Buhari Desperate to Stop Rice Smuggling But Lack Political Will To Destroy Seized Items

By Stephen Ubanna

President Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC, appear desperate to stop  smuggling of foreign parboiled rice  from the neighbouring  Republic of Benin and Cameroun into the country  but lack the political will to destroy such seized   smuggled tems as obtained in the Asian country of Philippines.

Maritime analysts had expected Buhari to take a cue from President Rodrigo Duterte  of Philippines anti-smuggling policy.  The Philippines President , according to analysts, do not believe in giving soft landing to  smugglers or channeling  back into the economy seized  smuggled goods or vehicles .

The Philippines government anti-smuggling policy was  said to have been anchored on destruction of seized smuggled  goods  including exotic vehicles.  Duterte, the country’s President was said to have supervised the destruction of 68 exotic vehicles worth $5.5 million  smuggled  into the country  . The Philippines President  may have set a standard for other third world leaders to emulate  to save their countries, particular, Nigeria, from being a dumping ground for   Industrialised nations  exotic vehicles as well as Thailand  and Malaysian  parboiled rice  and Processed Vegetable Oil respectively  .

Over the years, Nigeria had remained a dumping ground for  fairly used vehicles,  Thailand parboiled  rice and Malaysian Vegetable Oil .  This is evident going  by the quantities of perishable items including exotic vehicles and  other used vehicles seized at the land border routes and  the seaports.

There is no gain saying the fact  that past and present government had paid  lip service to battling  smugglers as foreign parboiled rice,  processed vegetable oil  and exotic vehicles  continued to flood the  Nigeria market  from unapproved routes and the seaports.

The situation had been so bad under the  Buhari Administration as seized  rice and Vegetable oil are supplied to the internally Displaced People’s Camp, IDP, in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe in the north east geo-political region and Edo in the south- south on the orders of the President.

The  failure of the self styled progressive and reformist government of  Buhari   to key into the Philippines  President  Duterte  anti-smuggling policy  may have  made nonsense of the country’s anti-smuggling drive.

This is because  Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, and his men  are still  finding  it difficult to cage the smugglers. John Ukachukwu, a Lagos based businessman  told the Magazine  that the anti-smuggling  war  may  still prove  a tough task for Ali and his men  because of the government ”hide and seek policy”  as both exotic vehicles released from the seaport on Compromise or smuggled  from the land border fall into the  waiting hands of Customs patrol teams across the country.  The inability to cage the rice smugglers may  have forced  Ali, the Customs boss, Tukur Buratai, a Lt.  General and Chief of Army Staff and Ibrahim  Idris, the Inspector General of Police, IGP, to set  up the multi -agency Rice anti-smuggling Task Force.  The Magazine learnt that the setting  up of the Task Force  was at the instance of Buhari  to compliment the efforts of the FOU personnel across the country  in order to avoid raiding the markets to harass the traders dealing on rice.

But on August 1, 2018,,  the multi-agency Task force, comprising of the Customs, Army and the police personnel armed to the teeth were said to have raided   Ota  market acting on intelligence gathering . The raid was said to resulted in  breaking into  lock up shops suspected to be used in warehousing smuggled foreign parboiled rice .

Eyewitness account disclosed that  hundreds of  ”50” kg  bags of  smuggled Thailand  parboiled rice from Republic of Benin were carted away.  The Task Force which had been in existence  since July 2017, had a Presidential mandate to stop the smuggling of foreign parboiled rice at the    porous borders catered  in the  south  east, south -south, south west and the north. The Task Force raid at Ota may have sent a signal to traders  that the war against rice  smugglers  had shifted to the market .

The Task Force  personnel may have been carried away by  their brand new  Hilux Vans,  and  information -driven  tools made available by the government to them to do their job to embark on any operation .  Kemi Adeosun, minister of Finance confirmed that the Federal Executive Council, FEC, had approved N1.2 billion  and the purchase of 50 vehicles which was distributed to the Task Force operational Zonal offices in Lagos, Kaduna, Owerri and Bauchi.   She had expected the Task Force personnel to concentrate their effort on the road and the border routes and not to attack traders in the market.

The Magazine findings shows that  the Task Force  branded vehicles are  parked at strategic locations at the flash point smuggler states of, Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara, Kano , Katsiina, Jigawa among others.  But not much of the Task Force branded vehicles are found in the north eastern states of Borno, Yobe and Bauchi  because of the activities of the Boko Haram insurgents in the region.

The Otta raid  may have forced the unrepentant  rice smugglers to temporarily  go underground but resumed making supplies to their Customers  the next day. The fallout was that the price of the Thailand  parboiled  rice jumped from N12,000.00 to N12,500.00 per bag and an additional transport cost of  N500.00, bring the total cost to N13,000.00.  Aware of the implication of raiding  markets in the south west, Muhammed Uba Garba,  the no nonsense Comptroller of FOU, Zone, had  warned the patrol leaders never to enter the market  either  at  Ota or anywhere in the southwest  geo-political region to harass traders on account of  their rice market. H e had made the  team leaders to sign undertaking that they would never go against the order. True to the directive , there  directive, there was calm at Ota as officers could  see rice bags of rice being carried on the road  or loaded into  Commercial vehicle  booths  but would keep away from it.  The unlucky  traders , however , had their purchased rice seized on the road  by overzealous patrol teams and transferred to the Customs warehouse at Ikeja.

Indeed, rice smuggling in Ogun state and other parts of the country , according to  police sources may be  thriving because   Customs Checkpoints  including that of  the soldiers and the  police  had turned  to booking centers .

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