*NCS Boss under Pressure

*Opponents Step Up Game in the Villa

John Iwori

The euphoria over the seizures of several containers laden with Tramadol would soon ebb as some of the persons arrested in connection with the seizure are not ready to go down alone into the hall of shame, sorrow and dishonour.

To this end, heads are expected to roll in the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) High Command as one of the suspects, a Customs officer has threatened to spill the beans over the various roles they played in the seizure and release of 40 foot containers of Tramadol.

Tramadol is one of the items in the Import Prohibition List (IPL). Just as the Export Prohibition List (EPL), the IPL is prepared by the Federal Ministry of Finance based on the Federal Government fiscal policies. It is enforced by the NCS High Command to ensure compliance by exporters and importers.

The Tramadol laden containers were intercepted by officers and men of the NCS, Apapa Area 1, Apapa, Lagos and made public last Thursday by the Comptroller General of Customs, Colonel Hameed Ibrahim Ali (retired) in a ceremony meant to showcase the seizures to the public.

Impeccable sources told Maritime Bits that the NCS officer who was nabbed for his reported connivance in the release of the seized 40 foot containers of Tramadol vowed to spill the beans on the number of those in low and high places allegedly involvement in the importation of the prohibited item into the country.

There are fears in some quarters that if the arrested NCS officer made good his threat, he would open a can of worms and heads are expected to roll in the NCS hierarchy and beyond.

The arrest of the NCS officer and other suspects is coming on the heels of a recent report by the League of Publishers and Maritime Editors. The report which went viral did not only made Ali to convene a meeting of the NCS top echelon but also propelled NCS officers into action of saving lives and turning down a bribe of N150 million in the United States of America (USA) dollars for the first time in the history of NCS.

Hitherto, only three or four sacrificial containers of Tramadol were seized in full media glitz to prove a point while many other containers were released and exited from the port in collusion with security agencies. It is on record that while 40 containers  of Tramadol worth N7.3billion in duty paid value (DPV) were seized in Apapa Area 1, Apapa just as another 13 containers of the same drug worth N3.1billion were seized by officers and men of the NCS, Tin Can Island Port, Apapa, Lagos. The seizures were made the same week but different days. While the ones in Apapa Area 1 was on a Thursday, the ones in Tin Can Island Port was on Friday.

A clear case of the collusion in the seizure and release of the prohibited item was revealed when the arrested NCS officer said to be the Officer-in-Charge (OC), Legal, NCS, Federal Operations Unit (FOU), Zone A, Ikeja, Lagos and two other civilians were arrested for their alleged involvement in the ill-fated deal while other security agencies’ officials involved in the examination of the cargoes were left off the hook.

While speaking at the unveiling of the prohibited item in Apapa, Lagos, the NCS boss said: “Three suspects arrested, officers inclusive and two others”. He neither mentioned the name nor the designation of the arrested NCS officer. He also kept mum on his civilian collaborators. The NCS boss attempts to shroud the full identities of the suspects have set tongues wagging in several quarters as not a few stakeholders in the maritime industry have raised eyebrows. The stakeholders who spoke toMaritime Bits stated that Ali was not only economical with the truth but was out to cover his track and trail in the multi-million scandal involving those close to him.

Already, Ali is said to be under pressure as those opposed to the appointment of a retired military officer as the Comptroller General of Customs (CGC) instead of choosing one of the fine officers in NCS as the CGC have stepped up their game in the corridor of power to ease him out of office in the months ahead.

Meanwhile, presenting the 13 seized containers to the media, Ali  who was represented by the Deputy Comptroller-General of Customs (DCG) Enforcement, Inspection and Investigation, DCG Austin Chidi said the seizures include 11x 40ft and 2x 20ft containers of Tramadol, Ciprofloxacin capsules,  Diclofenac Sodium Tablets, Soffeathe I.V Cannula, Sildencfil Citrate Tablets, bleaching soaps, bales of used clothing with a total DPV of Three Billion, One hundred and Thirty-four million, Twenty-nine thousand, Two hundred and ninety naira (N3,134,029,290.00).

He noted that two of the containers had earlier been handed over to NAFDAC on October 11th and 20th, while one container of Tramadol was handed over to NDLEA on November 2, 2017.

His words: “In the same vein, a container of soap suspected to contain harmful bleaching ingredients and two (2) containers of soap suspected to contain harmful bleaching ingredients and two containers of used clothing were seized in line with the provisions of CEMA CAP C45 LFN 2004 Sections 46 and 161. All the seizures were in violation of the absolute prohibition list of CET 2015- 2019”.

He said the NCS achieved this feat through vigilance and intelligence gathering within the system, as well as robust synergy and collaboration of critical stakeholders and the security agencies.

On revenue generation, he said the command had collected and generated a total of N303.5 billion from January 2018 till date.

Also speaking, the Customs Area Controller at the command, Comptroller Musa Baba Abdullahi lamented that the problem of illegal tramadol import continues to increase.

His words: “This tramadol issue is addictive and it leads to other illicit vices like stealing, armed robbery among others. In the Northern part of the country, the problem has ravaged the region and it is an issue that demands urgent attention from all stakeholders including the press. The need for enlightenment on this issue can never be overemphasized”.

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