- Release or charge him to court, says Falana
For daring to expose the alleged diversion of millions of litres of Premium Motor Spirit (PMF), otherwise referred to as petrol into neighbouring Cameroon, Niger and Chad, an officer the Nigerian Customs Service, John Owombo, has been “deranked” and may soon be dismissed from the service.
Owombo, a Superintendent of Customs, was attached to the Federal Operations Unit Zone D in Adamawa State, had in a viral video exposed how top officers in the service were aiding and abetting smuggling of refined petroleum products into the African countries.
He has since been arrested, detained and moved first to Bauchi and later to the Customs Headquarters in Abuja, preparatory for dismissal, instead of utilizing the information to address the current leakage in the sector.
Daily, at least 42 million litres of petrol are smuggled out of Nigeria at a resultant cost of about N2 billion daily losses, according to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). In November 2019, the NCS announced a directive that restricted petroleum products from being supplied to fuel stations within 20 kilometers of the borders.
With millions of Nigerians grappling with periodic fuel shortages, the porous borders, spanning over 17,000 kilometres, make it possible for the product to be smuggled to these neighbouring countries easily.
Last week, the National Public Relations Officer of Customs, Deputy Comptroller Timi Bomodi, said that the officer has since been arrested and awaiting medical evaluation. In a press statement in Abuja, the Service said the person in the video is indeed an officer of Nigeria Customs Service, and he is currently attached to the Federal Operations Unit Zone D in Adamawa.
“This incident occurred on Wednesday 2nd of November 2022 at Malabo Checkpoint on Belel Road, Adamawa State. It is important to note that 55 kilometers separate this location from the nearest border. Between the place where this incident occurred and the border, there are fully operational petrol stations.”
He said that preliminary investigations indicated that the drivers on these trucks were in possession of duly signed product distribution sheets for consignments allocated by PPMC for filling stations within that vicinity.
According to him, as the vehicles were in transit, they were considered still to be within city limits and therefore can neither be accused of nor arrested for transporting goods across the border.
“The state in which this officer depicted himself in this video, his comportment and his speech suggests a level of incoherence associated with people of an unstable mind. Indeed, his actions led to his immediate withdrawal by the Controller Federal Operations Unit Zone ‘D’, who instructed his detention pending medical evaluation.
“The NCS seriously frowns at any action that is inimical to the economic well-being of our nation. Our battle with smuggling has been unequivocal and unyielding. Our checkpoints are usually manned by a team of officers all of whom are assigned specific responsibilities,” he said.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana has called on the NCS to release Owombo and his revelation should be investigated by the government.
He said, “Last year, the Comptroller- General of Customs, Colonel Hamid Ali (rtd) accused the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and the Directorate of Petroleum Resources of involvement in smuggling fuel out of Nigeria to neighbouring countries.
“Furthermore, at a public hearing recently held at the National Assembly, Colonel Ali questioned the claim of the NNPC that the daily consumption rate of fuel is 68 million litres. The patriotic revelation of the Comptroller-General of Customs was hailed by the entirely of the Nigerian people
“Therefore, the detained officer should be released or charged before a court of competent jurisdiction if there is evidence that he has committed a criminal offence prescribed by law.
“The allegation made by the detained officer should not be swept under the carpet. It should be investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission as it is the height of economic sabotage to budget trillions of naira for the importation of fuel and allow the same to be smuggled out of Nigeria through roads that are manned by customs and immigration officers.”