Anxiety mounts over $500m Customs patrol boats
Maritime stakeholders are currently agitated over the fate of two specialised security patrol boats acquired more than two years ago by the Nigeria Customs service at over $500 million, which are yet to be put to effective use as they waste away at the Marina Jetty in Lagos.
This is coming on the heels of increasing smuggling and other criminal activities within the nation’s inland waterways and creeks, as the Marine Commands of the service have been rendered ineffective due to the total absence of patrol boats and other operational equipment.
But in a swift response, Customs Area Controller in charge of Western Marine Command, Comptroller Sarkin Kebbi, in a telephone interview, said that the service has already contracted the Nigerian Navy to mount the guns and other accessories on the boats, which has been the major reason for the delay in deploying them.
Investigations show that the service spends over N5billion annually in maintaining the two patrol boats christened ‘Customs Pride’ and ‘Group of Nine’ acquired since 2015, as it needs to run the engines as well as the generating sets and other communication equipment on board the boats which were anchored at the Marina waterfront.
It was further gathered that the boats, which were acquired by the immediate past Comptroller General of the service, Alhaji Dikko Abdullahi, were meant for dedicated patrols by the marine commands, as part of efforts to checkmate the increasing menace of smugglers on the nation’s waterways, which are the primary responsibility of the Eastern and Western Marine Commands of the service
The service had following the acquisition of the two boats told stakeholders in 2015 that they will be commissioned and deployed to patrol the nation’s inland waters, a promise that has not been fulfilled more than two years after, as the boats are still tied at the jetty rotting away.
It later slated the commissioning and subsequent deployment of the patrol boats to 2016, which was also never done, thus allowing the smugglers to operate on the waterways freely.
Former Customs Area Controller (CAC), in charge of the Western Marine Comand of the service, Comptroller Umar Yusuf, had during a media briefing attributed the delay to the need to install guns on the boats before commissioning and deploying for operational activities.
He had also claimed that one of the vessels was involved in an accident where it was anchored and had to be repaired, adding that some officers of the command had already been trained in the operations of the boats.
Comptroller Kebbi, who assumed office April, last year, disclosed that the service has already imported the guns and other accessories needed to deploy the boats into effective operation and that the Nigerian Navy has already been contracted for that purpose.
According to him, the consignment of guns imported by the service landed at the Calabar Port, which was also inspected by a team of officers of the service as well as those of the Navy.
“You know it is a headquarters project and so I am aware that the Comptroller General of the service, Col. Hameed Ali met with the Chief of Naval Staff last year and a quotation has been given for the mounting of the guns and as soon as that is done, the boats would be commissioned”, Kebbi assured.
He also said that boats are meant for both his command and the Eastern Marine Command, adding that the management of the service had contacted him to give his perspective on the boats, which he did, and therefore expressed the hope that the boats would be put into use sooner than expected.
Comptroller Kebbi had told newsmen during a press conference that the two patrol boats were yet to be commissioned and deployed for operations due to absence of adequate armoury and a trained crew.
Meanwhile, there are speculations that the major reason for the commissioning and deployment of the boats is that they were acquired as scraps, refurbished and merely repainted and therefore are no longer serviceable.
Sources had also hinted that the service may soon set up an inquiry committee to ascertain the true cost of the unserviceable boat, as the current management believes strongly that $500 million was too high for the acquisition of the boats given their unserviceable state.