By Emmanuel Uffot
For many lagosians residing along Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway and their counterparts along Idiroko and Ota axis of Ogun state, it has been a common phenomenon especially on Sundays to see a convoy of tokunbo cars sometimes numbering 20 driven on high speed with their headlights on en-route Lagos. These cars for those informed about the operation of smugglers are smuggled cars brought in by car merchants from Benin Republic to their owners.
These car smugglers in their business parlance are known as ‘fire works’. They are very daring when in operation to bring in their consignments. They could hit and main or kill because often they drive one way to beat traffic.
Just recently the Zone A CGC Strike Force Coordinator Comptroller D.C. Shuaibu was in ecstatic mood when he showed the press smuggled goods, his men had impounded between October and December last year. The contraband goods ranging from textile materials, bags and shoes among others worth hundreds of millions of Naira were impounded by his eagle eye personnel of the Custom Command he said.
Beyond that, a trip to the Customs Zone A Command Ikeja, shows many impounded vehicles rotting away in the premises. These vehicles like rice are products of smugglers and their route has always been the Idiroko axis of Benin Republic border with Nigeria.
This car smuggling business, known as ‘fire works’ in the world of car smugglers has been in existence for ages. However, what is baffling to many people is how the business was still thriving during the period the border with our West African neighbour was closed by President Muhammadu Buhari to stem the rising tide of smuggled goods produced in the country inspite of the heavy presence of personnel of the Nigerian Customs and other security agencies.
However, findings by The Value News according to those that follow the business of this set of smugglers is that aside bribing their way and could if necessary shoot their way through, they are said to also adopt fetish measures like hypnotizing men of the Nigerian Customs manning the check points border to look unperturbed when they passed. Unbelievable as this may appear, by an insider who knows the working of the smugglers and their mode of operation insisted to the medium that it do happen. ‘When they passed they could hypnotise the custom men to either be sleeping or just casually look at their convoy and cleared them to pass”.
Unlike the cars imported through the sea ports where importers go through the normal clearance process and pay required duty, cars that pass through Idiroko border, we gathered are brought in by smugglers whom we equally learnt sometimes engaged men of the customs who do not ‘want to play ball’ in exchanged of gun fire.
Equally mind boggling is the question, if the smugglers are still constantly bringing in smuggled cars into Nigeria successfully with the Customs still manning the borders, which are the ones the Ikeja anti- smuggling enforcement unit always impound which litter their premises in Ikeja and later auction.
An inside source who refused to be named dismissed the hypnotism theory and stressed that the smugglers as part of the process of bringing in the cars, make ‘handsome’ monetary provision for Customs to facilitate their movement. We equally gathered that in some instances, when there is disagreement in the ‘fee’ with both parties not willing to shift ground, this often led to seizures of the cars by Customs. Another reason is also said to be when there is a sudden change of the personnel that man the post without the smugglers knowing the point man to meet, this we learnt could also lead to the cars impounded.
As the border has been thrown open on the orders of the President, the thinking among many is that the car smuggling business will further thrive, as the smugglers would not have to go to all length like going fetish as claimed to hoodwink the Customs to have unhindered passage, but will genuinely put their cards on the table and bargain. This for keen followers of car importation business and smugglers is a headache that will confront men of the Customs Service of A Zone Command.
But the Ikeja Command Comptroller entrusted with policing the Idiroko border to check smuggling of goods through that route said it is not going to be business as usual. He has admonished those engaging in that act to refrain from it which he described as unpatriotic act that is making government to lose revenue.