Customs Area Controller, Victor Dimka: Smugglers nearly killed me

Dimka-comptrollerVictor David Dimka, the Customs Area Controller (CAC), Federal Operations Unit (FOU), Zone C, Owerri, Imo State would have been dead today, no thanks to smugglers. But God has kept him alive to continue the anti-smuggling war.

Dimka, who by any matrix, can be called an anti-smuggling czar, has vowed not to relent in the national assignment of ridding the country of contraband items, describing smugglers as economic saboteurs who are bent on circumventing the law. Interestingly, he has an unending catalogue of seizures and arrests made within his zone.

In this interview with UCHE USIM, he spoke more on the challenges of his job, the anti-smuggling war and other issues. Excerpts:

What is your management style in your zone?

I lead by example. When you are in charge, it’s not enough to ask officers to go do this or go do that. You get on the field and do it yourself for them to see and know it is possible. You let them see what you are doing so that they can take correction from what you are doing. I have always held on to the philosophy that you can never succeed as an anti-smuggling officer by mere saying smuggling is bad and smugglers are dangerous to our national economic growth. You must try to show example by fighting it head-on and putting your life on the line to show that you can die for this cause. Because they know I am there with them in the thick and thin and that I will never abandon them whenever trouble comes, they work with higher commitment.

Where you find out that officers are doing well and excelling in their commitment to work, you don’t shy away from telling them and appreciating hard work. You showcase such officers to their colleagues and contemporaries to see. Everybody wants to succeed and be appreciated, eulogised and commended. Because I have been able to imbibe this in many officers that has worked under me, they have ways of influencing those working with me for the first time for increased productivity. It is just like a programmed machine. You switch on and you see a coordinated movement towards our common objective because everyone involved is made to know the direction to our goal while we watch out for outstanding performances.

Where you don’t lead with a proper sense of direction, there will be a disconnect. But I can tell you that even if I am not here for two weeks, what they will be doing in my presence will not in anyway be different from what I would have been doing if I were here. Take time to teach people about what you want, do the things you teach them in their presence and ensure that all you do are not outside the books of instruction, at all times.

What has been your inspiration?

First and foremost, when I came into the service in 1988, I met very highly respected officers as superiors and Area Controllers. At a point I asked myself, ‘why is it that anytime you mention the names of these controllers, people want to know more about you because you are working with them. There are things that I started imbibing from these officers. When you look at the 7Cs, you see it in these controllers. We had the like of Lawal Baigiwa, Innocent Okoye, Iwuagwu, Dabai, Sowemimo and so many of them.

Why I am so happy is that none of these officers ever found me wanting. I hate to come and say sorry for doing the wrong thing when I had been instructed to act right. I completely avoid deviating from rules and instructions. I hate failure, so I am always conscious of my goals that I must succeed, I must not disappoint my country, the Nigeria Customs Service and my Area Controller.

I keep talking to my officers about these men and remind them that those who can move freely in the society are the diligent and straightforward people. We know we step on toes while doing what is right and legitimate in the interest of Nigeria. As a proper officer posted to a place for duty, I don’t allow material things and quest for them to blur my vision for outstanding results. I believe with the fear of God and self-contentment, you can excel. I am inspired to see junior officers that served under me doing very well wherever they are posted. We had very good examples set for us by our superior officers and I strive to pass on the culture of hard work, leadership by example and law abiding to junior ones under me.

Have you ever had a close shave with death?

Yes! This happened in Idiroko, Ogun State in 1989. I led a patrol team. While we had worked, I got tired and about going to close for the day, we saw vehicles loaded with contraband and the way they were driving was as if we don’t have Customs in Ogun State.

I asked our driver to turn and embark on a chase. I started shooting the tyres, when I got the rare tyres they were blocking us, so we moved to the front and I shot the front tyres too. So, we got the four tyres punctured and the vehicle was moving on its rim.

We drove past an area called Ajilete, later passed Owode too. Soldiers and others were watching what was going on. This was about 4pm, after we had spent three days outside.

As one of the vehicles we shot at was driving on its rim, it was emitting fire and at the middle of the junction, it diverted to Ado Odo. That Ado Odo used to be the enclave of very notorious smugglers.
Because I had released so many shots, after Ado Odo, my bullets got exhausted and I thought we had some rounds of ammunition in one gun we call OFN then. It could carry 35 rounds.

