an out station like Igbokoda, smugglers will dare not come near us when we make any seizure. So we still need more logistics in terms of arms and ammunition and modern boats to replace the rickety ones because of their age.
You made a landmark seizure recently, how was this feat made possible?
The seizure we made was impressive and I ascribed all glory to God. It was just God that wanted to uplift the name of the command that have been down for some time. My patrol officers came that they have some information and we supply them with all the available logistics. They spend about two nights on waters and got a landmark seizure of 223 bails of assorted goods particularly second clothing and shoes.
As the acting CAC, what innovation would you like to put in place in the command?
Everyone has his own ability and his line of action. Past controllers have made one mark or the other in this command. What I intend to achieve is to boost activities in the command. When my boss, Comptroller Makus passed on, I had meetings with the operational officers to see how we move ahead and they gave their reasons for not being active as such which I quite understood with them because it all boils down on logistics. You can’t go making arrest on the waters when your boat is not very sound and the smugglers have superior ones. So I intend to take this compliant to the headquarters where we meet monthly with our DCG Enforcement, Inspection and Investigation to review activities in our various enforcement commands. I will go and lay this before him and see where the Service as a body will come in. Indeed, if we have sea going vessels as I said earlier and some few new boats, I think we would make a mark in the command and people won’t see the command as a place of indolence or inactivity. It is just because, we are not fully equipped. Patrolling the water is unlike the road, it is not easy, it is technical, a boat will capsize and officers may lose their lives.
What message do you have for smugglers?
Smugglers are humans, so let them think and reason for themselves if it pays to smuggle. They should go ahead to smuggle and we will continue to seize and arrest them because that is what we are assigned to do. Will a normal person go to the bank and borrow money to buy goods and choose to bring it through unapproved routes in order to evade duty payment? Every day they say is for the thief but one day is for the owner of the house. Smugglers may escape 9 times, but the 10th time they will lose all the gains they have made during the whole 9 trips.
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