By Stephen Ubanna
This is not the best of times for Patrick Talon, president of the West African country of Republic of Benin as Issoufou Mahammadou, his counterpart in Niger, bows to pressure from both official and unofficial quarters to ban the export of foreign rice from Republic of Benin to the country.
Issoufu, may have taken the decision, as demanded by President Muhammadu Buhari, to stop the smuggling of foreign parboiled rice into Nigeria through the northern frontiers in order to encourage Buhari to have a rethink over the Borders closure which is getting to a month. Note that the country and Niger , share common borders in the north west geo-political region comprising of Kano, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Sokoto, Zamfara and Kebbi states.
The Katsina state born Nigerian President had banned the export of foreign rice into the country through the land Borders in 2017, which was later extended to the seaports to protect the local rice farmers and promote local rice consumption.
The President had expected Talon, President of Benin and his counterparts in Niger and Chad, to support the government efforts by tightening security around their borders with Nigeria to stop the activities of smugglers but that was how far he could go. Talon, a source told the Value News could not have supported Nigeria because the imported foreign rice was what was exported to the land locked countries of Niger and Chad, and which in turn were smuggled into the Nigerian markets, was one of the country’s major sources of foreign exchange earnings.
It was learnt that past and Present Beninoise government had signed bilateral and Trade Agreements with Nigeria, which they never respected as the country’s Borders were tactically opened for smugglers to use for their foreign rice smuggling activities. Buhari was said to have repeatedly appealed to the Beninoise to do something urgent about the illegal trading activities but the situation was getting worse as the rice smugglers were developing new tactics to beat Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, anti-smuggling officers to it.
Going by the Beninoise government rice fortification policy, four multi-national Companies and 20-30 other smaller importers including individuals were said to have been given approval to import foreign parboiled and white rice into the country through Benin Terminal, Cotonou, and Bollore seaport, the two seaports owned by the country. The white rice , according to sources, are consumed within the country while the foreign parboiled rice are exported to Niger and Chad ,which in turn are smuggled into the Nigerian market in the north and southern part of the country.
A document cited by The Value News shows that African Agro Foods, one of the Companies owned by Pan Lebanes Group, has a mandate to ship into the country 360,000 MT, or 30 percent of the annual par boiled rice imports into the country, Diefezi Fils Sarl, 300,000 MT, Sonam, a Company floated by the Stalion Group based in Dubai, Quatar, has the Presidential nod to import 240,000MT or 20 percent of the total parboiled needed in the country for export to the land locked countries or smuggled into Nigeria.
Another Dubai based company, ABC Enterprises, due to its limited financial muscle was said to have been given approval to ship into the country 10,000 MT annually. This is in addition to 29,000 MT, or 24 percent, allegedly approved for the other group of rice importers through the two seaports in the country .
Investigations by the Magazine shows that the Companies, m most often overshot their allocations as they flood the Republic of Beninoise ports with ships load of foreign parboiled rice. When it became obvious that Talon was not ready to respect the bilateral and trade Agreements with Nigeria, the Nigerian government was encouraged to close the Lad Borders to ensure that foreign rice did not enter the country through any means.
The recent meeting between Bello Massari , a former Speaker, House of Representatives and now governor of Katsina state and Zahari Umaru, the Prefecture Maradi, in Niger speaks volume. The meeting which was said to have been initiated by Massari was basically to find a lasting solution to the issues of Banditry and other forms Criminality including Cross –Border smuggling activities. They were said to have reached a conclusion that the Niger Rugus forest provides an opportunity for the Bandits and Cross –Border Smuggers to carry out their nefarious activities in Nigeria.
Note that with the support of the government, Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General, NCS in Collaboration with Babadende Mohammad, Comptroller General, Nigerian Immigration Services and other security agencies including the Department of State Security and Directorate of Military Intelligence, DIM, had lunched the Joint Border Security Operation, tagged Ex-Swift Response last month.
It was a signal to Presidents Talon, Issoufou, Idris Derby of Chad and Paul Biya of the Central Africancounty of Cameroon that the game was up: that Nigeria could no longer throw its Borders wide open for other neighbouring countries to abuse. The Border closure was a big blow, particular to Benin, and Niger which economies had almost crumbled. Take for instance, in Benin, the warehouses were said to have been filled to the brim and no patronage. The smaller shops along the Cotonou road and the ones at Seme-Krake Joint Border between Nigeria and Republic of Benin, were also said to have been filled up waiting for Nigerian buyers, who were nowhere to be seen close the Border. The situation was the same at the open markets at the Border Communities in the north and south west Nigeria.