With the gunshots and the noise, it was as if the whole of Owode now moved out. They communicated with other communities, that show solidarity for smuggling. They were closing up on us saying, ‘This is the end for Dimka and his team’.

I then asked a younger officer who held the OFN rifle to give it to me for use in the face of our challenge of likely mob attack only for him to inform me that he exhausted his ammunition.
I never knew that while I aimed at the tyres of the vehicle, he put his rifle on rapid and in no time exhausted the 35 rounds of ammunition. Now we were armless and this was only known to us, the Customs officers.

People were coming in hundreds from two directions to close up on us. No single ammunition. So, I asked him to give me the rifle, I took it and ran into the vehicle and pretended as if I was corking it. Quickly again, I ran out of the vehicle sat on the bonnet and aimed at the mob like I was about to shoot at them. Because they know what I can do, they thought I had ammunition to cause casualties in self-defence and making the seizure.

I had earlier warned my officers not to betray their emotions as these people must not know that we had run out of ammunition. I urged them all to act very brave and position at alert as ready to shoot.

The mob quickly surrendered, with hands up pleading, ‘Oga don’t shoot, please. We don’t want trouble, please, don’t do it.’ We held them down until we gained control of the people from Owode, Ado Odo and environs.

They had machetes, charms, sticks and other weapons with the obvious intent to attack. We were just eight officers facing the risk of confronting over 500 able-bodied men.

One of their leaders now said, ‘Please, we need your help, the vehicle we used was hired, and that they are ready to lose the contraband but not the vehicle. I told them, if they behave funny, I will shoot. I gave them my word that if they brought another vehicle to convey the seizure to our base, I will ensure release of the vehicle to them.

They brought another vehicle and offloaded all the contraband into it because the other one caught fire. It was then that other patrol vehicles joined us and we went to base. I reported to my boss, Usman Jabba, a Chief Superintendent (he is late now). I told him the whole story and my promise to release the vehicle used in conveying the seizure back to the people, he approved of it.

After that operation, the young officer that held the OFN rifle left the service. He said this job is too risky for him. He is in Germany now. He has been there ever since.

You operate with minimal amount of ammunition?

Then, yes. Now, no. The situation has changed for the better. We are better equipped for the job and you can see the results.

Are there limitations or challenges?

We’ve never had it so good. As I said, we are far better equipped for the job than before.
Can you compare Nigeria Customs with its counterparts in western world?
Well, I can compare our Customs with the Customs of the United States. We have developed a very rich international rating. We attended a course in Botswana and I know what Customs of other countries had to say about Nigeria Customs Service

Are you really deploying technology to the fight against smuggling?

There are ways in which we are doing that. If you check some of our patrol vehicles, they are fitted with cameras that can capture images from long distances, then you send information to other officers who eventually carry out arrests of suspects and ensure seizures. That is how we take the smugglers unaware most times without resistance or casualties.

You know the service has aircraft for aerial surveillance to pick activities of smugglers and relate to the ground enforcement officers. We have improved from what we used to be, there has been a steady improvement.

Do you get cooperation from the court?

The punishments of the court are not stiff enough. You know most of these things are stipulated. To say there is no enough enlightenment is not true. In the print media, electronic and online we are there trying to educate people.

I think most of the smuggling acts are borne out of the quest to get rich quick, some try to evade duty payments to make more gains. They know its unlawful. Sometimes we wonder, what type of propaganda, media outreach do we need to educate these people on the need to shun smuggling.

If you are greedy, no matter the education and enlightenment you will still smuggle. Even if the government brings down the duty for cars to one per cent, people will still smuggle if they are greedy. They are deviants and there is nothing you can do to change that. They only begin to regret when they are not lucky and get arrested.

You can only continue smuggling when you think you can never be caught. I have never seen any smuggler that can never be caught, except there is no will power to catch the smuggler. There is a moral rebirth in customs and we have good logistics to do better. Smugglers that have not been caught and are still hoping to smuggle will soon go in for it. We adhere to the tenets and ethics of our job and this makes life harder for smugglers

How will you describe the Nigeria Customs of your dreams?

It’s not far from what obtains now. I will want a Customs where we will build on the existing foundation and successes by the present Controller General. If there are modifications, they should just be emphasis on what he has laid down.

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