Comptroller Yusuf Umar is the longest serving Controller in the western zone of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS). In this interview with Babalola Yusuf, he explained how he achieved the feat.
|Sir, could you please give us general overview of activities in your command in the last five months?
You asked me to give the details of my achievement in the past 5 months, I cannot give you these achievements without giving you a background of how these feats were achieved.
I know you have been following my footsteps right from inception when I was at Federal Operations, when I was DC revenue, during that time, I was the only DC picked and made Area Controller. I was firstly at Ado Ekiti and from there I went to Kaduna, Katsina where I spent 2 years before I was taken to Port Harcourt zonal office where I spent another 2 years.
I reported here exactly 4th of December 2014. Yes, today by the grace of God I am the controller western marine, I am happy you have said a lot about my achievement and you have been coming to western marine and you said it has changed sincerely, it has changed for the better because when I took over this place, we didn’t have even 3 functional crafts then, we were chattering private crafts to go on patrol. The officers were using G-3 rifles, not even first aid and the whole office infact the whole command was submerged. So there was no way you will achieve without putting some basic things first. So when I took over, I called for management meeting where we sat down to put up our priorities and we started picking our priorities one after the other one.
Firstly, I dwelled much on the environment, we swung into action and I think pictures don’t lie, the albums are here you can go through it. Firstly, we sandfilled half of the command and made sure it was motorable, no more flooding, I became an engineer that I had to fix the drainage system. After that I repainted the whole building which was not touched in the past 50 years.
Also, I fixed my office and made it a habitable office that can be compared to any other area commanders office, then I decided to fix the 5 vehicles that were in use, I fixed 14 crafts, they are now all on waters crossing all the creeks of western marine all under my control. Then we have had so many issues of smugglers on water so I decided to replicate what I did in Kaduna and Kastina where I trained my officers on the use of AK 47, over 800 officers were trained. I wrote to my service and they gave me go ahead and we trained them here for almost two months and I wrote to the GOC and he gave us some dates, I took them to Warri shooting range to sharpen their shooting prowess. All these is now history, as at today we no longer use G-3 rifles we use AK47 like soldiers and other security agencies.
I set up a clinic, most of the officers in Apapa, Tin Can Island they all access our medical facility. So having done all these, now the tools have been fixed, so I expect result. I am obliged to my officers, I talk to them, I brief them and I tell them what I want and within a twinkle of an eye we started working.
What are the Seizures made by the command?
Am happy to tell you that in the past five months, we have made seizure of almost 400 million worth, that’s the first of its kind in the history of this command, I am the 16thcontroller. Am also happy to tell you that on the 27 of January this year, we made seizure of 300 bags of rice, we had confrontations with some smugglers but we subdued them, because we have AK47 and well trained by the soldiers to face any smugglers. On the 4th of February we made another seizure of foreign poultry product, but before then, at Seme this command made seizure of over 9000 cartons of foreign poultry products, which made the Poultry Products Association of Nigeria(PPAN) send me a commendation letter. I am the first Area Controller to receive such that really propelled us the more because when such comes, it is expected to double your effort so that a lot could be achieved in that angle.
Having done that we a very important seizure on the 9th of February, where we seized 48 jumbo bags of cannabis, first of its kind in the history of this command, worth N150-N170 million. After that, we made another landmark seizure on the 20th of march when we seized 400 bags of rice, it would have been more than that but the smugglers submerged some of the vessels and we lost a lot of rice in that seizure. We equally made another seizure of over 411 bags of parboiled rice, we followed it up on the 22nd of the same month, we made another seizure of 336 bags of rice. Then on the 5th of May, we made another seizure of 26 bags of cannabis woth 100million. We followed it up the 14th with the seizure of 574 bags of parboiled rice, it would have been about 1,500 bags because there were two boats but when they sighted us they turned one boat around and ran. We followed them they hit the boat in one of the creeks; unfortunately it went underground because it hit a surface and the whole boat got broken up and it sank. Yet because of the agility and preparedness of our officers, we had to bring some of our boats and we transferred some bags of rice into it, totaling 575 bags.
Am happy to tell you that just last week, we made another landmark seizure of cannabis, 37 bags of rice valued at 130-140million, so in a nutshell, within just four months, this command made landmark seizure of cannabis worth over 400million, first of its kind in the history of Nigerian custom only in western marine command . it’s not just the seizure that matters, this dangerous drugs are some of the drugs that our citizens smoke and, gets intoxicated and commit criminal activities like sea robbery, kidnapping, vandalism of oil infrastructures and what have you. If you can recollect, during the Boko Haram insurgency period, so many bags of cannabis was found which they use and gets intoxicated. The dangers inherent in taking these drugs to our populace is what matters to me most, the Ghanians are making their billions on this issue of drugs while they allow us to have the burden but I am quite sure very soon, maybe a decisive merger may be taken in order to stall the calamity that might befall my country because when these young lads smoke this cannabis, especially the ones coming from Ghana because they are stronger because it contains a lot of chemicals, it is stronger that the Nigerian cannabis and even costs more, yet, Nigerian populace prefer Ghanaian cannabis than the Nigerian cannabis.
These are giant stride, but, what are the challenges faced in the course of achieving these feat?
There is no organization without challenges, Nigerian Customs as an organization we have the challenge of finance and also western marine being the amphibians of the Customs, but I am happy this management is doing its possible best to ensure that we procure more working tools in order to enhance our activities on water. I am happy to tell you that in the next two or three weeks, I will invite you to the launching of our sea going vessels, first of its kind in the history of Customs, even the Navy don’t have this type of vessels because it is fully bullet-proof, even the glasses are bullet-proof and it can take about 30 officers and we can go on sea and stay for 30 days working tirelessly for the Nigerian populace. There is kitchen, dining set, resting place, beds on the vessel. We have the challenge of accommodation buti am ahappy there are new buildings comng upp, very soon they will be commissioned. We are well motivated with all this new equipments being provided by the Nigerian customs service.
