The last has not been heard about the ordeal of Umoh Sunday Etim.
Etim was the Customs officer who led the team that arrested former Liberian President, Charles Taylor, on March 29, 2006 when Taylor was about sneaking out of the country after being declared wanted by the International Court of Justice over war crimes.
Etim and his team later handed Taylor over to the Nigerian government.
Etim who was said to have refused the $450,000 offered to him as bribe in order to allow a smooth passage of Taylor who has since been sentenced to prison by the ICJ at The Hague, Netherlands.
Taylor had been in exile in Nigeria from 2003 till the day of his attempted escape.
But not long after Taylor’s arrest, Etim, who was then billed to be rewarded for his rare show of patriotism, was dismissed by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS).
After some years of legal battle, Etim received a reinstatement letter dated August 14, 2015. His excitement was, however, cut short when he discovered that the content of the letter also read that he had been retired on compassionate grounds with effect from 2006.
Going down memory lane, Etim said that his greatest regret was not opening up to the media when his problem started after the arrest of Charles Taylor.
“I joined the Nigeria Customs Service in December 1987, after which I was sent to the training school at Ikeja, Lagos. After the training, my first posting was to Katsina State and later Kaduna and Kano. In 2000, I was transferred to Apapa Area Command in Lagos,” he said.
He said he was at Apapa Command till 2004 when he was transferred to the Borno-Yobe Area Command.
“On March 29, 2006, I arrested the fugitive ex-Liberian warlord, Charles Taylor, and handed him over to the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I was forbidden to grant any press interview which could have helped my situation when trouble started,” he said.
Unaware of the dangers ahead, Etim was excited when he received a letter in November 2006 which said that he had been nominated for an award. He was asked to come along with the officers who were with him on the day Charles Taylor was arrested.
“We travelled to Ogun State where the event was to take place. It was a week-long programme organised by the Comptroller General of Customs. We were asked to submit our citation that would be read before the award would be given.
“Hours later, I was told by one of the officials that we were no longer going to receive the award. I was shocked and demanded to know the reason. They simply told me that orders from above said that we should not be given the award.
“I went back to Maiduguri, demoralised. That was the beginning of my travail. When I got back to my duty post, I was told that my name was published in the agency’s magazine as a dismissed Customs officer.
“They removed my name from the routine roaster. I told them that when I was employed, I was given a letter. Now that they didn’t need me, couldn’t they oblige me any letter of dismissal? I did my best to see if I could rectify that, but they kept telling me that it had to do with the 2004 Apapa incident,” he narrated.
On what the Apapa incident was about, Etim recalled that it was a case of missing 40-feet container at Apapa Port in 2004.
“When I was at Apapa, there was an unfortunate incident where a 40-feet container was removed illegally without the normal Customs procedure.
“They demanded that all the officers who were working at the terminal at the time should be suspended and called for orderly room trial.
“During that period, our salaries were suspended, but later on some of us were exonerated, and I was transferred to Borno State. I never knew that God specifically sent me there for a purpose which was to help the country arrest Charles Taylor.
“Days ran into years till 2010 when one of my colleagues, who was also indicted, called to inform me that I should come to Abuja, that they had reinstated some of us. That was how I got to Abuja. Rather than giving me a reinstatement letter, they referred me to the department in-charge of discipline, brought my file and gave me a dismissal letter,” he narrated.
Even with the letter of dismissal, Etim chose not to give up; rather, he sought the help of Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
“It was as a result of his intervention that they decided to reinstate me. I got the letter on Monday, October 22, 2015. I was about rejoicing when they brought another letter which turned out to be my retirement letter.
“When Charles Taylor escaped, the international community said that it was going to bombard this country with sanctions. The then President Olusegun Obasanjo was in the United States at the time. I remember he made a comment that this same fellow escaped in America and he was not arrested but it was easy for Nigerians to pick him up,” he said.
Any regrets that he did not collect the $450,000?
He said, “I did that because I am a patriotic Nigerian. I did that because I am a worthy ambassador of the Presbyterian Church. I did that because of my background. I am from a disciplined family. No matter what I have gone through, if I have the opportunity, I will do it all over again. If I had collected that money then, maybe I would have contested with our dear president. With such an amount of money, I would become an importer but I was thinking of the welfare of our country. I am grateful to Almighty God that kept me alive.”
Although Etim had been retired with all the full benefits, he still has the passion to continue serving as a Custom official.
He said, “I am using this opportunity to call on President Muhammadu Buhari to help me. He should recognise me, so that, that would serve as a morale booster in case such an opportunity presents itself to any Nigerian still in service. I plead with him to correct the wrong. Let him recognise me and reward me and prevail on the Nigeria Customs to recall me to service.”
On how he had been surviving till date, Etim thanked God for the gift of a good wife who he said stood by him all these years of wait and neglect.
“I also thank Mr. Falana whose effort got my dismissal converted to retirement,” he said.
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