Insecurity: Reassessing Customs’ Stance On Arms Smuggling




With the nation currently being plagued by insecurity, especially in the Northern part of the country, the need to harp and constantly remind the security agencies of their roles at these trying times cannot be over emphasised.

The need for the Customs Service to intensify anti-smuggling strategies aimed at forestalling arms importation into the country is crucial.

Security has, in recent times, become the major concern of the average Nigerian and governments at all levels. At the moment, security has taken over worries of unemployment and poverty in the country in view of the fact that only the living worry over such necessities.

Across the length and breadth of the country there are ceaseless calls on the Federal Government to provide security for lives and properties, and in guaranteeing that, efforts must be made to ensure that the channels through which arms are smuggled into the country are blocked as limited access to dangerous weapons would abate the situation.

In discharging its role as one of the nation’s security agencies, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) is not leaving any stone unturned in ensuring that bombs or other explosives, arms and ammunition not are smuggled into the country, although this is a rather herculean task considering the nation’s vast borders.

Several dangerous cargoes comprising explosives, arms and ammunition imported through the ports have at different times been intercepted by operatives of the Service. For instance, in September last year, the Service intercepted a 40-ft container loaded with explosives at the Tin can Island Port Command.

The cargo, which was imported from China and declared to be loaded with toys and rechargeable lanterns, was discovered during a routine check of cargoes by Customs officials at the port.

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Another 40-ft container loaded with some canisters and two short guns, as well as military uniforms was also intercepted during a routine check by Customs officers at the Tin can Island port last year, to mention a few cases.

There is no doubt about the effectiveness of the NCS in curtailing the smuggling of dangerous weapons into the country, but with the rising level of insecurity and the obvious desperation of the perpetrators of the crimes to employ all means possible in accessing deadly weapons, there is need to do more.

Against this background, the Service has in recent times given priority to its security function, by ensuring a thorough scan of all cargoes and beefing up border patrol with a view to ensuring national security, but perhaps there is need for a stronger synergy with other security agencies to effectively block the borders.

However, in this regard, collaboration with the Nigeria Police Force(NPF) has been commendable. In strengthening the partnership, both agencies have agreed to work together through stronger ties, a development that has led to the issuance of Force Order 21 by the Police Force which states that “the Police will not hesitate to come to the assistance of the Customs at any time they are called upon to do so.”

This is even as the Customs management has instructed its officers and men to avoid, at all cost, any personal friction with Police officers. “Under no circumstances, are personal frictions to be allowed to develop into disputes,” the Service warned. This no doubt is aimed at ensuring a lasting and robust relationship between both agencies in order to achieve the common purpose of ensuring national security.

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There is also a direct contact between special operatives of both agencies to ensure quick response from Police officers whenever their Customs counterparts request help. This has been made possible by communication gadgets installed in special patrol jeeps acquired by the management of the Customs Service for its patrol team which allow the officers to contact the Police Rapid Response team for back-up whenever there is the need.

In ensuring that no stone is left unturned at achieving this herculean task, the Customs boss has repeatedly warned that any officer, no matter how highly placed, who engages in acts capable of breaching national security, would not be pardoned, neither would such be protected or shielded by the Service.

The recent handing over of a serving Comptroller of the Service, Bot Jack, to operatives of the Nigeria Police over allegations of gun-running, was a further confirmation that the warning was not just an empty threat.

The Comptroller, who is in the Inspectorate Division of the Service, together with another junior officer, Shehu Ahmed, were fingered in an on-going investigation into illegal procurement of weapons from the Police Armoury, an offence allegedly committed in Minna, Niger State sometime in 2002.

The Customs boss emhpasised that the Service would not harbor in its fold gun runners whose activities constitute a threat to national security, and rather than covertly hand the indicted officers over to the police, he chose to make a public show of it to serve as a deterrent to others. Both officers have now been suspended from the Service pending the outcome of investigations.

Furthermore, it is no longer news that the presence of Customs officers at the borders has been channeled preventing security breaches that could lead to the influx of dangerous weapons.

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Explaining the rationale behind the recent strengthening and setting up of multiple checkpoints at the borders despite complaints that they were impeding trade facilitation, Dikko, the Comptroller-General of the NCS, said that the measure became necessary in order to secure the nation’s security.

The issue of multiple checkpoints at the borders, he said, was the Services’ response to growing insecurity in Nigeria. “It is just recently that the issue of multiple road blocks came up due to the security challenges in the country,’’ he said.

“I blame the situation that we are in,” Dikko said, “I must apologise for the inconvenience it may be causing, but we have to secure our borders and we have to secure our nation,” he added.

He however gave the assurance that the measure would not in anyway affect legitimate traders, but said that those suspected of illicit trade would have to be thoroughly checked because of the present circumstances facing the nation.

He stressed that the need for all security agencies to collaborate and share intelligence to achieve greatness and overcome crime could not be over emphasised.

He made the assertion while addressing a combined team of security agencies during a working visit to Maiduguri, Jigawa, Kano and Katsina states.

This notwithstanding, the Service management has mapped out strategies to ensure that no lapse comes from its end in the joint effort by all security agencies to guarantee national security.

 







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