By Stephen Ubanna
This is not the best of times for the foreign rice smugglers who do so through the illegal routes along the Land border Communities between Nigeria and Benin Republic, Watersides and Creeks in the south west states of Lagos, Ogun, Oyo Osun and Ekiti particular, in order to supply the dealers at the Lagos markets of Alaba International market, Mile 12, Daleko and Mushin.
This is because the Federal Operations Unit,FOU, Zone A, under the close watch of Usman Yahaya, and other interventionist Commands in the region, appear to have taken the anti-smuggling war to smuggler’s den in the states. The Interventionist Commands intensified anti-smuggling war, The Value News Magazine findings, shows had injected fears on the local dealers who are no longer interested in placing order with the smugglers for foreign rice supplies for fear of playing into the Customs Interventionist Commands Patrol Teams.
The drop in demand for the Par boiled rice in the Central African country of Cameroon, which are shipped into the country through the port of Doula, or the West African countries of Benin Republic, Togo, Ghana and cOte d’Ivoire. The par boiled rice ship shipments to Benin, for, instance , are made through the Autonomous port of Cotnou, Benin and Bollore port.The drop in the demand, in the Central African country of Cameroon and the other four West African countries, appear to be telling on the Thailand rice exporters Association, particular, Thai Rice and Food Co. Ltd &Thai Commodity Exporters.
The worst hit, according to informed sources are the Thai Rice and Food , TRF, described as the largest privately owned Thailand rice and export Commodity Exporters, which thousands of its ‘’40’’ Containers loaded with parboiled rice and which had been loaded into MSC vessels, and other major International Shipping shipping Lines , are read in the ports of Bankok, Laem Chabang, Map Ta Phut , Ranong, Phket, Songkhla, Sattahip and Si Racha, while some are still on the high sea, awaiting for the green light to enter into the Autonomous port of Conotonou, Benin, and Bollore port, in Benin Republic and other ports in the West African sub-region to discharge .
The situation is not different from what is happening in another Asian country of India, and major, par boiled and agric- rice suppler to Cameroon and four other West African countries which are smuggled into the Nigerian markets through illegal routes.
The recent congestion at the Kakinada Anchorage port, the country’s biggest rice handling facility , to a waiting period of up to four weeks, compared to normal waiting period of a week, to ship, it to the two ports in Benin Republic and other ports in the West African sub-region, may have made the Indian par boiled rice farmers in the in the in the state of Andhra Pradesh to resort to the use of the state owned deepsea port to export their parboiled and agric- rice to their Cameroon, Benin, Togo, Cotd’Ivoire and Ghana major importing firms on Credit, thus turning the ports as a dumping ground for foreign rice.
The India government had blamed the congestion at the Kakinada Anchorage port, on the surge in the demand ,for the country’s par boiled rand Agric-rice ,driven by the production shortfalls in Thailand and Vietnam, production, which other big time foreign rice exporting countries.
In spite of the Indian farmers three months protest the government is optimistic that the country’s par boiled and Agric-rice exports to Benin Republic and other countries in the world, would rise by two to three million this 2021.
The government has targeted to export 16 million to 17 million tonnes this year as against 14.2 million to their Chinese, Benin Republic and other oversea customers in 2020. This may have informed why the India Authorities had said that ‘’the monthly rice shipments from the Anhdhra Pradesh seaport would double 650 tonnes this fiscal year.
The government may have targeted such bumper rice exports because of the changes introduced in the sales of farm produce as a result of the farmers protest. One of such changes was that farmers are now allowed ‘’to sell their produce at a market price directly to private buyers- agricultural businesses, Supermarket chains and online grocers. At present, most farmers in India, sell most of their produce to the India government- controlled whole sale markets or mandis at assured floor prices.
These markets, The Magazine was informed are run by Committees made up of government appointed farmers, who are mostly Commercial farmers, traders or Commission agents who act as middle men for brokering sales, organizing storage and transport and even financing deals. The reforms
, though on paper, analysts said, will the farmers ‘’the opportunity of selling their produce outside the government mandis system’’.
Given that that the sales of par boiled rice and varieties of rice may no longer controlled by the Indian government may have raised fears in both official and unofficial sources that the country’s facilities for handling rice exports would be over flooded by too many buyers .
Acting on intelligence report recently, the FOU, Zone A, Operations and Lagos Roving Team, headed by Jack Okpabi , an Assistant Comptroller, who had Coordinated a Patrol Team operations from his Ikeja office, that raided the Lagos –Badagry axis on Tuesday, February,16, 2021 and Wednesday, February17, 2021, to forestall and intercept a Convoy of vehicles , allegedly put at 54 loaded with foreign rice and poultry products from entering the Lagos markets, had raided the Mile 12 , market on Friday, February19, 202
.1An eyewitness account disclosed that the Yahaya boys who had a mandate to seize all the bags of foreign rice of 50Kg each, found in the market were said to have succeeded in loading their vehicles with 600 bags of such rice and 70 kegs of 25 litres of vegetable oil which were said to have been transferred to the Government warehouse, Ikeja.
