Customs:Why Foreign Rice Smugglers Are Still Finding Their Way In Nigeria As AfCTA Makes Way For Exporters To Resume Operations Amidst Threat Of Extortion By Area Boys At Seme

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.

Seme Govrnment Warehouse Filled With Seized Thousand Bags Of Bags Of Foreign Rice, 50Kg each, Under Compt. Jibo

 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.

Compt. Jibo Of Seme Command Gets Tougher On Smugglers

  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,  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.     

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