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26.03.2024 Featured Police Begin Persecution of FIJ for ‘Cybercrime’, Summon BoT Chair to Abuja

Published 26th Mar, 2024

By Sade Owoyemi

The police have summoned Bukky Shonibare, the chairman of FIJ’s Board of Trustees, to Abuja to answer questions about cybercrime.

The invitation, sent by the Nigeria Police Force National Cybercrime Centre (NPF-NCC), was dated Thursday March 21 but was only emailed to her on Saturday March 23.

Shonibare will honour the invitation on the police’s predetermined date: Tuesday March 26, 2024.

“This Center [sic] is investigating a case in which the need to obtain some clarifications from the Foundation for Investigative Journalism and Social Justice has become imperative,” read the letter.

“In furtherance of the Police Investigation [sic] and in observance of the principle of fair hearing, you are invited to interview the Director of the Center [sic] through the undersigned.”

SP Ann Elunor from the NPF-NCC subsequently contacted Shonibare via WhatsApp to follow up on the letter.

Shonibare is to report at NPF-NCC’s office at Plot 625 Mission Road, Diplomatic Drive, Abuja.

READ MORE: Undercover as a Smuggler

UNDERCOVER AS A SMUGGLER

Although the NPF-NCC did not expressly say it, FIJ believes the invitation is in relation to its five-week-long investigative focus on smuggling and the Nigeria Customs Service.

On Tuesday, February 20, FIJ released the trailer of the investigation — ‘Undercover as a Smuggler’ — by ‘Fisayo Soyombo, its founder and editor-in-chief, and followed it up with a multimedia story on Wednesday February 21 and a 16-minute documentary on Thursday February 22.

Among many other things, FIJ’s story had unveiled how smuggling is aided by Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) bosses who take bribes from smugglers and then betray patrol teams by updating smugglers on their colleagues’ itinerary.

It also spotlighted the criminal business history of the southwest’s biggest smuggler Ibrahim Dende Egungbohun — whose allies in power include Bashir Adewale Adeniyi MFR, the current Comptroller-General of Customs (CGC), Kayode Egbetokun, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), and President Bola Tinubu — in the cross-border movement of goods and arms and ammunition.

WATCH: DOCUMENTARY: Undercover as a Smuggler

FIGHTBACK FROM IBD DENDE

The revelations prompted Ibrahim Dende, better known as ‘IBD Dende’, to deny involvement in smuggling.

In a rebuttal that was first circulated by some obscure online platforms before subsequently gaining ground in traditional newspapers such as Daily Trust, ThisDay, Vanguard, Blueprint and New Telegraph, IBD Dende  petitioned the IGP, saying FIJ’s investigation amounted to “character assassination with calculated view to achieve damaging effects against IBD Dende and his businesses within and outside Nigeria”.

READ MORE: IBD Dende Sends IGP After FIJ

IBD Dende’s publicist Simon Fakeye also circulated a piece titled ‘Fisayo Soyombo: When a reporter becomes assassin’, writing: “Fisayo Soyombo in his so-called investigative report [sic] defamed Chief Ibrahim Dende Egungbohun known as IBD when he said, “IBD International Hotels, Ilaro, well-known by all and sundry to have been built with proceeds of smuggling” (par 10). But in all of his 4,519 worded two reports, Soyombo would not give at least one evidence to establish his defamation that his target was a smuggler who deals in rice and guns, what a character assassination!”

Similarly, Oba Akintunde Akinyemi JP, FCIMN, the Eselu of Iselu Kingdom, who described himself as “a First Class Monarch in Yewa North Local Government Area of Ogun State”, wrote an open letter “to debunk the information which one Investigative Journalist called Fisayo Soyombo has put in the public domain and was also discussed recently on Arise Television Nigeria”.

READ MORE: BREAKING: IBD Dende Suspends Daily Turkey Smuggling After FIJ’s Investigation

FIJ’S RESPONSE? MORE EVIDENCE

In response, FIJ published an exclusive detailing how motorcycles used by bandits and insurgents to inflict terror on innocent civilians, as well as hard drugs, including tramadol, are among the goods being smuggled into northern Nigeria by the NCS, the agency that should be checking the crime.

FIJ subsequently obtained videos of Dende threatening a Customs official who intercepted his vehicles containing smuggled rice.

