Customs: Ex-Swift Response Members Tighten Security At The Borders As Multi-national Rice Importers And Distributors In Republic Of Benin Cry Out For Help

By Stephen Ubanna

President Muhammadu Buhari policy on food importation, particular, foreign rice ,  and the recent   moves to protect the Nigerian Borders  through  the joint  efforts of the Nigerian customs Service, NCS, Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS, the Military, other security and Intelligence agencies appear to have put the Benioise  Customs Authority and the multinational foreign rice importers  including  the 20  other  companies  and individual importers into  confusion.

 Investigation by The Value News  shows that the multi-national rice importing firms and several the  other category of  importing firms   which had flooded the Benin Terminal, Cotonu and  Bollore port, in Republic of Benin, a neighbouring country in the West African sub-region with  white and Thai Parboiled rice, with the intention to re-export the parboiled rice to Niger  as transit cargoes which are pushed into the Nigerian market through   porous Borders  have been disappointed. 

The Beninoise government and the foreign rice  importers may not have anticipated the  Nigerian  government policy on food importation and the Joint Border security exercise, code name in military parlance, as Ex-Swift Response’’, which was launched on Tuesday, August 20,2019 by Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel  and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, and Mohammad Bandede, Comptroller General, Nigerian Immigration Services, NIS, in Collaboration with  the military and the  Nigerian Police force under the able  leadership  of Mohammed Adamu, the  Inspector General of Police, IGP.

  Given the importance  attached to the  project of protecting the country’s maritime Borders  with Republic of Benin, Niger and Chad , all  neighbouring countries in the west African  sub-region and the Central African country of Cameroon, other security and intelligence agencies, were made to be part of the Team , which is Coodinated by Babagana Munguno, a retired Major General and National Security Adviser, NSA, in order to be  effective.  

 Note that the Beninoise government  had given license to four multinational Companies  and several other smaller Companies including Individuals to import  white and Thai parboiled rice into the country .  A document made available to The Value News shows that  one of such Companies, African Agro Food, with Headquarters in  Pan Lebanese  Group, Dubai,  United Arab Emirate, UAE,  controls 30 percent  of the foreign rice imports, equivalent of  360,00 MT, per annum and  Di fez i Fils, which is based in Cotonou,  share of the foreign rice market import  was 240,000MT,  or 24 percent.

Others are  SONAM, linked to the Stallion Group in Dubai, which also operates in Nigeria,, which was said to have been given approval to import N24000 MT   or 20 percent of the total foreign rice ports into the country yearly  and ABC Enterprises which, also has an operating base in Dubai, was said to have been  given the nod to import 10,00MT, just one percent of the market share. The other 20-30 Companies, according to sources were  given Presidential permission to import foreign  into the Country , according import about  25000 MT per annum.

Going by the Rice fortification policy of the beninoise  government the country ought to have attained  self –  sufficiency in white rice production since 2015 and export the food item to other countries in the West and Central African countries sub-region  by 2018 but that was how far the government can go.

The question on the lips of most people was: why the beninoise government which wants to attain self sufficient in white rice production allow   Multi- rice foreign rice  importers , to use their  country to destroy the Nigerian economy by turning it as a dumping ground for Thai parboiled rice.

Ex-Swift Reponse Members Take Over full Control Of Seme Border

 A Beninoise Customs official informed The Magazine at Cotonou that the major rice importers  bring in both white and parboiled rice. A according to the officer,  the local wholesalers purchase  the white  rice, which is repacked in 25 Kg Bag bags for the  domestic market.

 The wholesalers, who are mostly Lebanese and Indians and who own virtually  all the  WareHouses  in the country, according to the Customs official,also    purchase the parboiled rice, which are sold to the Nigerian Traders. It was learnt that   prior to the ban  on the importation of foreign rice through the country’s Land Border stations into the country , the traders who managed the Trucks transportation and trans –Border shipment  to Nigeria and Niger as transit cargoes were smiling to the Bank with their Customs Collaborators.

