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Persistent Fuel Smuggling Continues at Borders Despite Subsidy Removal, Says Customs Boss

Fuel smuggling continues at the borders despite the removal of subsidies, according to the Acting Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Adewale Adeniyi. Adeniyi expressed his determination to crack down on oil thieves, emphasizing that allowing saboteurs to control the economy is unacceptable. Despite the removal of subsidies on Premium Motor Spirit (petrol), cases of smuggling persist at Nigeria’s border stations. Adeniyi announced that the agency has implemented new border patrol strategies to combat fuel theft.

The disclosure was made during a sensitization workshop on the Nigeria Customs Service Act 2023, attended by management staff of the NCS in Abuja. In a separate development, the Nigeria National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) reported the interception of a suspected Cameroon-bound vessel carrying a cargo of crude oil. The vessel, named MT TURA II, owned by a Nigerian registered company called Holab Maritime Services Limited, was apprehended at an offshore location. The NNPCL stated that the cargo was illegally sourced from an offshore well jacket in Ondo State, Nigeria. Investigations revealed that the vessel had been operating stealthily for the past 12 years.

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The removal of petrol subsidies was announced by President Bola Tinubu in his inaugural address on May 29, 2023. The government’s decision to end subsidies was driven by concerns over smuggling of Nigerian petrol to other West African countries due to its lower price in Nigeria. Despite the reduction in smuggling activities, Adeniyi revealed that it had not completely stopped at some border stations. The Nigeria Customs Service is reviewing its enforcement strategies and plans to impose heavy penalties on violators of the newly passed legislation.

Adeniyi also emphasized the need to review procedures and processes at ports and border areas to promote user-friendliness and economic growth without compromising national security. The previous legislation, Customs and Excise Management Act Cap C45 LFN 2004, was enacted 63 years ago and had become obsolete. The new Nigeria Customs Service Act 2023 provides punitive sanctions that should serve as a deterrent against customs law violations.

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The NNPCL handed over the intercepted vessel to the military Joint Task Force Operation Delta Safe. Rear Admiral Olusegun Ferreira, the Commander of the JTF Operation Delta Safe, assured the public that an investigation is ongoing to apprehend the perpetrators and warned criminals to steer clear of the maritime domain.

In response to the revelation of ongoing fuel smuggling, oil marketers and operators in the downstream sector called for the arrest of culprits and the deployment of tracking systems on petroleum tankers to curb smuggling activities. They also highlighted the importance of eradicating economic incentives for smuggling by aligning fuel prices in Nigeria with those in neighboring countries. The government was advised to activate local refining to address the issue effectively.

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