By Stephen Ubanna
Lai Mohammed, minister of Information and Culture and Kwara state born politician has been one of the champions of the Border closure with the neighboring countries of Benin Republic, Niger and the Central African country of Cameroon to stop informal trade between Nigerian and the three countries.
Unknown to many, Kwara, his home state, which has many Communities that share boundaries with Bennese Communities is a haven for smugglers of the Asian country Thai produced par boiled rice, vehicles and other prohibited items from Benin Republic , into the Nigerian market. The informal trade in the state may have become more pronounced with the siting of several filling stations on the road to the north central state Border Communities, thus making easy for tanker loads of, Petroleum Products, particular, Premium Motor Spirit, popular, petro,l to be smuggled across the land Border Communities into the Beninese market.
The Smuggling of Petrol, across the Border Communities in the state became pronounced as virtually all the filling stations along the road to the Communities were always running out of petrol. Ever since, President Muhammadu Buhari, a retired Army General ordered the Border closure with the neighboring countries to stop smuggling of prohibited items into the country which is having a toll on the economy, the people of the region, particular, Kwara state, appear not to have felt its impact as the anti-smuggling drive in the region may have been mild.
The people of the state may have known that they are in trouble when information filtered out last December that Muhammed Uba Garba, a former Comptroller Seme Command , has been redeployed to the north central geo-political region as the acting Assistant Comptroller General and Border Drills sector 3, Commander to rplace Aminu Dahiru, an ACG, who may have been recalled to the Customs Headquarters.
In spite of the fact he has not unfolded his action plan on how to deal with smugglers and their sponsors, in the region, the people are already sweating it out. They may have heard so much about his no nonsense attitude at the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, Ikeja, Lagos and Seme Command, where he was said to have made specular seizures. His last operations, according to sources , which was at Owode, in Badagry West local government Area, of Lagos state, was said to have led to the discovery of 12 filling stations within one month in the area, thus bring the number of filling stations in the area to 110 as many of them were said to have closed down as they could no longer re-export petrol from Nigeria into the Benin market either by road or indulge in Bunkering activities. He was said to have forced the owners of the eight surface tank owners spread deep into the bush ostensibly to smuggle petrol into the Beninese to also be on the run.
Yakubu Danladi, Speaker, Kwara state House of Assembly who hails from Baruten local government Area, described as a home for smugglers, may have known that there is trouble ahead for his people with the redeployment of acting ACG MUhammed to the state that he was forced to leave his fully air conditioned office to pay a Courtesy call on the Border Drills sector Commander, where he was said to have expressed his worries over the scarcity of petrol in his area in the recent time.
An aggrieved Danladi, who was said to have been accompanied by Baba Salihu, Chairman, House Committee on Education and Human Capital Development, on the visit to the Ilorin office of the Border Drills sector Commander office had lamented the hardship being faced by the people of Ilesha Baruba, Okuta, Chikanda and other Communities in the local government area due to the Border closure.
Recall that Suleiman Umaru, a Senator of Federal Republic of Nigeria, representing Kwara North in the Senate, had justified why smuggling thrives in Bukoro , one of the Communities in Baruten local government, which falls within his Senatorial District to to lack of social ammenies.
The duo may have given a clue to the acting ACG, and Border Drills, sector 3 Commander on how to deal with the smugglers who are living among the people with their Complaint.
Note that Dalandi, the House Speaker had made a case for his his people by urging Babagana Munguno, a retired Major General and National Security Adviser, NSA, and who incidentally is the National Coordinator of the Border Drills and Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service,NCS, which is the lead agency on the national assignment , to review the decision to cut off fuel the supply 20Km to the Border Communities . This is because of the astronomical rise in the pump price of a litre of petrol in the Comunities in Baruten Local government and its environs.
Given an insider information as a Representative of the people, he was said to have told Muhammed, that since the Border Closure became manifest last August, a litre of petrol within the local government now sells between N250.00 and N3000.00 as obtained in Benin Republic. The message was very clear that smuggling of petrol and other prohibited items, including foreign par boiled rice is the main business of the people of Baruten local government from where it is spread to other states in the region.
Nothwitstanding, the worries of the Kwara state House Speaker over the Border Closure on his people, the Border Drills, sector 3, acting Commander, may have spoken the mind of Munguno, the National Coordinator, when he told him that the policy was not initiated by the government to’’witch-hunt or obstruct any legal businesses but to prevent illegal re-exportation of foreign par boiled rice and other prohibited items from Benin to the Nigeria market and the re-exportation of petroleum products, particular, petrol , from Nigeria to Benin.
Going by The Magazine findings, if the neighboring Countries of Benin and Niger, particular, whose citizenry are really feeling the pinch of the Border closure could obey the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, Trade Protocol agreement, the Katsina born Nigerian President would be ready to reopen the closed Borders across the country. The inauguration of the Continental African Trade Area, CfTA, in Abuja, during the recent meeting of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of the ECOWAS, sub-region, speaks volume.
Investigations by The Value News shows that some of the big time smugglers across the country, particular, in north central, north west, south-ssouth and the south west geo-political regions have link with the politicians including the elected Legislators and political appointees at both at the states and Federal level, which may have been frustrating Customs anti-smuggling Operations in the 21 local government Areas that share Borders with the neighbouring countries over the years.
Perhaps, to ensure that the people of the north central, and the Paramount Rulers of te Border Communities, were not taken unawares in the renewed anti-smuggling drive in the region, the acting sector 3, Commander was said to have promised Dalandi , the House Speaker, that he would carry the people along in the anti-smuggling in the renewed anti-smuggling war in the area.
He was said to have promised to visit the various Border Communities to sensitise the people about the danger s of smuggling to the economy and the need turn a new leaf or be ready to face the Consequence if caught in the act.
The south-south and south west geo-political regions , based foreign rice and vehicle smugglers would never forget their experience in a hurry when he was the Comptroller of FOU, Zone C and A, as many of them were said to have been forced to go underground.
The situation was more worrisome in Seme jurisdiction, Lagos state, as many of the notorious smugglers operating in the area, were forced to relocate to Ogun, Oyo , osun and Ekiti state Border Communities to practice their nefarious trade. It was not surprising why maritime analysts believe that the situation may not be different in Kwara, Niger and other states in the north central geo-politica l region as the the foreign rice and vehicle smugglers would be forced to go underground as they would not be able to withstand the superior fire power of Muhammed’s men .