July 13, 2024

Nigeria Customs Service moves against smuggling of petroleum products in Operation Whirlwind

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Ilenre Irele

It’s no longer news that Nigeria’s position among the countries with the cheapest Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), commonly known as petrol, in the African region has created a lucrative black market for smugglers. This price disparity has incentivised smuggling, leading to substantial economic losses for Nigeria and creating shortages that affect everyday citizens.

Smugglers have become increasingly sophisticated, using hidden compartments in vehicles, attempting to bribe border officials, and utilising unapproved routes to transport PMS out of Nigeria. This illegal trade deprives the country of vital resources and poses significant risks to border security and economic stability.

While the recent removal of subsidy resulted in an upward adjustment of fuel prices within Nigeria, the country still has the lowest PMS prices in the West and Central African regions. Currently, PMS is sold at an average of N701.99 per litre in Nigeria, compared to N1,672.05 in the Republic of Benin and N2,061.55 in Cameroon. Other neighbouring countries also exhibit higher prices, with Liberia at N1,427.68 and Mali at N2,128.20, averaging N1,787.57 across the region.

This significant price disparity creates a lucrative incentive for smugglers to illegally export PMS from Nigeria to neighbouring countries, where the product fetches two to three times its domestic price. Reports from the Nigeria National Midstream and Downstrlitreetroleum Regulatory Authority (NMDPRA) indicate unusual increases in PMS evacuation patterns in neighbouring states, further corroborated by credible intelligence on smuggling activities.

In response, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), in collaboration with the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), launched Operation Whirlwind. This comprehensive nationwide operation targets the illegal exportation of petroleum products, aiming to ensure Nigerians benefit fully from fuel price deregulation, defend the national currency, and dismantle smuggling cartels. The operation, which spans all NCS zones and is coordinated by Comptroller of Customs, Hussein Ejibunu, involves selected officers trained and equipped to handle the task strictly.

In his opening remarks during the inauguration of Operation Whirlwind, CGC Adeniyi emphasised the crucial role the team will play in protecting the nation’s economy from the adverse effects of smuggling petroleum products.
“Economic saboteurs must be brought to justice,” he declared. “Over the years, we have rebuilt the service to an enviable height, our revenue is increasing, and our targets have also increased. However, if we do not significantly impact the Nigerian economy, we must do better.”

CGC Adeniyi highlighted the significance and the strategic importance of the operation. “This is not a task force or the setting up of checkpoints,” he clarified. “This is an intelligence-driven operation that will support the political will at the highest level. Our dedication and loyalty must not be compromised. There will be serious consequences for those who act against this mission. There is zero tolerance for sabotage.”

Adeniyi stressed the need for collaboration and unity among the officers. “You were selected because you can do the job. Your coordinator’s record is impeccable, and your assignment can’t succeed without you working as a team. You are to complement the existing structure. You are not going as competitors; you will fight people sabotaging our efforts.”

The inauguration of Operation Whirlwind marks a significant step in Nigeria’s fight against the smuggling of petroleum products. To address these issues, the NCS outlined several measures under Operation Whirlwind. These include sharing critical data among agencies, monitoring PMS lifting and delivery, advising independent marketers to automate fleet management systems, and managing the proliferation of fuel stations near border areas. These measures became crucial for tracking the movement of petroleum products and ensuring they reach their intended destinations, thereby curbing smuggling activities.

Barely a month after Nigeria Customs Service launched “Operation Whirlwind” – a decisive onslaught against the illegal trade of petroleum products across Nigeria’s borders, the Service has started recording massive success in curtailing the menace of PMS smuggling across the federation.

Addressing newsmen on Monday, 10 June 2024, in Yola, the Adamawa State capital, the CGC re-emphasized strategic efforts to address the critical issue of fuel smuggling. He stated that the exercise aimed at curtailing economic saboteurs has the solid support of the Office of the National Security Adviser.

