“I always tell my officers not to shoot them (smugglers) and make sure to always reduce casualties because they are human beings like us but unfortunately, they are smugglers. It is better we get the smuggled goods and allow them to go back so that they will bring another smuggled goods. If we kill them, tomorrow we will not see them again.”
Those were the words of Controller, Western Marine Command of the Nigeria Customs Service, Comptroller Yusuf Umar.
Speaking with SHIPS & PORTS DAILY in his office against the backdrop of recent seizures recorded by the command and its inability to effect any arrest, Umar explained that the volatile nature of its area of operation which covers coastal areas of Igbokoda in Ondo State, Kebbi, Yekeme , Badagry and Idiroko, all in the South -West has made it difficult for the Command to arrest smugglers during its operations.
He said pointed out that it was easier to arrest smugglers on land than on waters especially when it appears that the smugglers can swim better than the officers.
While recalling the incident that led to the death of about nine officers of the command three years ago, Umar said that attempts to arrest smugglers on water might endanger the lives of his officers.
“I never thought that the operation in Western Marine is very volatile till I took charge of this place. You fight somebody on land one on one but when somebody is on waters and he knows how to swim better than you, there is nothing you can do. The most important thing is just to grab the goods.
“If we follow them, I don’t want what happened three years ago when nine of my officers were drowned and killed. So we always limit our seizures to the goods and allow them to go. If it were land you can run and grab him but this one is sea, so you can’t just jump into the sea.
“Our life is more important so it better we let them go and tomorrow when they bring another smuggled goods, we catch them again.
“Then they will go back not to square one but zero because some of them do not even own the money. Some go to the bank and get some loan and by the time we seized the goods they will go back to square zero,” he said.
Umar assured that while smugglers may continue to update their plans, the command under his watch will always be a step ahead of them noting that with the refurbished gun boats currently at its disposal, the command has been able to overcome some of its challenges.
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