By Stephen Ubanna
Those who think that importers of foreign rice through the Autonomous of Benin and Bollore port in Benin Republic may have learnt their lesson from President Muhammadu Buhari, a retired army General, closure of the borders across the country with the neighbouring countries of Benin Republic, Niger and the Central African country of Cameroon, for 18 months, which had affected their business, they may have to do a rethink.
Although, here was a drop in the importation of the India Basmati rice and the Asian country of Thailand and the north American country of Vietenan parboiled rice during the period but the importers appeared not to have learnt any lesson from the Nigerian policy. Take for instance between January and September, 2019, the county’s imports of India rice had dropped from a monthly average of seven thousand metric tons to less than two thousand tons in the last quarter of 2019.
The situation was not different for the importers of foreign parboiled rice which has Nigeria, as their major market. The volume of the imported Thai rice, according to a Benin Customs source at Seme a border Community between Nigeria and Benin, fell from a monthly average of 100,000 tons to five thousand tons last November.
Note that the biggest foreign rice Contraband route in the south west Geo-political region was between Ctonou, Benin’s Republic biggest city and its environs and Lagos, Nigeria’s Commercial nerve centre through many illegal routes, particular, in Ogun state.
A recent World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, IMF, report, shows that the Benin’s economy is heavily reliant on’’ the informal re-export and transit trade with Nigeria’’, which the Global Financial institution had said accounts for about 20% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product, GDP, or national income.
Recall that the Beninois government in its attempt to control the Nigeria rice market in 2014 had lowered its tariffs on foreign rice imports from 35% to seven percent while Cameroon, on its part erased Completely the 10% tax on rice imports.
The government reopening of the borders with the neighbouring West African countries of Benin and Niger , including Cameroon, on December 26, 2020, due to pressure from the Authority of Heads of State and Government from the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, may have given Patrick Talon, the Benin President and Paul Biya, his Counterpart in Cameroon the power to open their country seaports for the foreign rice importers to use because they already have the market in Nigeria. In order to revive their economies which was at the verge of Collapse.
A one time-Comptroller of Ogun Customs Command, Idiroko, had said that aside from the seven approved routes of movement of goods and services between Nigeria and Benin, there are over 100 unapproved routes used by the foreign rice and vehicle smugglers to carry out their nefarious activities in the country.
The Nigerian rice dealers may have taking advantage of the reopening of the land borders across the country with Benin and the other neigbouring countries to increase the patronage of the smugglers to flood the Nigerian market with foreign because of the cheap price. A bag of a 50Kg Thai par boiled rice in Cotonou market is currently going for N9,00.00 or N10,200.00 . A Sango Otta, based foreign rice trader informed the Magazine that it was that it was cheaper than that amount before last March but had to jump up to the current price because the dollar which had exchanged officially for N360.00/N366.00 suddenly rose to between N405.00 and N420.00.
In-spite of the fact that the Nigeria currency has no value in Benin, as claimed by the people, Nigerian traders still move into the country in their large numbers to patronise the foreign rice importers distributors and uses the services of the Crossers and the smugglers who do everything within their From capacity to outsmart Nigeria’s security agents including Customs anti-smuggling officers on the road. From Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ekiti, Ondo, Edo, Akwa-Ibom to Cross river, the story is the same: increased smuggling of foreign rice and vehicles from Benin Republic and Cameroon into the country but the Customs Interventionist units appeared to have contained them.
This is evident going bynthe interception of thousands of Bags of foreign rice of 50Kg each, thus, turning the importers, distributors and retailers in Nigeria as big losers. There may not be much activities in the north east because of the activities of the Islamic Fundamentalist Group, BokoHaram and the Islamic State of West African province, ISWAP insurgents in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states.
An eyewitness account said between Igan Alade a border Community in Ogun state and Towe, a neighbouring village in Benin, with over seven checkpoints manned by different security agencies personnel going after a 50Kg bag of the foreign ice is which was said to have been cleared with N200.00 at the Benin ports to have a free exit.
At present the Nigerian markets may have been flooded with foreign rice because the rice smuggling ranges from five to 10 bikes. It was gathered that each bike could carry around between 10-15 bags at a go, depending on how strong the rider is to control the wheel.
The Magazine was informed that the smugglers have a codified words which are employed for Communications-settlement, booking which starts with 19bikes, , lead and informant. The settlement is the bribe of N2,500.00 per bag of rice at every checkpoint. The Lead, according to the source makes the settlements they called on the actual carrier of the smuggled foreign rice to keep track of their adventure , advising that once he cites anyone parading suspiciously , they should withdraw back to the Benin Community until they get a signal to enter the road.
But their biggest problem, they had said remained with the informants who work with the Customs interventionists units, across the country. The smugglers, according the source know their gang members and could easily identify an intruder in their midst.
The success that were said to have been made by the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, under the close watch of Usman Yahaya, using the Command Operations and Lagos Roving, Headed by Jack Okpabi, an Assistant Comptroller, in making thousands of bags of foreign rice, 50Kg each, including the recent tracking of 50 vehicles loaded with rice from Iseyin and Ogbomosho borders which was said to have been carried out through the services of an informant bear eloquent testimony.
It is not surprising why the Lead is always looking out for the enemy described as the’’ informant’’ in their circles. Sule, an ilaro based smuggler who could not hide his feelings had said that the informants were their greatest nightmare in the illicit business. According to him they parade the bushes on the border Communities and make call to the Custom interventionist Patrol Teams ho would ambush them at strategic locations to intercept their cargo and transfer it to their premises. The recent Operation at Abeokuta, the Capital of Ogun state, by the FOU, Zone A, Team, which could have turned out to be a bloodbath had been avoided by Assistant Comptroller Jack but the Team were said to have succeeded in disposing the smugglers of about 300 bags of rice of 50Kg each.
Ysuf Lawal, Comptroller, FOU, Zone C, covering the five south eastern states of Abia, Eboyi, Anambra, Enugu, Imo, and the six south south-south states of Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Bayelsa and Rivers, may have taken a cue from Comptroller Kayode Oluseimere, his predecessor to, tighten up security at the two regions and the Creeks to ensure that Contraband which may have escaped the one Toyota Corolla, 20218 models and a Toyota Hilux of eagle of the interventionist Patrol Teams in the south west Geo-political region will not escape his men on the road in Benin axis as the south- south states are fully covered. The Customs Comptroller may have benefited immensely from the informants in the area going by the Contraband seizures made by the Command between the months of January and March ,2021.
A Statement by Jerry Attah, a Deputy superintendent of Customs and the Command spokesperson penultimate Wednesday, confirmed that within the first quarter of 2021, the Command made a seizure of 2,976 bags of rice of 50Kg each, six exotic vehicles and a Land one Cruiser bullet proof 2019 model without the End User obtained from the office of Babagana Munguno, a retired army General and National Security Adviser, NSA in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT . This is in addition to one Toyota Corolla, 2018 model and a Toyota Hilux, 2020, model among others.
The Command was said to have also recovered about 8bmillion lost revenue which could have entered into private accounts within the three months under review through the issuance of Demand Notice, DN. Many see it as a good record by a serving Area Comptroller of the Command.
The FOU, Zone C, Comptroller, who was said to have made a passionate appeal to Nigerians, to support the Command by providing credible and timely information that will help in its anti-smuggling drive has promised ‘’to improve more in the second quarter of this 2021 by intensifying on its surveillance’’ with the support of Hameed Ali, a retired army Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS.