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 .