By Stephen Ubanna
Hopes of rescuing Rasheed Abdulsalam, the abducted Customs driver, attached to the Nigeria Customs, NCS, Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, Ikeja, by a combined team of the Customs, Army and the police who had been in search for him looks slim as people feared that he may have been killed .
This is evident going by the rumours making the rounds in Sango Otta, Ogun state and its environs that he has been killed by the” fireworks”. The rumour became more pronounced last week that ” fireworks” had ”killed the abducted Customs officer, as traders were scared a many smugglers were forced to go underground for fear of reprisal attack by Customs Personnel.
The alleged killing of the abducted Customs officer by” fireworks” dominated the talks of traders and their Customers in the market. Okada riders in the Ogun state Commercial hub are said to be more careful in the way they volunteer information to visitors as they refused to be drawn into any discussion over the fate of the abducted Customs officer.
Given the situation on ground, they were suspicious of as well dressed passengers as security operatives or informants to the Police or Customs Authorities. The situation was so bad at Sango Otta, a passenger remarked.
More worrisome is the fact that most of the Okada riders who make a living by crossing bags of foreign par boiled and cartons of poultry product for their smuggler Customers at an agreed spot at Otta may have been thrown out of business for now because of the tight security at the land border.
They claimed that the alleged killing of the abducted Customs officer may have forced the Customs Authorities to tighten up security at the border Communities in Ogun state to forestall smuggling of rice, poultry products and vehicles rice into the busy Sango Otta and the Lagos market .
That much was confirmed by a trader who said that there several vehicles loaded with rice at the Republic of Benin side of the Communities in Yelwa and other local government areas that share boundary with Republic of Benin but could not find their way into the Nigeria market.
The trader disclosed that the difficulty in crossing rice from Republic of Benin into the Sango Otta market and other parts of Ogun state due to the tight security along the Sango Otta – Idiroko road had jerked up the price of rice per bag.. He disclosed that a bag of foreign parboiled rice if found at the market now sells between N14,000.00 and N15,000.00 as against N12,000.00.
He fears that the price may go higher than that because of the anger in the face of Customs patrol teams and those at checkpoints who are under instruction by Muhammed Uba Garba, the Comptroller, FOU, Zone A, to ensure that foreign rice did not enter the Nigeria market. The anger of the seized of their goods may have forced them to abduct Abdulsalam as they laid ambush for the FOU, Zone A Lagos Roving Team which was led by Jack Okpabi Jack, a Chief Superintendent of Customs.
The team acting on information were said to be on patrol at Sango Otta axis on Saturday, April 14, 2018, over a large stockpiling of vehicles and rice in a hideout in the area. Notwithstanding the general impression being created over the gruesome murder of the abducted Customs officer, there are those who still believe that he is alive and would be released by the smugglers when the dust might have settled.
Trouble may have started when the smugglers frustrated the FOU, Zone A, Roving team from getting to the location where alleged smuggled items were hidden as they were said to have laid siege on the Customs team from Shop Rite, along the Lagos- Sango Otta Express Way.
The Customs officers who got wind that the smugglers were prepared for them were said to have decided to beat a retreat to avoid bloodshed. Abdulsalam , who is still in the custody of the smugglers may have been unlucky to fall into the waiting hands of the fireworks when he tried to make a u-turn from the Sango- Otta Shop-Rite premises to join his Colleagues who were waiting at a distance for him when the smugglers swooped on him and other occupants of the Customs Hilux Van.
The anger of the seizure of their goods may have forced them to abduct Abdulsalam as they laid ambush for the FOU, Zone A Lagos Roving Team which was led by Jack Okpabi Jack, a Chief Superintendent of Customs at Shop Rite, along the Lagos-Sango-Otta Express Way.
It would be recalled that the team acting on information were said to have been on patrol at Sango Otta axis on Saturday, April 14, 2018, over a large stockpiling of vehicles and rice in a hideout in the area.
Muda Yusuf, Director General, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, LCCI, said what is driving the smuggling of of rice across the border is the high tariff. Yusuf lamented that irrespective of where you source your forex to import rice through the nation’s seaport,the importer is bound to pay 70 percent levey. He noted that it is the high tariff and 70 percent levy that may have forced many rice importers to relocate to Cotonou port in Republic of Benin and other ports in the West African sub-region which found their way into the Nigeria market through illegal routes.
He would want the government to consider a downward review of the tariff of rice to curb its smuggling constant clash between smugglers and Customs officers. ”Rice is not contraband and could be imported through the nation’s seaport”, he said. He maintained that what has created the smuggling problem is the high tariff.
He disclosed that the market share of smuggled rice in the country is still bigger than the share of rice produced locally which has given officers and men of the FOU, national wide much job to do as they go after rice smugglers. From Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Cross River, Jigawa, Katsina, Kano, Sokoto to Zamfara states the story is the same: intensified anti-smuggling operations and seizure of thousands of bags of foreign parboiled rice from smugglers.