President Issoufou Bans Export Of Foreign Rice To Niger As Joint Border Drills Make Spectacular seizures while Kyari Woes The DSS For Support

By Stephen Ubanna

 This is not the best of times for Patrick Talon, president of the West African country of Republic of Benin as Issoufou Mahammadou,  his counterpart in Niger, bows to pressure  from both official and unofficial quarters  to ban  the export of foreign rice from Republic of Benin to the country.

  Issoufu, may have taken the decision, as demanded by President Muhammadu Buhari, to stop the smuggling of foreign parboiled rice into Nigeria through the northern frontiers in order  to encourage Buhari to have a rethink over the Borders closure  which is getting to a month. Note that the country and Niger , share  common borders in the north west geo-political region comprising of Kano, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Sokoto, Zamfara and Kebbi states.

 The Katsina  state born Nigerian President  had banned the export of foreign rice into the country  through the land Borders in 2017, which was later extended to the seaports to protect the local rice farmers and promote local rice consumption.

The President had expected Talon, President of Benin and his counterparts in Niger and Chad, to support the government efforts  by tightening security around their borders with Nigeria to stop the activities of smugglers but that was how far he could go. Talon, a source told the Value News could not have supported Nigeria because the  imported foreign rice  was what was  exported to the land locked countries of Niger and  Chad, and which in turn were smuggled  into the Nigerian markets, was one of the country’s major  sources of foreign exchange earnings.

It was learnt that  past and Present Beninoise government had signed bilateral and Trade Agreements with Nigeria, which they never respected as  the country’s Borders  were tactically  opened for smugglers to use  for their foreign rice smuggling activities. Buhari was said to have repeatedly appealed to the Beninoise   to do something urgent about the illegal trading activities but the situation was getting worse  as the rice smugglers were developing new tactics to beat Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, anti-smuggling officers to it.

 Going by the Beninoise government  rice fortification policy, four multi-national  Companies and 20-30 other smaller importers including individuals were said to have been  given approval to import foreign parboiled  and white rice into the country through Benin Terminal, Cotonou, and Bollore seaport, the two seaports owned by the country. The white rice , according to sources, are consumed  within the country  while the foreign parboiled rice are exported to Niger and Chad ,which in turn are smuggled into the Nigerian market in the north and southern part of the country.

A document cited by The Value News  shows  that  African Agro Foods, one of the Companies owned by Pan Lebanes Group, has a mandate to ship into the country 360,000 MT, or 30 percent  of the annual  par boiled rice imports into the country, Diefezi Fils Sarl, 300,000 MT, Sonam, a Company  floated by the Stalion Group based in Dubai, Quatar,   has the Presidential nod to import 240,000MT or 20 percent of the total  parboiled needed in the country for export to the land locked countries or smuggled  into Nigeria.

Another Dubai based company, ABC Enterprises, due to its limited financial muscle was said to have been given approval to ship into the country 10,000 MT annually. This is in addition to 29,000 MT, or 24 percent, allegedly approved for the other group of rice  importers  through the two seaports in the country .

Investigations by the Magazine  shows  that the Companies, m most  often overshot their allocations as they flood the Republic of Beninoise ports with ships load of foreign parboiled rice. When it became obvious that Talon was not ready to respect the  bilateral and trade Agreements with Nigeria, the Nigerian government was encouraged to close the Lad Borders to ensure that foreign rice did not enter the country through any means.

The recent meeting between Bello Massari , a former Speaker, House of Representatives and now governor of Katsina state  and Zahari Umaru,  the Prefecture Maradi, in Niger speaks volume.  The meeting which was said to have been  initiated by Massari was basically  to find a lasting solution to the issues of Banditry and other forms Criminality including Cross –Border smuggling activities. They were said to have  reached a conclusion   that the Niger Rugus forest  provides an opportunity for the Bandits and Cross –Border Smuggers to carry out their nefarious activities in Nigeria.

 Note that with the support of the government, Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General, NCS in Collaboration with  Babadende Mohammad, Comptroller General, Nigerian Immigration Services and other security agencies including the Department of State Security and Directorate of Military Intelligence, DIM, had lunched the  Joint Border Security Operation, tagged Ex-Swift Response last month.

It was a signal to Presidents Talon, Issoufou, Idris Derby of Chad and Paul Biya of the Central Africancounty of Cameroon that the game was up: that Nigeria could no longer throw its Borders wide open for other neighbouring  countries to abuse. The Border closure was a big blow, particular  to Benin,  and Niger which economies  had almost crumbled. Take for instance, in Benin, the warehouses were said to have been filled to the brim and no patronage. The smaller shops along the Cotonou road and the ones at Seme-Krake Joint Border  between Nigeria and Republic of Benin, were also said to have been filled up waiting for Nigerian  buyers, who were nowhere to be seen  close the Border. The situation  was the same at the open markets at the Border Communities in the north and south west Nigeria.

