Customs: Why Benin Is A Haven For Smugglers As CGC Strike Force Team A, Device Ways Of Preserving Seized Foreign Rice From Smugglers

 By Stephen Ubanna

In spite of the thousands of bags of 50Kg, each  of the Asian country of Thailand, parboiled rice that had been seized from smugglers across the country, on a monthly basis  by the Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel led Nigerian Customs service, NCS, that over the last five years, the situation has not changed as the smugglers has continued to do the illegal business.

 Beni Republic  had remained a haven for smugglers  since  2014, when President Patrice Talon   lowered  tariffs  on rice imports from 35% to 7% in the country. The move  was intended to encourage rice importers to patronize the  Benin, Cotonou  and  Bollore ports, the two major ports in the neighbouring West African country.

 It was not surprising why rice is the most Commercial  food that can be found in the West African country. It is on record that the entire 17 million  tonnes  of Foreign rice  that African countries had imported in 2016, 2.3 millon tonnes of the quantities had  passed through the  two operating  seaports in the country alone. The Senai group, SARL, comprising of Global Reseau, Herman Haver Company Limited and Maxworld, were said to have dominated the  rice market in the country.

There  are other notable  rice importing firms like Kashish Food, Germany, Yiwu Commodity  Import & Export Co Ltd, Shenzhen the Chiina  &South Import & Export Co ltd, Wuxi Better Import&Export Co. Ltd and Mipro (Manufactured Imports and Investm

 The rice Importing Companies  may not have marched t SARL imports ,  but The Value News learnt they have a fair share of the  rice market. Others  trading  firms  involved in the rice business in the country  are New brands Import and Export Company Ltd and Wardak Trading Company  ltd.

Hameed Ali: CG, Customs

The Beninois government may have opened the  market  for Foreign rice importers to flood the Benin Republic ports because the local rice producers  were  unable to supply  the amount needed by the urban population.  

 A Beninois senior Customs officer told The Magazine that given that   rice has  become  part of the culture of the people,  a profitable business and easy to import  more Companies began  to import  larger quantities of rice into the Beninois  market. The Companies,  may have been  encouraged to do so as the government’’reduced  the bureaucracy  and the entire rice import process’’.

The Magazine findings further  shows that the larger quantities of parboiled rice  discharged at the Benin seaports  had made the Benin  rice market  very popular as importers  struggled to  have  their  vessels  discharge  their  rice Consignment at the ports. Investigations shows that out of the 184 countries importing  paddy rice  from the Asian country of Thailand  Benin Republic had consistently topped the list by making the largest imports.

This may have given President Muhammadu Buhari and all  those running the affairs of the country including Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NSC, the impression  that the West African  country has done  great damage  to Nigeria’s economy  through ‘’smuggling’’. The country with its population of about 12 million people, according to informed sources was importing  rice more  than what the Asian country of China , with a population of  2 billion people was doing.

Reporst from the Thailand Rice Export Association  show s that the West African  country was the largest  importer of rice from the country between 2017 and 2019. The country was said to have imported  nearly 2 million metric tonnes of paddy rice from the Asian country in 2017 compared to China which had imported 1.2 million  metric tonnes. The situation was not different in 2o18 and 2019.

In 2018, the country was said to have imported over 1.6 million metric tonnes to China’s 1 million metric tonnes while it imported 695,854 metric tonnes , between January to May in 2019 to Chaina’s 205,830 metric tonnes.The large quantities of Foreign parboiled rice that had been seized by the Federal Operations Units, FOUs,, the Border Drills overseeing the  border closure across the country  with Benin, Niger and Central African country  of Cameroon and the  Comptroller General Customs Strike Force, across the country  speaks volume.

Shuaibu: Coordinator, CGC, Strike Force Team A

Take for instance, between October and now, The CGC Strike Force, Team A, under the close watch of Ahmadu Shuaibu, a Deputy Comptroller, through  credible intelligence have been making a weekly seizure of  about 600 bags of foreign par boiled  rice of ‘’50Kg each. The CGC Strike Force Team A, boss and his officers may have  devised  a strategy to protect the seized bags of rice from weevil by allegedly using ‘’40’’ Containers to do so.

The team, according to an insider transfers such Containers filled with seized rice from the Lagos ports and land borders  are transferred to Ikorodu Lighter Terminal , ILT, used by the Customs Authorities for  storage of overtime cargoes. Before now , the adhoc  Team , had joined the FOU, Zone A, under the care of Usman Yahaya, the Command   acting Comptroller , to keep their seized bags of rice at the Government warehouse , Ikeja.

Recall that last April,  the Katsina state born Nigerian President ordered Ali, the Customs Comptroller General, to distribute the 152  trucks load of the Asian country of Thailand par boiled rice seized from smugglers but kept  in various  government warehouses across the country to the 36 states of the Federation  and Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT.

 The trucks load of Foreign rice, were said to have  been handed over to the ministry of Humanitarian Affairs  and Disaster Management for  distribution to the states and the FCT, at the instance of Hajia Zainab Ahmed, minister of Finance, Budget and National planning. The drive to seize  the large quantities of smuggled  rice smuggled into the country t by the Customs personnel at the  land  orders and the seaports   was said  to have been  facilitated by  the Rice Millers Association of Nigeria, RIMDAN.

Recall that  RIMDAN,  over  the last five  years have lobbied  the government for a crack down on rice smugglers operating between Nigeria and the neighbouring West African countries and Camerron. There were allegations, making the rounds  that Indian  rice traders in Nigeria were involved in the rice smuggling business. RIMDAN, officials  may have won the heart of the Nigerian President who had closed the borders across the country with the eneighbouring countries.

Indeed, the continuous seizure of bags of ‘’50’’ each of  imported  par boiled rice that were to the Nigerian  market by Ali’s men  may have sent a signal to the Thailand rice farmers and  importers  that the game is up. A month to month  comparison  at Concors Inland Container Depot, ICD, in Vapur , Benin, in 2020, shows that   as against  2,6000 Containers dispatched  to the Benin ports  in October, only 1,500 were sent in November. A senior official of Makinada Port Trust in Thailand  had  said that there is actually a fall in the country rice  exports.

. Almost 22 vessels  were said  to have waited at the two Benin republic ports awaiting clearance t but delayed because of the border closure and the difficulty of smuggling the rice into the Nigerian market through unapproved routes if it is discharged. There are fears that with the reopening of the Four major borders in the north west, south west, and south-west geopolitical region, the  smugglers  may  find  way to do so. But Maritime experts  expoused that   it would be very  difficult to do so as Customs anti-smuggling officers  are  everywhere , with their AK 47, to police the nation’s land borders.   

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