The pains and dangers of exposing Nigeria customs as a growing security threat/Fisayo Soyombo

In the last six weeks, I’ve fielded numerous questions about why I took on Customs every day, bar weekends. One person inboxed me to ask: “Why do you still tag Customs even though they won’t eventually reply to your claim?” On the timeline, some accounts with links to smugglers and Customs officers believed they were deriding me by saying Customs would not respond to me. But I wrote it here early on: I wasn’t trying to trigger a response from Customs. Why should I, when Customs spokesman Abdullahi Maiwada was belligerent and would have slapped me on the phone if possible when I contacted him to respond to my investigation before going to press? A few days after publishing the story, I got wind of Customs’ response strategy. It was to wait it out. “Give Nigerians a few days and they will move on to the next story.” Well, I was determined to elongate the shelf life of the story beyond “a few days”. It started with Twitter spaces, something I rarely did because, if given a choice, I’d limit the exposure of my voice and face to the public. I must have held three Twitter spaces in two weeks — that’s a first. Then the multiple interviews, something else I seldom did (I’ve always turned down more interviews than I’ve granted.). Then the ‘good morning’ greetings, which worked to solid effect. With the ‘good morning’ tweets, I managed to keep the smuggling and Customs stench conversation going for a whopping six weeks, as against their prediction of just “a few days”. As I would later understand from my multiple sources in Customs and smuggling, this irritated the rank and file of NCS. The proof was ‘that’ WhatsApp message seeking to raise 17,000 NCS staff to tweet against me. So what have I gained from the extended conversation? A lot. And this explains my second, and more important, reason for the campaign: the right of the public to know. Anyone who has followed the conversation these past weeks surely must now appreciate the role of Customs in Nigeria’s insecurity and economic woes. You now understand that when Customs announces the seizure of rice or white meat or cars, the smugglers of those imports did not bribe the right people in Customs or they tried to outright outsmart Customs; and that when Customs declares the seizure of hundreds of rice bags, several thousands have been privately diverted in most cases. You now understand why Customs declares the seizure of arms and ammunition from time to time without ever revealing the identities of the smugglers. You now know the origin of some of those bicycles used by bandits and insurgents in northern Nigeria, or some of the arms that have been used to stir civic unrest in the south-east. You now know that not all the tramadol damaging the youth in the north came in from that axis; some indeed originated from the south-west. You now know that citizens get killed for feeding the Customs with anti-smuggling information; you even know the names of some victims. You understand that smuggling is an economic and insecurity crime against the state that is ironically state-backed, that the biggest smugglers are backed by nation’s highest security appointees and loftiest political office holders. You now know that border closure and prohibited/restricted imports list are sham policies that benefit nobody but state-backed smugglers and shady businessmen profiteering from the contrived black market. All these and more you now know in tweets carefully spread out over a period of six weeks. That knowledge is something nobody can take away from me or you. And it will be useful someday. The very foundation for the revolutionary dismantling of the status quo is the knowledge of everything ‘they’ do not want you to know!


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