What measures are in place to maintain these vessels?
Am happy to tell you my Controller General and his robust management are alive to their responsibilities. We have been asked to forward our profile in terms of fueling, maintenance and the likes. We have already sent it to them and it has been captured in the 2016 budget, so, be rest assured we are on course.
How do you dispose off Poultry products seized from smugglers?
We already have a written requesting an incinerator, we are yet to be provided with one but what we normally do when we see these chemicalized harzadous drugs, we dig, pour acid and bury them there, that’s all we have been doing for the mean time but in the near future my service will provide us an incinerator so that it will be done efficiently and scientifically.
What is the relationship between Customs and other security agencies in achieving your objectives?
Some of these seizures I mentioned came to be because of the robust management synergy and collaboration, since my assumption in office here, we have been having robust relationship with the Nigerian Navy and the Nigerian Army. Not once not twice, sometimes when we make these seizures, these hoodlums after taking marijuana, they mobilize some hooligans and vagabonds among them and block our channel from bringing the seizures down to our base. On so many occasions I put up a call to Colonel Isa of Badagry, he has been up and doing and for the Navy that one is an excellent collaboration and synergy. We work like this in unison we call each other in times of trouble, and some of these seizures won’t have been possible without their helps, not only making the seizures but bringing it down to our base. So there has been a robust synergy and collaboration between Nigerian custom service, western marine, the Nigerian navy and Nigerian army
What is the relationship between your command and community leaders?
There has been a very good synergy. When I took over this place, I went round, all the Baales around the creeks, we sat down and I enumerated to them all the dangers of smuggling not only to the community but to the Nigerian populace and Nigerian government and to Nigeria as a state because smuggling kills the economy of any country where the smugglers operate. Most of these small scale enterprises they normally go underground and even the big factories because of the smuggling activities they cannot operate.
What is the update of customs vessels attacked by smugglers?
It is now history, we swung into action we took the vessel into the continental ship yard, the owner of the vessels took responsibilities to repair the vessel, it affected all the equipments, we fixed the vessels yesterday, right now it is anchored in marina, when you go there, you will see it, if you don’t, then you can say whatever you want to say.
Why Marina Jetty?
The jetty we have now has a very shallow draft, fortunately my service has given out hundred of millions of contract to reactivate the jetty so that we can anchor all these big vessels. When you get down there you will see how equipments have been mobilized, work is on-going, by the time the work is done, we will never allow vessels to be anchored in marina jetty though we have just two vessels; group of nine and customs pride. Group of nine is coming to us, western marine while customs pride is going to eastern marine.
How many suspects arrested so far?
Well, we have arrested so many suspects, prosecution is ongoing, court case is something that takes time, we put up our own defence, the suspects also put up their own defence, the defences will be crossed examined, it is an ongoing process. Some have been remanded at Ikoyi prisons and some Kirikiri maximum prisons, even on the 28 of this month we have a case in court.
Assessing your performance
I don’t want to blow my trumpet, you are from the media, I have given you all the background activities, what I met on the ground, what I have fixed, seizures that have been made, so its left for you to make an analysis to compare and contrast and then score me 0 or 10% or 100%, I don’t normally blow my trumpet, one thing with me is that I have a passion for excelling anywhere I am posted to and I always endeavour to succeed the successes of my predececors and God in his infinite mercies have always been helping me. You can check right from Ondo, Ekiti to Kaduna to Kastina to this place, even when I was at the zonal office, there I became controller enforcement and revenue. We had the highest revenue ever made in the history of Eastern Zone C, you can go and crosscheck.
What about the group of nine vessel?
The vessels are still under the contractual agreement between Nigerian Customs Service and port plast. They won the contract, they went to Turkey, the vessels are constructed in Turkey and shipped down to Nigeria, so the vessels are still under their care and even after they hand over to us, according to the contractual agreement, they will maintain the vessels for a year.
What about Manning of the vessels?
We are going to synergize, collaborate with the engineers and the captain with our own officers so that they will be in tune before the contract expires. We have already put up detailed programme, what I call training programmes for my officers, both engineers, deck, communication etc. they will go under the tutelage of these well experienced personnel. Some of the captains we have in this board are retired naval officers, commodors, leitenant commanders and so on. So these are experienced hands on deck our vessel right now and they will really put our officers through before they hand over the vessels to us.
What is your message to die hard smugglers?
My message to die hard smugglers is please and please, khaki no be leather. I am happy the two Area Controllers we have right now at the borders, Controller Dimka have blocked Seme axis, Controller Muftau have blocked Idi-Iroko axis, that is why these people are now trying waterways and Controller Isioma is up and doing well.
We are 7 days, 24 hours and 30 days on the water crossing the creeks and crannies of water ways with the limited tools at our disposal. So they should go into legitimate business and abandon this illegitimate business because I know some of them borrow money from banks, some sold their houses or their parents houses to go into this illegitimate business and by the time when all chips are down they will not only go back to square one but zero because all the money they must have made will go into extinction. So please and please we are all Nigerians and we must live but lets live in the legitimate way. Let’s allow this government that is proactive with the president that is ready to help this country to revive its economy to bounce back into the committee of nations worldwide, we must assist him to achieve the desired result this government is set out to achieve.