He said the Service had, in response to the alarming increase in fuel smuggling, launched the initiative to defend the national currency, reduce pressures that may be attributed to the activities of smugglers, and dismantle their cartels within the ecosystem, adding, “In the past two weeks we have received credible intelligence on the relative stability of the price of PMS around the border states, this is easily attributed to disruptions in the operations of smugglers.”

According to him, the operatives attached to the initiative had, within seven days of non-stop task, intercepted a total of 150,950 litres of PMS, valued at N105,965,391, at various locations nationwide, highlighting, “On Friday, 31 May 2024, a total of 45,000 litres of PMS in a tanker was seized at Mubi, Adamawa State.”

He stated that “On Saturday, 1 June 2024, a total of 45,000 litres of PMS in a tanker was also seized at Mubi, Adamawa, while between Monday, 3 June 2024, and Friday, 7 June 2024, a total of 92,928 litres of PMS in 25 litres of different sizes of jerry cans at Mubi, Song-Wuroboki, Mubi-Sahuda road, and Gidan Madara – Sahuda road in Adamawa State, and others in Illela, Sokoto, and Agbaragba creek in Mfum border of Cross River State.”

The CGC further stated that the Service has also recorded significant seizures of 129,185 litres of PMS from unpatriotic individuals attempting to deprive Nigerians of access to fuel and cause unnecessary hardship, valued at N90,558,685. He added, “A combined diversion of 280,135 litres of PMS of N196,524,075.50 raises serious economic concerns with broader implications on national security.”

The CGC lamented the unfortunate increase in smuggling of PMS across Borno, Kebbi, Sokoto, Taraba, and Katsina states borders between April and May 2024, and the Service deemed it necessary to collaborate with the NSA to come up with a lasting solution to ensure that Nigerians enjoy the full benefits of fuel price deregulation in line with the vision of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

He said, “Between April and May 2024, Borno and Kebbi States recorded 76% and 59% increases in evacuations, ranking among the top three states. On a year-on-year basis (May 2023 and May 2024), Sokoto and Taraba States recorded the most substantial increases in evacuations, with 247% and 234% increases, respectively.”

CGC Adeniyi emphasised the importance of community support and collaboration with patriotic government agencies to dismantle smuggling networks. He warned smugglers to desist from illicit activities or face severe legal consequences. The NCS remains committed to ensuring that legitimate activities of border communities are not obstructed while enforcing these measures.

In his remarks, the National Coordinator of Operation Whirlwind, Comptroller Hussein Ejibunu, asserted that the menace posed by the unpatriotic act of these economic saboteurs on the Nigerian economy cannot be overemphasised, hence the need for synergy and cooperation with other patriotic government agencies in this fight. There is a massive distortion in the supply chain of petroleum products to designated states and filling stations due to diversion to neighbouring countries.

He added that more success would be recorded by the team, considering the NCS Management’s commitment to fine-tuning specific areas for easy monitoring of distribution channels of petroleum products to the various states and filling stations. “I want to use this opportunity to sound a warning to those perpetrating this dastardly act to desist or have themselves to blame,” he concluded.
Since its inauguration, Operation Whirlwind has already begun to yield positive results.

Numerous smuggling attempts have been foiled, and significant quantities of PMS have been seized. CGC Adeniyi’s proactive stance on combating PMS smuggling is a testament to his commitment to protecting Nigeria’s economic interests and ensuring national security. Operation Whirlwind represents a robust and adaptive strategy to address one of the country’s most pressing challenges today.

Operation Whirlwind represents a significant step in securing Nigeria’s borders and safeguarding its economic resources. Through sustained efforts and collaboration, the Nigeria Customs Service aims to reduce smuggling activities and enhance national security, ensuring a stable and prosperous future for all Nigerians, in line with President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s economic recovery agenda.

Moving forward, the NCS will continue to refine and expand its efforts under Operation Whirlwind, ensuring that Nigeria’s borders are secure and its resources are safeguarded. With sustained commitment and collaborative efforts, the NCS aims to reduce smuggling activities significantly, providing a more stable and prosperous future for all.

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