 Talon,and other heads of States and Governemnts from  the other neighbouring countries , were said to have met Buhari  recently in Abuja, to resolve the areas of disagreement to facilitate the re-opening of the Borders to reduce the suffering of their people.This may have informed  why  Ali , Babade  and Brig. General Emmanuel Aliyu Ndagi, were said to  have commenced an on the spot assessment of the implementation of the on-going Border drills  in the  North west, north  Central, south west and south-south geo-political regions. The Team were said to have visited the north west  , to see things for themselves  before making any  recommendation to the government on  whether the Borders should be opened or not. The Ali led team, are also  expected to visit the Borders in the south west geo-political region this week to assess the performance of the Programme. The visit, according to security sources, is expected to take the Team  to  Oyo, Ogun and Seme – Krake Joint Borders.

Security watchers believe  that it is good for Ali, to visit the border Communities, particular, Sem-Krake Joint border, to see the hundreds of trucks laden cargoes trapped at the but awaiting to be examined in order to gain entry into the country including the ones that had been  released  but caught up by the government policy.

Customs valuation experts put the revenue tied down at the Seme –Krake Joint border alone to be over N300 million. There is no gain saying the fact that Benin, Niger, Chad and Cameroonian governemnts, may have learnt their bitter lesson from the Border closure  that the survival of their economies are dependent on  Nigeria.

Joseph Attah, a Deputy Comptroller and Customs Spokesperson, had said that three weeks  into the intensive Joint Border drills, the office of  the NSA,  has continued  to receive reports  of significant seizures  of prohibited items and arrests of  illegal  migrants.

Mele Kolo Kyari: NNPC, GMD  

Attah, disclosed that as at  Tuesday,, September 10, 2019, 100 illegal migrants, have been arrested. The seizures include  8,360  ‘’50’’kg bags of foreign par boiled rice,  122 bags of fertilizer, 77 vehicles, 781 drums  filled with premium Motor Spirit, PMS, 16,371 empty  200 litres  drums, to be  used  for smuggling  PMS, across the border,  1,491 sacks of assorted drugs, three  outboard  40HP engines, 13 Cotonou boats, 185 drums of groundnut oil, six trucks and 114 motorcycles. 17 suspects were said to have been arrested in connection with  the items seized  and would be prosecuted as a deterrence  to other smugglers.      

While, the NCS and other security agencies, involved in the  Border drills to stem the activities of smugglers, were said to be making headway, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, had suddenly  realised that it cannot be able to  fight pipeline vandals and Crude oil thieves including  cross Border Petroleum Products smugglers alone without the support of the Mgaji  Bichi, led DSS.

Mele Kolo Kyari, the NNPC, Group Managing Director,  GMD,  was said to have reached out to  Bichi, the DSS, Director General,  to ’’help squelch  the escalating cases  of cross-Border Petroleum Products smuggling  and other vices   which had remained a clog  in the drive  to achieve efficiency  in the operations of the nation’s Oil and Gas industry.

An aggrieved  Kyari was said to have   told the DSS boss in their Abuja Headquarters that the intolerable  implication  of the reign  of the smuggling syndicate s was that  the country has become the ‘’unintended  major supplier  of petroleum products  to the entire  countries in the West African  sub-region and beyond’’. He is right.

 The Magazine   in one of its undercover reports recently  had exposed Pashi , a village in the Badary west local government area of Lagos state with about  20  Petroleum Products filling stations, all licensed by the department of Petroleum resources, DPR,  operating in the village.

  A  visitor to the village would be surprised that the road leading to the village terminates at the lagoon, which seperates , Benin  and Benin Republic. Most of the filling stations were said to be owned by Beninoise businessmen , using Nigerians as front.

  The NNPC, GMD, was said to have listed some other areas which the Corporation would need the support of the agency  such as stemming the escalating  pipeline vandalism, which has led to significant losses in  revenue for the country, protection of  the Corporation workforce  and equipment  in course of operation in the frontier exploration fields.

He is optimistic that assistance   the DSS to the Oil Conglomerate  would go a long way  to ‘’guaranteeing a veritable  national energy  security  in line  the aspiration of  the service  to the government  and people of Nigeria’’.

The NNPC ,GMD, was said to have also  visited  Ibo Ekwe Ibas, a Vice Admiral and Chief of Naval Staff, last Wednesday  where he had  sought the support of  the Navy  to tackle  the ‘’menace of  Crude Oil thieves  and attacks on offshore  gas facilities. He noted that Crude oil thieves in the nation’s oil and gas industry have become a potent force  that the Navy had to do more  to stop them.

The NNPC GMD visit may have  forced the CNS,   to open up to him that the Navy  was currently  working  in integrating  its system  with those of  the Nigerian Ports  Authority, NPA, and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Headed by Dakuku Peterside.Recall that the Navy alone over the last four years, had impounded over 130  vessels  , some of which were said to have been  laden with stolen Crude Oil and Petroleum Products

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