COMPTROLLER OLUSEMIRE KAYODE A is the Controller incharge of Federal Operations Unit (FOU), Zone C with headquarters in Owerri, Imo State, which covers eleven states of the federation. He recently spoke with the roving correspondents of The Powerful Pen in his office on the successes so far recorded and the challenges in the zone under his watch. Jerry Aguigbo, our News Editor, captures his account in this piece:
The Federal Operations Unit (FOU), Zone C, has its work cut out with the enviable task of policing eleven difficult states, curbing smuggling by reducing it to the barest minimum and devising new measures and strategies for dealing with the trade.
For the Controller incharge, Olusemire Kayode, a Comptroller of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), handling the zone has not been an easy task as smugglers keep devising new strategies in carrying out their nefarious activities. The hoodlums, he said, “come in different forms; those who cross the borders ferrying things that should not come in ordinarily; some come with things that can come in but conceal them because they do not want to pay their duties; others come through the ports concealed; while others are declared but undervalued”. It is therefore the responsibility of FOU Zone C to track down these categories of law breakers in the eleven states that constitute the zone from mostly around Benin, Edo State, axis where, he asserted that a lot of seizures have been made. Benin, appears to be very strategic as it is the converging point of transportation of both legitimate and illicit goods coming from different parts of the country.
According to Comptroller Olusemire, “Smugglers are daily devising new ways of carrying out their nefarious activities, concealing these smuggled commodities in silos and disguised trucks. It takes a fecundity of knowledge to beat these dare devil smugglers in their game”.
The no-nonsense anti-smuggling czar remarked that the Government knows that people will smuggle goods from one point to the other, adding that it is for that reason it created layers of defence for the Customs: the Federal Operations Units, the CGC’s Strike Force and other adhoc arrangements to help nip in the bud, this trade infractions.
On the general impression that the establishment of these intervention bodies by the service is a duplication of functions, Comptroller Olusemire disagreed. He said, “Customs is one, its one Nigeria Customs Service; so no matter who seizes what, our duty is to make sure that smuggling is brought to the barest minimum. It is our own form of checks and balance”.
Fighting smuggling and smugglers in and around the border areas and the country generally has its severe consequences like loss of lives on the part of the law enforcers. This, the erudite Comptroller agreed with but noted that things were beginning to be different these days saying, “the law is on the side of the Customs; the Customs & Excise Management Act (CEMA) 25 gives us the power to enter any warehouse; there is what we call ‘fire-for-fire, that section has it that once you attack any officer, there are dire consequences”. He disclosed that due to improved training, community collaboration and better equipment, the Zone’s personnel were a lot safer than it used to be and that attacks and casualties had reduced drastically.
“Generally things have improved and I do not like glutting over these things. But how far have we gone in sensitizing the public about the dangers of smuggling? We go out of our way to enlighten them that these things they smuggle are things the Federal Government is trying to make sure we produce locally; that we want Nigeria to be like other climes where people will talk about export not just importation. As you can see, rice is being grown by many states and before long, we will be self-sufficient in rice production if we continue at this present pace”, he said.
On the unit’s relationship with its neighbours in the zone, Comptroller Olusemire described it as very cordial. In his words, “This is corporate Customs, we have relationship with the communities, the people in Aba; Onitsha, Ariaria markets; we have a symbiotic relationship with the people in our zone, the relationship is good”. This, he explained, was being achieved through constant interactions with the communities, the traditional leaders, the Igwes, youths’ organisations and all known legal entities close to the people. He added that during such parleys they always harped on the fact that it was by stopping illicit trade that the country’s textile factories could begin to function people and get youths employed, amenities provided, customs being able to generate appropriate data for national planning, among others.
On the challenges confronting the zone, the Comptroller said they were peculiar ones because of the terrain but however added that they were being tackled, believing that the situation could be better handled with improved technology in the system. He said the service was seriously thinking in that direction as that would reduce pressure on officers and make operations seamless. “We have to apply technologies to limit how we pursue smugglers; we use such to monitor and track the nefarious and nocturnal activities of smugglers”, he said. A major militating factor for the unit, which The Powerful Pen, observed, said the Controller, is the deplorable state of the access road to the headquarters located in the New Owerri area of the town close to the Owerri-Onitsha expressway. The road is in total disrepair and impassable especially when it rains, thereby hampering the response rate of officers in the event of emergency or distress calls. Observers expect that with the new administration in Imo State, whose responsibility it is to take care of the road, things might improve in due course.
For Olusemire, a Mathematics and Statistics graduate of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), “we do not only sanction poor performance among our officers but also appreciate and reward excellence to encourage”. As a result, according to him, officers who excel are commended at parades with letters of commendation while those who did the exact opposite are equally punished for their act to serve as a deterrent.
The exploits of FOU Zone C for sometime now has been very remarkable leading to the unit parading warehouses in six towns, with the Benin axis, where a fearless Chief Superintendent of Customs (CSC), Adebayo J.O, is operating as the Officer-in-Charge (O/C), as the biggest.