By Tony Akowe, Abuja
Donkeys and motorcycles are used to smuggle arms and ammunition into the country with the active collaboration of border communities, Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) Hameed Ali said yesterday.
The Comptroller-General who appeared before the House of Representatives Committee on Customs and Excise, said it was worrisome that Nigerians living in border communities were unaware of smuggling as an illegal business.
He added that the NCS was working on a policy to reduce the years on imported vehicles to ensure that Nigeria is not turned to a dumping ground for rickety automobiles.
Ali however assured that “we (Customs) are ready to do all within our powers to ensure that we block all the arms coming into this country.”
The Comptroller-General said scanners would soon be deployed in land borders “ as part of the measures to quickly know the contents of containers.”
He said: ”The influx of arms through approved routes will be completely eliminated at approved routes because we will have instruments to detect things in containers or whatever packages they are concealed in.
“But the issue is that arms do not come through approved routes alone. Some are carried on the back of donkeys coming in through unapproved routes and some on the back of motorcycles. Some of these communities in the border areas are part of the schemes of moving these things into this country.
“We have lost officers and vehicles to these smugglers and border communities. In fact, we have stopped counting the number of vehicles we have lost because almost on a daily basis, I get reports that our vehicles have been burnt by smugglers in collaboration with hoodlums in these border communities.
“When we come and talk about our interest in the border, what are we doing to tell our constituents that they must conform to the laws? In some places, they are not even aware that smuggling is against the law.
“In one community, I saw and greeted a woman. I asked after her husband and what he does for a living. She said what he does was smuggling. As far as they are concerned, they don’t even know smuggling is illegal because it is a way of life.
“It is our responsibility as Nigerians to educate these people on what is right and what is wrong. That is the only way we can enforce the law.
Urging the people to always share information with security agents, Ali said: ”The issue of security does not fall on the shoulder of one agency. It is everybody’s business. I have always asked a question whenever there is abduction of children. In the far North, 100 to 200 people will ride on motorcycles, pass through villages and towns and go to where they are targeting, pick children and ride back through the same route in broad daylight and nothing happens.
“It is only when these children are fully secured in the bush by their abductors that you hear the news. What is the responsibility of citizens? Must it be a policeman that will stop these people? Everybody has business in ensuring security. We don’t pass information.
“Security agencies and Customs need the support of everybody and I hope members are ready to tell their constituents to work with us to reduce to the barest minimum illicit activities. We must get the support of the citizens to effectively do that because these smugglers are within our communities. If we don’t fight them together, we will not be able to end this.”
On the policy on imported vehicles, the Customs boss said: ”I think the more we reduce the number of used vehicles in our country, the better.
“Most of the vehicles that are imported are rickety vehicles which have been rejected in their countries of origin. They are picked up and brought to Nigeria because for us, anything that can move on the street is a vehicle.
“The idea is to have vehicles that are roadworthy and to do that, we must put a cap on the type of used vehicles that should come into this country. We are looking at the reduction of the number of years.
“We are working with the Customs administration in Benin Republic to see how we can ensure adherence to ETRS protocols.
“Once we agree with them and they are ready to enforce it, there is no goods meant for Nigeria that will land at their ports that will find its way out of there.”
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