Worried by the rising spate of violence and proliferation of light weapons in the country, the Nigeria Customs Service Apapa Area 1 command has said it has stepped up surveillance at the nation’s biggest cargo seaport to forestall possible illegal importation of arms and ammunitions through the port ahead of the 2019 general elections.

Barring any last minute change in the scheme of things, the general elections are scheduled to commence in February 2019, according to a timetable released by the electoral umpire, the Independent Electoral Commission INEC.

Recall that the Tin Can Island Command of the service had last year at different times impounded consignments of large cache of arms comprising 600 arms and ammunition and another 440 units of pump action guns and other components concealed in a 20-foot container declared as Plaster of Paris POP, and cement, imported from Turkey. Many had then believed that the consignments were part of preparations by politicians for the 2019 general elections.

Customs Area Controller in charge of Apapa Command, Comptroller Musa Jibrin, who made the disclosure during a round table organised by the Maritime Reporters Association of Nigeria MARAN, in Lagos Tuesday, said it had become necessary for the command to heighten surveillance on all imported consignment through the port to nip any attempt to bring in arms illegally, given the already bad security situation in the country.

He also noted that the command is conscious of the fact that the general elections are less than 10 months away, which gave rise to the need for the command to intensify surveillance on imported cargo, given the antecedents whereby some people stockpile arms few months to the elections to be used to unleash mayhem during and after the elections to ensure they win at all cost.

Jibrin, who was represented by the Assistant Comptroller in charge of Customs Procession Centre CPC, Muktar Yahaya, noted that the introduction of the Nigeria Integrated Customs Information System NICIS II platform a fortnight ago will further boost the ability of the service to track and intercept such arms consignments before they leave the seaport terminals.

This according to him is because the new platform also connects other relevant security agencies that operate at the ports, which share information on a very regular basis, which would drastically reduce the possibility of such illicit consignments to exit the ports unnoticed.

He admitted that though the command was currently having some teething problems, such problems should not constitute any cause for worry, as they are common with new technologies, especially Information Communication Technology ICT, which are also being addressed promptly.

According to the CAC, such teething problems were also expected especially given the volume of cargo handled by the command, being the biggest in the country, which also informed the decision of the management of the service to roll out the NICIS 11 platform at the Kirikiri Lighter Terminal, the Ports and Terminal Multiservices Limited PTML, the Lily Pond and then Tin Can Island Port, which have comparatively lower cargo volumes before rolling it off in Apapa.

It was however gathered that in addition to these teething problems and other human errors, the command is also grappling with the problem of internet connection, which has gone off for several working hours, especially due to the rainy season, which often comes with strong winds that often affect the facility

Investigations also showed that the command had very tough times processing cargo the first few days after the deployment of the NICIS 11 platform due to frequent breakdown, after which the systems picked up, leading to the collection of N4.3billion revenue in one day, which it could obviously not collect earlier due to system failure.

The CAC however assured that adequate measures have been put in place to ensure that other dangerous and prohibited items including tyres and consumables did not come into the country through the command.