Talon,and other heads of States and Governemnts from the other neighbouring countries , were said to have met Buhari recently in Abuja, to resolve the areas of disagreement to facilitate the re-opening of the Borders to reduce the suffering of their people.This may have informed why Ali , Babade and Brig. General Emmanuel Aliyu Ndagi, were said to have commenced an on the spot assessment of the implementation of the on-going Border drills in the North west, north Central, south west and south-south geo-political regions. The Team were said to have visited the north west , to see things for themselves before making any recommendation to the government on whether the Borders should be opened or not. The Ali led team, are also expected to visit the Borders in the south west geo-political region this week to assess the performance of the Programme. The visit, according to security sources, is expected to take the Team to Oyo, Ogun and Seme – Krake Joint Borders.
Security watchers believe that it is good for Ali, to visit the border Communities, particular, Sem-Krake Joint border, to see the hundreds of trucks laden cargoes trapped at the but awaiting to be examined in order to gain entry into the country including the ones that had been released but caught up by the government policy.
Customs valuation experts put the revenue tied down at the Seme –Krake Joint border alone to be over N300 million. There is no gain saying the fact that Benin, Niger, Chad and Cameroonian governemnts, may have learnt their bitter lesson from the Border closure that the survival of their economies are dependent on Nigeria.
Joseph Attah, a Deputy Comptroller and Customs Spokesperson, had said that three weeks into the intensive Joint Border drills, the office of the NSA, has continued to receive reports of significant seizures of prohibited items and arrests of illegal migrants.
Attah, disclosed that as at Tuesday,, September 10, 2019, 100 illegal migrants, have been arrested. The seizures include 8,360 ‘’50’’kg bags of foreign par boiled rice, 122 bags of fertilizer, 77 vehicles, 781 drums filled with premium Motor Spirit, PMS, 16,371 empty 200 litres drums, to be used for smuggling PMS, across the border, 1,491 sacks of assorted drugs, three outboard 40HP engines, 13 Cotonou boats, 185 drums of groundnut oil, six trucks and 114 motorcycles. 17 suspects were said to have been arrested in connection with the items seized and would be prosecuted as a deterrence to other smugglers.
While, the NCS and other security agencies, involved in the Border drills to stem the activities of smugglers, were said to be making headway, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, had suddenly realised that it cannot be able to fight pipeline vandals and Crude oil thieves including cross Border Petroleum Products smugglers alone without the support of the Mgaji Bichi, led DSS.
Mele Kolo Kyari, the NNPC, Group Managing Director, GMD, was said to have reached out to Bichi, the DSS, Director General, to ’’help squelch the escalating cases of cross-Border Petroleum Products smuggling and other vices which had remained a clog in the drive to achieve efficiency in the operations of the nation’s Oil and Gas industry.
An aggrieved Kyari was said to have told the DSS boss in their Abuja Headquarters that the intolerable implication of the reign of the smuggling syndicate s was that the country has become the ‘’unintended major supplier of petroleum products to the entire countries in the West African sub-region and beyond’’. He is right.
The Magazine in one of its undercover reports recently had exposed Pashi , a village in the Badary west local government area of Lagos state with about 20 Petroleum Products filling stations, all licensed by the department of Petroleum resources, DPR, operating in the village.
A visitor to the village would be surprised that the road leading to the village terminates at the lagoon, which seperates , Benin and Benin Republic. Most of the filling stations were said to be owned by Beninoise businessmen , using Nigerians as front.
The NNPC, GMD, was said to have listed some other areas which the Corporation would need the support of the agency such as stemming the escalating pipeline vandalism, which has led to significant losses in revenue for the country, protection of the Corporation workforce and equipment in course of operation in the frontier exploration fields.
He is optimistic that assistance the DSS to the Oil Conglomerate would go a long way to ‘’guaranteeing a veritable national energy security in line the aspiration of the service to the government and people of Nigeria’’.
The NNPC ,GMD, was said to have also visited Ibo Ekwe Ibas, a Vice Admiral and Chief of Naval Staff, last Wednesday where he had sought the support of the Navy to tackle the ‘’menace of Crude Oil thieves and attacks on offshore gas facilities. He noted that Crude oil thieves in the nation’s oil and gas industry have become a potent force that the Navy had to do more to stop them.
The NNPC GMD visit may have forced the CNS, to open up to him that the Navy was currently working in integrating its system with those of the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Headed by Dakuku Peterside.Recall that the Navy alone over the last four years, had impounded over 130 vessels , some of which were said to have been laden with stolen Crude Oil and Petroleum Products
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