• Customs CG reshapes border patrol, commands crackdown on fuel smuggling syndicates • NNPCL seizes ship bound for Cameroon carrying 800,000 liters of stolen crude oil
The Acting Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Adewale Adeniyi, pledged a strong offensive against oil thieves, emphasizing the need to protect the nation’s economy from saboteurs.
Adeniyi, acknowledging the persistent smuggling of petrol, despite the removal of subsidies, disclosed that the agency had implemented new border patrol strategies to combat oil theft.
These remarks were made during a sensitization workshop on the Nigeria Customs Service Act 2023, attended by management staff in Abuja.
Simultaneously, the Nigeria National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) announced the interception of a suspected vessel bound for Cameroon, carrying illicitly obtained crude oil.
According to Garba Muhammad, the Chief Corporate Communications Officer of NNPCL, the vessel was apprehended on July 7, 2023, by Tantita Security Services, a private security contractor engaged by NNPCL.
The vessel, named MT TURA II and owned by a Nigerian registered company called Holab Maritime Services Limited, was en route to Cameroon when intercepted at an offshore location (Latitude: 5.8197194477543235°, Longitude: 4.789002723991871°). The vessel’s captain and crew members were detained.
President Bola Tinubu had previously announced the discontinuation of petrol subsidies during his inaugural address on May 29, 2023. The Nigerian government had been subsidizing petrol for many years, incurring trillions of naira in expenses.
The government had expressed concerns over the smuggling of subsidized petrol to neighboring West African countries, where it was sold at higher prices than in Nigeria.
Although Adeniyi confirmed a reduction in smuggling activities, he admitted that some border stations still experienced incidents. Consequently, the Nigeria Customs Service plans to review its enforcement strategies and impose heavy penalties under the newly passed Nigeria Customs Service Act 2023.
Adeniyi highlighted the outdated nature of the previous legislation, citing inadequate punitive measures for customs law violations. The NCS boss emphasized that the new law would impose severe sanctions to deter criminals from engaging in fraudulent activities.
The outdated Customs and Excise Management Act Cap C45 LFN 2004, which had been in operation for 63 years without significant amendments, was repealed and replaced by the Nigeria Customs Service Bill, signed by former President Muhammadu Buhari.
Regarding the intercepted vessel, preliminary investigations by NNPCL revealed that the cargo of crude oil was illegally sourced from an offshore well jacket in Ondo State, Nigeria. No valid documentation was found for the vessel or its cargo at the time of the arrest.
NNPCL handed over the vessel to the military Joint Task Force Operation Delta Safe, which is responsible for combating criminal activities in the Niger Delta region.
Oil marketers and operators in the downstream sector acknowledged the possibility of petrol smuggling but emphasized the need for stricter enforcement and tracking systems on petroleum tankers to prevent such activities. They recommended collaborative efforts between the Nigeria Customs Service and stakeholders to curb smuggling.
The issue of cross-border petrol smuggling was expected to persist until fuel prices in Nigeria align with those in neighboring countries. The implementation of local refining was suggested as a solution to address the economic incentives driving smuggling.