While many Nigerians were still smarting from the stunning but objective assessment by Transparency International (TI) of the state of corruption in the country, the news broke of the interception and confiscation of about $8 million cash by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Ikeja, Lagos State. The incident, in a sense, corroborated TI’s recent verdict of worsening corruption in the country. And that is just an occurrence that came to light fortuitously; there might have been dozens of such incidents that are yet to be detected or that may never be discovered. TI’s submission apparently spoke to the reality on the ground; an indication that official concern and discontent should not have been directed at the messenger but the message with a view to making amends.
For instance, what further proof of exacerbating sleaze in the country can be more than the reported interception of over $8 million by NSC officials at the airport? And surprisingly, no bank or any individual has come forward to claim ownership of the whopping sum whose bearer had beaten all security checks, but only got intercepted at the E-wing of the international airport’s tarmac. It is also curious that no serious arrests have been made in connection with the money which is about N2.4 billion save for the driver of the vehicle in which the suspected illicit fund was found. And judging by the huge amount involved, the driver who is reported to be a staff of the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company Plc (NAHCO) and in whose assigned vehicle the suspected cash was discovered is a mere pawn on the chess board of the real criminals behind the deal.
So far, all Nigerians have received from the authorities at the airport, including NAHCO, are promises of a thorough investigation into the scandalous discovery. This is a big joke going by experience, and no one can justify what is going on. The mystery around the attempt to smuggle this huge cash must be unravelled because the amount involved is not a pin. And now that the driver of the vehicle has been arrested according to the Comptroller General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (retd), Nigerians will like to know the owner(s) of the cash and who loaded the vehicle. What about the relevant documents in respect of the freight, carrier and crew? And how come the cash was not detected by any of the security operatives until it was intercepted at the tarmac?
It is reasonable to assume that before any criminal would take a risk on smuggling over $8 million out of the country, the high probability of success based on his/her previous experience in the ignoble act or the experiences of fellow criminals must have been factored in. In other words, the fact that the illicit cash was intercepted and seized was most probably unusual from the viewpoint of the criminals. This is the most unsettling angle to the outrageous discovery at the airport: by implication, tons of illicit cash in foreign currencies must have been ferried and are probably still being ferried across the country’s border without let or hindrance. And that cannot possibly happen without the active connivance of the security officials responsible for the control of the inflows and outflows at the country’s borders.
We commend the NCS for the credible information it was able to gather about the movement of the cash which ultimately culminated in its interception and seizure. The NSC is urged to work harder on its intelligence-based policing of the borders in order to continue to checkmate criminals. While the source of the illicit cash and purpose of the attempt to smuggle it out of the country are yet to be unearthed, it is most unlikely that the money was earned through honest means. The cash is most probably the proceeds of crime. There must have been something untoward about the accumulation of the huge cash and its intended purpose that necessitated the clandestine attempt to move it out of the country. It is inconceivable that anyone who has earned that kind of money legally and legitimately would upon seizure abandon the cash without caring a hoot. That should bother Nigerians.
The relevant authorities must ensure that this issue is handled differently from what happened in the past. Specifically, they must ensure that they zero in on the culprits and investigate them painstakingly to find out the nexus, if any, between the cash and illegal acts like international terrorism, drug smuggling, arms proliferation, plundering of government treasury and such other criminal activities that often compel criminals to shun recognised financial systems. It is also important to find out if any financial institution in the country is complicit in the mobilisation of the huge cash in foreign currency which in all probability was meant to be channelled into base and ignoble causes. For instance, for over a decade now, the country has been beset with an intractable security crisis, a crisis being orchestrated by supposedly ragtag armies of Boko Haram terrorists, Fulani herdsmen and bandits but because they are evidently being robustly funded by unknown persons and/or organisations locally and/externally, the problem has persisted.
We urge that this time around, the issue of the intercepted cash should be treated and handled with all the seriousness it deserves, and the outcome made public by the authorities. The country cannot continue to run a system that falls short of global standards and practices as that will be a recipe for societal collapse.