By Stephen Ubanna
Those who think that with the intensified anti-smuggling operations of the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Operations Swift Response or Joint Border Patrol as it is now called and the Comptroller General of Customs, CGC, Strike Force, across the country, it would cripple the smugglers operating between Nigeria and the neighbouring countries of Benin Republic, Niger and the Central African country of Cameroon would be disappointed.
This is because the countries are generating good revenue from all the foreign parboiled rice into through their various seaports. This is evident going by the Customs Authorities of Benin Republic revenue generation from foreign parboiled rice in the Autonomous ports of Cotonou, Benin and Bollore port. The situation is the same for the Customs Authorities of Cameroon in Doula port. Note that the imported foreign parboiled rice through these neighbouring countries would continue to find their way into the Nigerian market where it is in high demand because it is not consumed by their citizens.
Investigations by The Value News shows that among member countries of the Economic Community Of West African Statates, ECOWAS, only Nigeria consumes par boiled rice in the region. This may have informed why all the shipments of par boiled rice from the Asian countries of India and Thailand to Lome port, Togo, Bollore and Cotonou port , Benin, Benin Republic and Doula port, Cameroon, are smuggled into the Nigerian markets through the Creeks or the porous borders of the north west, north east, south central states of Kwara, Niger, Benue and Kogi including Cross river state in south-south Nigeria.
The Magazine findings shows that all the parboiled rice shipped into these neighbouring three African countries which are smuggled into the Nigerian markets are done with the full knowledge of these countries respective Customs Authorities. Informed sources that told the Magazine these huge quantities of imported parboiled r from India and Thailand through these countries seaports are smuggled into the Nigerian markets in trucks or barges , an indication that the Customs Authorities of these countries of are not ready to support Nigeria in curbing the smuggling of foreign par boiled rice into the country, let alone help to intercept any loaded truck or barge found on their Creeks with loaded par boiled rice scheduled for the Nigerian market.
An insider told The Magazine of an incident at Idiroko where a smuggler was caught with a truck load of par boiled rice at the border but quickly turned and returned back with Benin Customs personnel watching without intercepting the truck and handing it over to the Nigerian Customs Operatives.
This may have informed why it has become very necessary for the Customs interventionist Commands and ad-hoc Teams to constantly raid the markets and Confiscate the Contraband smuggled foreign rice into the country. Many believe that once this could be done no trader would ever display foreign rice in their shop.
The FOU, Zone A, Operations and Lagos Roving Team, headed by Jack Okpabi, an Assistant Comptroller, with the backing of Usman Yahaya, a Deputy Comptroller and the Command acting Comptroller was said to have mobilised his Team members at the instance of Yahaya, the Command acting Comptroller, to raid the Alaba International market last December where thousands of bags of foreign of 50Kg each were evacuated from lockup warehouses.
A source at the market informed The Magazine that the foreign parboiled rice sold in the market are supplied the dealers with barges and canoes by Benin Republic based smugglers and their Nigerian Collaborators through the Alaba waterfront. The raid by the FOU, zone A, anti-smuggling officers on the popular Alaba market in Lagos , may have forced both the smugglers and their Customers to go underground , for fear that Comptroller Yahaya boys may strike again.
Given the tight security that had been mounted by Customs operatives in the south west states of Lagos, , Oyo , Osun , Osun, and Kebbi, Sokoto, Katsina, Kano, Jigawa in the north west as well as Cross river state which have made it impossible for par boiled rice smugglers to collect as much supplies as possible from the distributor warehouses in Contonou and its environs, particular, or buy from the open market to supply the Nigerian dealers, in Lagos and other south west states, particular, , the major par boiled rice importers in Benin republic, particular, appear to have ran into troubled waters.
This may have informed why Comptroller Mohammed Jibo, a revenue mobilisation expert and Comptroller, Seme Commmand who has remained a major headache for the par boiled rice and other Contraband smugglers operating around the border Community between Nigeria and Benin Republic and its environs to have continued to make thousands of bags of par boiled ice of 50Kg each in the last seven months.
Working through intelligence as well as having a good working relationship with other security agencies and the Community leaders , may have facilitated the interception of 7,667 bags of rice and other items about N800 million.
Maritime analysts believe that with the some of the Community projects being embarked upon by the Command in the recent time, it would go a long way in the residents of the Communities providing valuable to the Command anti-smuggling officers in doing their job.
The Magazine visited the Community on Wednesday, February 10, 2021, to see things himself and found the four modern toilets and two bathrooms on ground which is basically for the traveling public. The project which has become a cheering news to the people is still ongoing.
An indigene of the Community who spoke to The Magazine may have spoken the mind of the people when he said ”we are very Appreciative of the efforts the Seme Command Area Comptroller in solving the Community one major problem which is a toilet facility. An elated J5 Community leader,, one Lawal, not real name, had assured that” they would do everything within their capacity to maintain the facility when Completed to avoid destruction”.
The Seme Command Area Comptroller may have taught of setting of setting up a Football Club for the Youths within the Seme Jurisdiction as a way of carrying them along and keeping their mind away from smuggling or working with smugglers in the area to beat Customs Operatives to it. The Conception of the football Club , which the Youths see as a welcome development which would put food on their table as they plan tourture it to be able to play in the country’s Professional League where they would earn legitimate money and even to be an International Club-side like Manchester United In United Kingdom, UK. What a clever way to keep the Youths of Seme, Badagry and its environs busy.
