Nigeria Borders, Still Smugglers’ Haven?

By Stephen Ubanna

President Muhammadu Buhari is no longer finding it funny that the government  Agricultural policy aimed at promoting local rice  production is not making the desired impact  on the economy as the Asian countries  of Thailand  grown  parboiled rice  and  Indian rice still  dominate the Nigeria market.

From Lagos, Ibadan, Abeokuta, Calabar, Kano, Sokoto, Dutse, kebbi to Maiduguri, the story is the same: foreign parboiled rice dominate  the markets .  the situation is so bad in the south west and north west geo-political  regions where  there were  said to be established rice markets  and warehouses where  foreign smuggled parboiled are sold to retailers and distributors . The Alaba and Daleko rice  markets  in Lagos are evident of such markets in Lagos .

The existence of these rice markets in Lagos and other areas in the south west  may have given Muhammed Uba Garba, Comptroller, Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, Federal Operation Unit, FOU, Zone A, and his officers  ammunition to intensify efforts to cut off the source of supply to these markets by the smuggler syndicates.

Impounded Truck load Of Rice By FOU, Zone A
Impounded Truck load Of Rice By FOU, Zone A

Between  June 2016 and now,  the Command, going by its records had made several trucks load of ”50” kg bags of rice  from the south west. Investigation by the Magazine shows that over 50 percent of the 252,666 ”50” kg bags of  rice  seized by Customs Formations across the country within 22 months which were supplied   the internally Displaced People’s, IDPs, Camps last January  were  said to have been made by FOU, Zone A alone.  The situation was the same  in last May  rice supplies to the IDP Camps , on the orders of Hameed Ali,  a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, NCS.

The rice seizures from smugglers by officers of the Command  may have increased in the recent time with the deployment of the Bauchi state born Riks Lura, a Chief Superintendent  of Customs  from Ijebu Ode Checkpoint to Head the Command Lagos Roving team, now batptised Operations and Lagos Roving team.

Mohammed, the FOU, Zone A, Customs boss, confirmed that  between May 16, 2018 and June 12,2018, the Command , alone made a seizure of 15 trucks load of rice  from the south west alone, awaiting  for orders from the Headquarters to be evacuated to the IDP Camps . He was said to have been  enthused by Lura and  his officers exploits   at a Creek at Oyingbo, Lagos, where smugglers were disposed of two barges loaded  with over 700 ”50” kgs bags of  foreign parboiled rice. The barges were said to entered Nigeria waters from Republic of Benin.

Last friday,  Riks and his team members were said to have impounded  482 ”50”kg bags of rice from the notorious Iseyin area in Oyo state. No body had   expected the Riks led team to dare the smugglers in the area  because they were armed with sophisticated  weapons. Eyewitness account said the team took  them by surprise  and dispossessed them of the items which were quickly transferred to the Command warehouse at Ikeja with little or no resistance. The foreign parboiled rice that was said to have been seized by the Command in t and other Customs formations across the country in the recent time may have emboldened Ali, the Customs boss  to inform Buhari  that  smuggling of rice into the country  is thriving because of the country inter-connectivity with the Republic of Benin and other neighbouring countries in the West African Sub-region.

According to him,   the situation had become more worrisome  as Nigeria kinsmen living  across borders in these neighbouring countries  speak the same language  with the nation which makes it difficult  to claim that a particular border  is well secured in the country. He insists that Nigeria borders are porous  because ”there is no line  where there is Nigeria in Republic of Benin, Cameroun, Niger or Chad Republic.

The  information  that 0ver 250,000 ”50”kg bags of foreign  parboiled and Agricultural  brands of rice were supplied  to the IDP Camps in the south eastern states of Adamawa, Borno, Yobe and Edo state , in the south south geopolitical region seized within 22 months  by the Ali led Customs   may have convinced him that something  urgent needed to done to protect Nigeria’s land border stations.

Audu Ogbe, minister of Agriculture and Rural Development may have spoken the mind of the President when he said  that  the” land border stations  will soon be ”totally shut  to prevent  smuggling  of foreign parboiled rice into the country”.

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given the hint, the President may have sent a signal to Patrice Talon, his counterpart  in Republic  of Benin that  the land border stations  would be shut because smuggling of parboiled rice and other toxic materials into the country is becoming a problem.

The minister  had corroborated  the Customs Comptroller General claims   that the ”friendly  relationship  between Nigeria and the  other neighbouring West African countries , particular Republic of Benin, was adversely  affecting the country’s economy and hence the need  to shut the land border stations  to stop  foreign parboiled and other toxic  materials from being smuggled into the country any more.

He was said to have made it clear to those that care to listen that there was no basis for foreign parboiled rice  from Thailand or india Agricultural brand of rice to be found in the Nigeria market  because  the government in the last two years  had stopped giving letters of Credit, LC, to rice importers. . It would be recalled that rice, was among the 41 items banned by  the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, from acessing the official foreign exchange market, forex, to protect the Nigeria  local rice farmers in 2016.

The minister  had confirmed that  the Buhari government had succeeded  in reducing rice importation into the country, and therefore there was no need for foreign rice to still dominate the Nigeria market both not for the activities of smugglers across the country.

An elated  Ogbeh, who is the minister  of Agriculture  and Rural Development  reportedly said  that there ought to be enough locally produced rice in  the market   because  the number of  rice farmers in the country have increased from the initial figure of five  under former President Goodluck Jonathan Administration  to 30 million currently.

He is optimistic that the number would still  go up as the Bank of Industry, BOI, has stepped in to give  out loans at subdised  interest rates to young Entrepreneurs wishing to go into  Commercial farming for growing of rice and other agricultural items.

At present states like Anambra, , Eboyi, Kebbi, Kano and Jigawa, he said  had taken the lead among the comity of states  to take advantage of  the Achor  Borrower programme, ABP,, of the government , administered by the BOI,  to go into full scale rice production.

The aggressive drive by Anambra and these other states involved in rice production may have emboldened Ogbeh to say that such ”achievements ” would not be allowed to be destroyed by the activities of smugglers across the country.

The seriousness of the government to protect the local rice farmers may have encouraged  Ali , the Customs Comptroller General to read the riot act to the Comptrollers at the Lad border stations to sit up  by ensuring adequate blockage of the Creeks and bush paths used by smugglers in their areas of jurisdiction.

The Customs Comptroller General was said to have met  recently with Mohammed Aliyu , Agbara Ojobo, and other invited Comptrollers  holding forth at the land border Stations. The meeting , according to a source was not unconnected to the problem of rice smuggling into the country.  The  ource  disclosed that the Customs boss was not happy with the land border stations Comptrollers because  foreign rice was still been smuggled into the country, undetected. The seizures of trucks  load of foreign parboiled rice and other brands by Muhammed led FOU, Zone A, personnel and other FOUs across the country  give credence to what is happening at the land border stations, which had been blamed on Corruption of the officers by  VIP smugglers and their agents.

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