A recent  market survey by The Magazine  in an open market  in Cotonou and some other  Border Communities  in the south west geo-political region  shows that retailers buy from the wholesalers in their wareHouses  .

 A Cross –Border at do-Odo Otta, Ogun state , disclosed that the most retailers  buy between  50-to 100 b50 kg bags of Parboiled rice weekly  which are supplied to Customers.  He opined that a few other retailers, who have the Capital to engage in the lucrative  foreign rice business buy   close to 1000 50Kg Bags at a time.

It is not surprising why the Nigerian  market are flooded with foreign rice from Republic of Benin the north  and the south flanks. Security sources  disclosed that the Benin Terminal  and Bollore port  in the French speaking country  are currently  experiencing  congestion as there many ships awaiting to berth in order to discharge their bulk cargoes and depart  but have not been given the green light to do so because of where to keep the food items.  

Between last Tuesday and now,  Beninoise security Operatives , particular  the Customs personnel,  Shipping Companies and Agents , Rice Distributors and Retailers including those selling in the open market at the Border Communities are no longer finding it funny as they have cried out for government to relax the policy.   

Note that there are  3000 Border Communities between the Nigeria and the neighboring countries of Republic of Benin, Niger, Chad and the Central African  country used as window by the  foreign rice distributors and their numerous  retail customers that dotted the nooks and crannies of the country to smuggle the prohibited food items through unapproved routes into the country.

 From  Seme, Idiroko, Ilaro, Ohunbo , Saki , Iseyin, to  the northern Border Communities, the story is the seme: Low Business . Indeed, for the next one month, the land Border Communities  in the south west, south-south, north west and north east geo-political regions would still be living in  a sorry state until they are ready to support government policies that would aid the growth of the local economy and create job opportunities for the tee mining unemployed youths  in the society, particular in the Agricultural sector.

There are fears in both official and unofficial circles that if Talon, the Benionoise  did not move fast to reach a truce with  the Katsina born Nigerian President, the country’s economy may be heading for a collapse.

 For those peddling the rumour that the Nigerian Borders with the  neighbouring  countries in the West  and Central African sub-region had been outrightly  closed in order  to give the country  a bad name in the commitee of nations   should have a rethink. Joseph Attah, a deputy Comptroller, was said to have told those that cares to listen  that the country’s Borders are not closed for business or the travelling public. The truth of the matter was that the Borders are  not closed   but to guard against those coming into the country  with’’ incriminating items’’, he had said .He has in mind the terrorists, armed Bandits , smugglers and to stop proliferation of small arms  and light  weapons.

He insists that genuine traders and Cross Border Travellers have no reason to   worry but  go about their normal business without fear of harassment  by the security Operatives.  The Magazine observed  the operations of the Ex Swift Response  members at Seme  and found out  that people   are properly screened to ensure that the right things are done.

But In spite of the Customs  Spokes person to allay people’s fear over the  government  policy, thousands of people,  on both sides of the Border Community, are still stranded.’’ We  can not go in or come out with our vehicle’’, a Cross-Border  Taxi operator lamented.

Mike Ukachukwu,  a Lagos based  trader would want  Nigerians to support  Ali, the Customs Comptroller , Heading the lead agency  for the maritime Border security, in order to succeed in the National assignment  to save the country’s  economy from the grip of saboteurs for the local economy to grow.

Ukachukwu, noted that the country could not continue to patronise Agricultural products from other  countries  and allow the local rice farmers  to go into Oblivion, and further the unemployment problem in the country.

Appealing to the  Abubakar Amajam, an Assistant Comptroller General, ACG, in charge of the south west Drill Operations and his counterparts overseeing the Operations  in the other geo-political  region, to tighten the Border the more without listening people’s cry, noting that they would soon come to terms with it.  He  stressed that no can country can develop by being  a’’ food dependent nation’’.

Note that prior to the Joint Border security Operation, the price of a ‘’50’’ Thai rice, popular, parboiled rice, was almost crashing to about N11,00.00 but has but suddenly skyrocketed  to between N15,500.00. without the cost of Transportation to the market. Vintage Ali.

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