Unwholesome activities of smugglers at Nigeria’s porous borders have become a menace proving difficult to be curbed by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS).
The Guardian investigations revealed that the smugglers are on daily basis devising numerous antics to beat the Customs formation. In most cases, such acts are perpetrated at night when they flaunt their arms, ready for combat with the officers that come cross their path. Illegal importation of goods largely deprive the nation of huge revenues that would have accrued from duty payable, and puts the nation at the risk of becoming a dumping ground for substandard consumables, arms and ammunitions that might jeopardise the peace and safety of the country.
Furthermore, making the country a dumping ground not only weakens industrial capacity utilisation but has also led to the collapse of many industries.
Items prohibited from import through land borders include soaps and detergents, used tyres, mosquito repellent coils, corrugated paper, recharge cards, vouchers, carpets and other textile floor coverings, used compressors, fridges and air conditioners. Others are fruit juices in retails parks, all vehicles, poultry products, refined vegetable oil, rice, second hand clothing, spirits, blank invoice, coupons and cowries, indecent or obscene print, pistols and hard drugs.
The high rate of success of smuggling activities is being attributed to possible collusion with some Customs officers, and other law enforcement agencies including military personnel and the Police, who help to give them a “soft landing” for their illegal cargoes at checkpoints.
For example, a Customs officer, Baba Nwaguyayo, was, according to the Nigerian Customs Service, crushed to death in August at Agbara, Ogun State, while attempting to stop a Military convoy, which was allegedly used as a diversion to smuggle some cars into the country. However, the Defence as yet has not confirmed the incidence.
The Guardian’s visitation to some of the borders including Seme, Idiroko, and other smuggling routes in Badagry, Owode, Anihungba, Agbara, Ota, and Totowu communities revealed that foreign parboiled rice, vegetable oils, and cars top the list of smuggled items into Nigeria. These items and many others have already been declared contraband by the Federal Government.
A visit to the conventional market in Benin Republic showed that many of these items sell at far cheaper prices than in the Nigerian market, thereby boosting smuggling activities with attendant huge profits for the perpetrators. For instance, a 50kg bag of rice sells for between N9,000 and N10,000, while the smugglers pay N300 per bag to cross the border. But the grains go for between N15,000 and N18,000 per bag in the Nigerian market. For vegetable oils, a 20litre jerry can sells for N9,000, with additional N150 each paid to local truckers to cross the border.
A trader at the rice market, Mrs Toyin Ajayi, told The Guardian in confidence: “You don’t need to bother about the Customs (Nigeria and Seme), just pay these local truckers; they will settle Customs and cross the border with the load. You only need to pay N100 to cross yourself.”
Investigations also revealed that these routes specialized in particular smuggled items like Badagry is noted for foreign parboiled rice, while Owode and Totowu are reputed for all kinds of vehicles. At Totowu, the smugglers carved a wooden barge, which lifts the vehicle across the 100-meter wide river to Igando area of Lagos. Ota is known for smuggled rice.
For the large-scale smugglers, a clearing agent, Gbenga Adeoye, described such activities as “executive case” as the cargoes are usually smuggled overnight.A night survey by The Guardian revealed that the Customs checkpoint had been reduced to one spot at Gbaji, where all law enforcement agents check the movement of goods and persons going in and out of Nigeria.
Although the Customs have seized many smuggled goods on various occasions, but such seizures are not enough to deter smugglers.However, the Customs Controller, Seme Area Command, Mohammed Aliyu, insisted that the border command is strategising and deploying high level of intelligence and professional competence, fortifying the entire land border in order to foil all attempts of arm smuggling and other trans-border crimes into the country.
In this regard, he said the Service has uncovered desperate antics being deployed by smugglers in order to beat customs operatives.
In a particular operation, he disclosed that a smuggled L450 Jeep was disguised with posters of a deceased person (supposedly going for burial), but was intercepted; as was a waste disposal truck.
“The operation which was intelligence driven also examined the vehicle, and was found to contain 534 pieces of used tyres concealed in the truck, disguised as conveying waste for disposal, while the disguised jeep was allegedly going for burial was discovered to be smuggled into the country,” he said.
Aliyu boasted that no amount of antics devised by smugglers will go undetected by the officers and men whose eagles eyes are always beaming on every nook and cranny of the borders.He said the dare-evil smugglers, who will not desist from using the Seme route will continue to count their losses behind bars when arrested and prosecuted to serve as deterrent to others.
The comptroller also re-emphasized the need to beef up security along the borders considering the security threat of illegal importation of arms through the nation’s seaports.He added that the Command’s Zero tolerance to Nigeria’s security threat (via illegal importation of arms) through meticulous screening of imported good using the scanning machine will be sustained.
A community leader and spokesman for Gbaji-Aseri-Hulenu joint community (comprising 86 communities in Badagry), Tunde Hupatin, said efforts are ongoing to discourage the youths from smuggling, but unemployment remains a major contributory factor to the menace.
He said: “This is a border town that attracts different kinds of sediments; you will see people from different parts of the country. It is true that the Customs have made pronouncement to stop the smuggling of rice, which we the community members subscribe to. We realise that it is not only rice that are being smuggled but some other items as well. We have lost people in the process of smuggling activities, especially in the area of reckless driving, and we don’t want this to continue.
“I will advice the Customs to vigorously enforce the law. Whoever found culpable should be dealt with. We have been enlightening our community members against smuggling and its effect on the economy. I think the society is a contributing factor. If you look around there is no job. That is no excuse to engage in smuggling, but the Federal Government should try and create employment opportunities for the teeming youths of this great country,” he said.