The source disclosed that the Team could have loaded more bags of par boiled rice of the 50Kg each into their Operational vehicles but from the market but for the fact that the information about their Operations in the marked had leaked out, forcing many of the foreign rice dealers to lock up their shops, laving the entire market virtually empty.
Last January, the Yahaya boys had raised the International market where the foreign rice dealers receives their supplies from the market waterside which are transferred to their various warehouses around the market. The Alba International market foreign rice dealers are still having difficulty resume normal business as they make effort through their leaders to reach out to Yahaya, the Command Comptroller, and AC.Jack, who had led the operations , but no luck.
With the Team successful raid of the Alaba Intenational, and Mile 12, markets, fear has gripped the Daleko or Mushin foreign markets. Investigation shows that these Thailand and Indian par boiled and agric-rice , are delivered in tNigeria, in canoes which are discharged in villages along the watersides or Creeks. It is on record that the riverine Community of Ikpkia, which had been a major channel for smuggling in foreign rice and poultry products, in the country remains a major of supply of these Contrabands to these markets.
Yahaya, was said to have made it clear to those that cares to listen that he is working according to the mandate of Hameed Ali, a retired army Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, that foreign rice must not be allowed to enter into the Nigerian market to compete with the locally produced rice which are still been struggled .
A visitor to the FOU, Zone A, Ikeja premises, on Friday, February 19, 2021, would be very surprised at the number ofvehicles loaded with rice parked in the premises. It could not be ascertained whether the four vehicles which were cited by The Magazine were part of the Vehicles intercepted by the Command Operations and Lagos Roving patrol team that went out on operation along the Lagos-Badagry Express way on Tuesday, February 16 and Wednesday, February 17, 2021. Efforts to speak to Yahaya, the Customs Comptroller proved abortive. As at press time, the contents of the vehicles are yet to be discharged and transferred to the Government warehouse for documentation.
A source told explained that Mohammed Jibo, Comptroller, Seme Command,had mobilized his men at Seme and Owode axis in are doing everything within their power to ensure that the smugglers operating in the area are fully blocked. The at Agbara incident , where FOU, Zone A, patrol Team, had confronted smugglers along the Seme-Badagry Express, may have opened his eyes that a lot still need to be done to cage the smugglers.
Aware that there is no way the smugglers who had escaped arrest of FOU, Zone A, anti-smuggling Officers, could have returned to Seme or Owode border Communities with their vehicle loads of foreign rice and poultry products to enter Cotonou, Benin republic, without running into trouble with his men . This may have informed why he had given a matching order To Adahunson Rashid, a Deputy Comptroller and the head of the Command Enforcement Unit to comb the nooks and crannies of Badargry south west to locate the vehicles loade with the Contraband in their hideouts in order to launch an attack to carry them to the Command premises. The Command may have engaged the services of the Youths and the Baales, who are helping out, an indication that there is no hiding place for the smugglers.
Many believe that Smugglers may be having their way in different parts of the country, because of the araldite hand of Ali, the Customs, Comptroller General in approving money for Service, anti-smuggling operations. forcing the Commands and Adhoc Teams to go through pains to fund their anti-smuggling Operations throughtout the country.
Recall that late Abdullahi Dikko, a Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs service had said in an interview that during his tenure, the Service spent over 500 million yearly to fight the anti- smuggling war . With such an investment, he had said that the Area Comptrollers of the interventionist Commands were able to reach out to the people and successfully blocked the borders, towards leading to high level of Compliance.
The form Customs Comptroller General, now dead, may have been forced to make such huge investment in combating smuggling activities in the country because of ‘’the immense influence of security operatives, political and traditional rulers, particular, the Youths in the border Communities and which is still happening till date.
Many believe that Jibo, the Area Comptroller, of Seme Command, may have learnt a lot from Muhammed Ubah Garba, a former Comptroller of Seme Command and now, Acting Assitant Comptroller General Of Enforcement, Inspection& Investigation and the Late Dikko, in terms of reaching out to the border Communities to have a friendly relationship with them.Take for instance the construction four public toilets and two bathrooms for the travelling public in J5 Community and also plans to raise of a football call for the youths in the area as a way of attracting their support in giving out information freely on the smugglers operating within the Seme jurisdiction which is under the control of the Command. This may have helped the Command in recent time in the fight against vehicle and foreign rice smugglers to a large extent and thus, achieving results.