There is no gainsaying the fact that Comptroller Jibo may have found a way of dealing a decisive blow on the low profile smugglers within the Seme Jurisdictions by doing everything within his capacity to bring the Youths closer to aid its operations. It is instructive to note that the Youths may not have much difficulty in volunteering information to support the Command anti-smuggling operations this time around for carrying them along .
Note ,here no high profile smugglers within Seme and its environs that could easily buy their way into the ranks of the Youths to smuggle foreign rice in barges through the Creeks , trucks or Pickups as obtained in Ogun or Oyo states border Communities.
Informed sources told The Magazine that at present Ria Group Sarl, Cooperate Sell –Group, Oceanic West Africa and Waymarks Group of Campy limited, regarded as the key players in the foreign rice imports from India and Thailand and which have thousands of ‘’40’’ Containers loaded with parboiled are currently having difficulty pushing it into the Nigerian market as the Nigerian Customs Operatives are strategically positioned in the flash point states waiting for the smugglers
The foreign rice importers, according to a Benin Customs source imports 34,00 ‘’40’’ Containers loads of Foreign rice which are smuggled into the northern states market per annum. This may not have been possible this year as most of the foreign par boiled rice loaded in the Containers at the two Benin seaports are yet to be evacuated to the importers warehouses in Benin and its environs.
The other foreign rice importers facing similar problem included Kashis Food, Germany Import.com, Yiwu Commodity Import& Export Company Limited, Shenzhen the China &South Import &Export Co. Ltd and Wuxi Better Import &Export trading Company. This is in addition to Mipro( Manufactured Imports Investment Promotion …, New Brands Import &Export Co. Ltd and Wardak Trading Company, Peshwar.
Aware of the fierce anti-smuggling war in Nigeria where thousands of bags of foreign rice of 50 Kg each, worth millions that had left Benin Republic shores had fallen into the waiting hands of the Customs operatives in different parts of Nigeria, may have forced these major distributors in Benin: Sarl, ACHITEXBENI SARL, Chess Corporations SARL, and several other trading Companies involved in the lucrative par boiled foreign rice market in to lie low for now, awaiting when the coast would be clear to resume selling the par boiled rice in larger quantities to the smugglers as usual to push into the Nigerian markets.
Recall that but for the take- off of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement, AfCTA, last January, President Muhammadu Buhari, who had had reopened the 18 –month-old border closure with Benin, Niger and Cameroon, may not have done so, as a way of teaching the countries a lesson that Nigeria is not a dumping ground for foreign par boiled rice and other contraband goods including Small and Light arms.
The repeated appeals of the Nigerian President to Patrice Talon, his Counterpart in Benin to take a closer look on the increased smuggling activities in his country and put a stop to it speaks volume. Talon may have reconciled with the Nigerian President on how to handle the issue of the par boiled rice smugglers, both on land and the Creeks, when he submitted a draft agreement to Buhari last January , giving approval to the Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, and the Nigerian Police Force, NPF, under the close watch of Muhammadu Adamu, to have offices at the Autonomous port of Cotonou, in order to carry out the necessary controls on transit goods being conveyed to Nigeria.
The Bninois President was said to have flown into Abuja in his Presidential Jet with Aurelien Agbenonci, the country’s Foreign Affairs minister and Romuald Wadagni, the minister of Finance to dialogue with the Nigerian President on the vexed matter.
Perhaps to avoid abuse of the reopened borders across the country with the three neighbouring countries, particular by the Benin based smugglers, with the take –off of the AfCTA, the duo were said to have set up a working group to resolve the regulatory issues that should enable the implementation of AfCTA.
The Nigerian President may have also listened to the appeal of the Benin Republic President to allow Nigeria transit goods to be imported through the country’s two seaports. He may have agreed as he was said to have told him that he was not opposed to the transit of goods, noting that it would be possible again as soon as possible.
The two countries were said to have been talking to resolve some knoty issures regarding to the loading of transit goods on trucks which had remained a major problem over the years. There are indications that once some of the identified transit cargoes imports problems are sorted out by Hameed Ali, a retired army Colonel and Comptroller General, NCS and his Beninois Counterpart, the transit trucks load of cargoes would start coming into the country after all the technicalities have been settled by the two countries Authorities to facilitate the handover of the trucks to NC Seme Command Officials.
For now, only the ETLS and export goods are being handled at the Seme land border. The Magazine found over 300 trucks loaded with Dangote Cement around the Badagry axis scheduled for Ghana, Niger and other West African markets On Wednesday, February 1, 2021, on my way to Seme .
There are indications that other ETLS Companies in Nigeria have also taken advantage of AfCTA, to flood their manufactured products within the economic bloc. Note that there are over 2400 ETLs Companies in Nigeria alone. The ETL S Companies and their agents appear to be having problem as the Seme area boys have placed an order that before any ETLS or transit truck loaded with goods would leave the Seme border town, the exporter’s agent must pay an exit fee of N5,000.00.
The agents may not have found this funny as the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, Seme Chapter Leadership and other Agents Association at the border Community have take up the matter with Seme Divisional Police Office, DPO, for his intervention, to avoid the matter from degenerating into chaos. The Agents were said to have met today, Wednesday, February 10, 2021, at the border town, with the police DPO, around their Office Complex to discuss on how to handle the matter. It could be ascertained what had been agreed upon but the looks on the face s of the agents shows that they are not ready to pay the N5,000.00 to the Seme Youths to allow their trucks safe passage.