READ MORE: EXCLUSIVE: Nigeria Customs Smuggling Terrorist Motorcyles, Hard Drugs Into Northern Nigeria

In the first of the videos, a frantic and irate Dende could be heard repeatedly telling the Customs officer, whom he simply identified as Rotimi: “May it never be well with you.”

Dende could also be heard bragging, “I have called Ejigbunu”, and ordering the receiver at the other end of the phone: “Call Wale, call Wale.”

FIJ confirmed that the said ‘Wale’ is Bashir Adewale Adeniyi, a Member of the Order of the Federal Republic (MFR) and current Comptroller-General of Customs (CGC). Meanwhile, ‘Ejigbunu’ is Hussein Ejigbunu, Comptroller, Federal Operations Unit Zone A.

As could be seen and heard in the second video, one of Dende’s grouses was that Customs officers were also smuggling rice while his own consignment was intercepted.

“I saw your boss’s trailer — four trailers that loaded rice — in Seme,” he can be heard saying. “What did you do about it? I will not accept it! I have told Ejigbunu I will not agree!”

READ MORE: VIDEO: IBD Dende Threatens to Kill Customs Officer for Seizing His Smuggled Goods

WAITING GAME BY THE CUSTOMS SERVICE

After FIJ’s confirmation that rather than officially address the findings of its reports, the plan of the NCS was to “wait it out until everybody moves on”, Soyombo started to run tweets from Monday to Fridays asking the service to respond to fresh discoveries he was unearthing.

So far, he has observed, among others, the unusually high number of hotels owned by Customs officers in smuggling zones and border towns, such as:

(i) Bradevic Hotel Aradagun, Badagry, owned by Customs officer Moses Emayo, OC Federal Operations Unit Zone A, Ikeja;

(ii) Rao International Hotel and Suites, Km 15 Sango-Idi-Iroko Road, owned by Customs officer Najeem Akorede, popularly called ‘Najeem Custom’;

(iii) Ar-Rakhab Beach and Holiday Resort in Badagry, owned by a retired Customs officer better known by his alias ‘Ashimi’.

He has continued asking: why are active and retired Customs officers the owners of the poshest hotels in border towns? Why hotels, why border towns, why smuggling zones? Why don’t medical doctors, surgeons, mechanical engineers, software engineers, teachers, professors, accountants, lawyers, ‘tech bros’, security experts want to own these hotels in these smuggling zones? Why mainly Customs officers, Customs agents and smugglers?

Beyond the hotels, he has also asked Customs to explain:

(iv) how many rice warehouses in border towns are owned by Customs officers’ wives;

(v) how Akeem Adigun, the notorious but tiring smuggler better known as ‘Socopao’, got two of his sons Razak and Bolaji into Customs by bribing his way through;

(vi) how Owolabi Alaka and Shakiru Labeabo, two citizens who tipped Customs officers with information on smugglers, were murdered in Ado-Odo, very close to Seme border;

(vii) how an informant contacted some senior officers with privileged information on IBD Dende smuggling drugs, arms and ammunition into the country, only for the informant’s number to become blacklisted;

(viii) how, between 2016 and 2021 alone, Customs officers killed at least 32 innocent bystanders and petty smugglers in the Ogun West Senatorial District while chasing petty smugglers, all the while striking deals with big-time smugglers to grant them thoroughfare;

(ix) and how Customs officers are permanently lodged for free at the Ilaro hotel of IBD Dende, a notorious smuggler and gunrunner, something tantamount to policemen enjoying free lodging in an armed robber’s hotel!

LATEST POLICE PERSECUTION NOT THE FIRST

This is not the first time the police have been sent after FIJ for its journalism.

In December 2021, Soyombo was detained at the Force headquarters, Abuja, on the orders of the then IGP after a similar petition, and was only released after media outcry.

Back then, FIJ had exposed how, in his former role as Commissioner of Police in charge of Budget and Finance at the Nigeria Police Force Headquarters, Joseph Egbunike, head of the police internal panel probing Abba Kyari’s indictment in an FBI report on fraud conspiracy, joined other police chiefs to approve more than N1billion for sham police transit camps project in Benue, Bauchi, Plateau, Katsina and Kano states, with FIJ’s visit to the project locations revealing that nothing or little had been done — three years later.

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Published 26th Mar, 2024

By Sade Owoyemi

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