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Despite border closure, smuggling thrives January 28, 2020
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Nigeria’s land borders were partially closed on August 20, last year, following the Federal Government’s determination to end rice importation, boost local production and reduce smuggling of arms and ammunition, as well as hard drugs and other prohibited items. Despite that the Federal Government is yet to reopen the country’s land borders, investigation reveals that foreign rice and other contraband commodities still flood Lagos and Ogun states’markets. Speaking with The Nation on the plan by the Federal Government to reopen the country’s land borders by the end of the month, a member of Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria in Badagry, Mr Gbolahan Adejare, said the Comptroller-General, Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), Col. Hameed Ali (rtd), needs to lead senior members of the Service, a detachment of senior police officers and the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) from Abujaon a private visit to the roads leading to Seme and Idi-Iroko borders. Such a visit, it is believed, would enable him see how security officials inadvertently aid and abet smuggling and kill the economy of the country and its people. Another purposely built vehicle Another purposely built vehicle Purpose-built vehicles move in and out of Lagos and Ogun markets unchallenged on the roads. Some unpatriotic officers, Adejare alleged, are still assisting smugglers in frustrating and killing the Federal Government’s policy on local rice production by allowing purpose-built vehicles by the smugglers to ply the roads unchallenged, while vehicles that belong to law-abiding citizens are not allowed to move freely on the road by the security agents. Many Nigerians, importers, exporters and clearing agents believe that the closure of the borders by the Federal Government, has, no doubt, reduced the amount of expired foreign rice and other prohibited goods that are brought into the country through the unapproved routes. But findings revealed that the smugglers are still using illegal vehicles and routes to carry out their nefarious activities undisturbed and endanger the health of Nigerians. When The Nation visited Seme and Idi-Iroko borders at the weekend, there were many checkpoints between Agbara and Seme borders and several checkpoints between the old Toll Gate at Sango and Idi-Iroko border. Despite the checkpoints, findings revealed that the rate at which rice and other prohibited items, such as frozen poultry products, used tyres, textile materials, used clothings, vegetable oil and others are being ferried into the markets by the drivers of the purpose- built vehicles, is alarming. Wake up call to FRSC, Police It was also gathered that the illegal activity keep flourishing with the connivance of some unscrupulous officers in Customs, Police, Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) and other security agents who turn their back and close their eyes when they see the specialised vehicles the smuggliers use in carrying out their illicit business. Investigation revealed that the smugglers use specilised and purpose-built vehicles to carry out their nefarious activities in the wee hours of the morning, in the evening and sometimes in daylight ferrying imported pineapple, tomatoes, coconuts, rice, vegetable oil and frozen poultry products into the country. Over 209 of such vehicles used by smugglers were seen at various spots at Mile 2, Alaba-Rago Market, Okokomaiko, Ijanikin, Agbara, Oko-Afo, Araromi Ale, Mowo, Aradagun, Ibereko, Ajara, Badagry and Seme border, when The Nation visited the area at the weekend. The story of the converted vehicles was the same at Oshodi, Daleko, Ile-Epo Oja, Abule Egba, Alakuko, old Toll Gate, Joke-Ayo, Ojoore, Iju, Atan, Lusada, Ketu, Adie-Owe, Apena, Alapoti, Ado-Odo and up to Idi-Iroko border when The Nation visited the area last Friday. The specially-built vehicles also littered mechanic workshops and other areas on major roads within the border towns. Their drivers operate with impunity even with the presence of security men, who mounted checkpoints along the areas. CUSTOMS CG ALI CUSTOMS CG ALI Some motorists and residents of the border areas, stakeholders in the maritime industry and rice farmers in Badagry area of Lagos said Col. Ali (rtd) needed to visit the areas and order the convocation of all the purpose-built vehicles anywhere across Lagos and Ogun states to end the criminalities. The visit, a rice farmer, Mr Solomon Abraham, said would enable the government to assess the poor and questionable attitude of most security agents posted to man border communities and to assist the Customs in checkmating illegal entry of prohibited goods. Motorists, specifically, accused the Police and the FRSC officials of not doing their job diligently, despite their presence on the two major roads leading to the borders. Read Also: How border closure has helped Nigeria The high cost of rice, a resident of Ajara, Mr Gboyega Emmanuel, said might have added more impetus to the smuggling of the staple food as most of the vehicles used neither have number plates, particulars nor head lamps. Seizure of all the purpose-built vehicles on the road More than 10 of such vehicles, loaded with smuggled bags of rice, frozen poultry products and vegetable oil were seen discharging their goods at Lusada Market in Ado-Odo Ota Local Government Area of Ogun State at the weekend. Motorists, community leaders and other Nigerians, who spoke with The Nation, expressed worries over the trend and the sophistication of the smugglers, adding that smuggling has assumed a frightening dimension despite the presence of military personnel on the roads. They urged Col Ali (rtd) to direct the security agents to impound the purpose-built vehicles so that the smugglers would stop having a field day. It was gathered that in Benin Republic, a bag of rice sells for less than N8,000, but sells for between N25,500 and N30,000, depending on the quality and size of the grain, when it gets to the country. “Most of the purpose-built vehicles are own by security agents and that is why they cannot impound them. How do you explain a situation where an unusual vehicle laddered with prohibited items is moving on the road and the police and the FRSC officers will not arrest them? Therefore, there is an urgent need for the Comptroller-General of Customs to visit the border towns of Seme and Idi-Iroko and see the high rate at which the purpose-built vehicles are operating with the connivance of some police officers, Customs and FRSC officials. “One wonders what the police and the FRSC officials are doing on the roads if purpose-built vehicles that have no number plates, no particulars, no windscreens and no head lamps are plying our roads unchallenged. “But the same unpatriotic police officers and FRSC officials that are aiding and abetting smugglers have the effrontery to stop and delay other commuters and motorists going for their legitimate businesses on the road. “The attitude of most our security operatives along the roads leading to the land borders poses danger to lives and has negative effects on international trade and commerce,” Emmanuel said. Other stakeholders and motorists spoke in similar vein, complaining about the police and FRSC officials’ attitude on the roads. A clearing agent at Seme border, Festus Solomon, and other operators, wondered why it was difficult for security agents, mostly the police and the FRSC officials to impound all the purpose-built vehicles the smugglers are using to sabotage the country’s economy. Findings have shown that some drivers have specialities in moving the illegal food item from Idi-Iroko to Sango and Lagos markets. When our reporter contacted Gbolahan (not real name), one the drivers of these specialised vehicles, he said he was ready to bring 50 bags of foreign rice to their store by 4.00am in the morning. “Just mention the number of bags you need, I will make sure we bring them there on the agreed time and date. What is important is that the money must be ready,” he said. He told our reporter that the landing cost of a bag of foreign rice is between N22,000 and N23,000 because of the number of security checks on the road. Reduction in rice smuggling Although the driver agreed that the border closure had reduced the flow of foreign rice into the country, it is far from addressing it, as the vehicles they use in smuggling the prohibited items still abound across Lagos major roads and Ogun State. A Customs officer who spoke under the condition of anonymity confirmed that smuggled goods still find their way into the country. He however disgreed this had to do with the activities of compromised officers. The officer said smugglers would never give up because “that is the only business they know; hence they will employ every means to remain in business’’. “The major tactics they use is to get members of local communities to help them know where the security officials are stationed before they move their vehicles in convoy with dangerous weapons. “Because smuggling is the only business they know, these people kill. They have killed our officers before. They engage in all sorts of things to put us out of their way,” he said. He, however, said their use of network of informants is what has the major drawback on the operations to check their illicit trade.

By THE NATION