Smugglers are incredibly ingenious, always trying to put law enforcement agencies at their wits’ end by devising new ways to practice their prohibited enterprise. However, going by the number of arrests and seizures effected by the Ogun state Command of the Nigeria Customs Service, the command seems poised to run smugglers out of business.
Just recently, the House of Representatives disclosed that about three million tonnes of parboiled rice were smuggled into the country in 2013 through Benin Republic. Consequently, the country lost over N200 billion in dutiable levies to Benin Republic.
Worried by this development, the House called on the Federal Government to implement the new rice duty regime as a way to checkmate importation of rice into the country and boost local production.
It is worthy of note that some of the routes used by smugglers to bring in contraband commodities into Nigeria are the border areas in Ogun state linked to Benin Republic.
Following the alarm raised by the lawmakers, Ogun state command of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) resolved to work round the clock to put smuggling activities under control.
At a press conference in Idi-Iroko, in Ipokia Local Government Area and a border town to Benin Republic recently, the Comptroller, Alhaji Haruna Mamudu, lamented that the illicit business of smugglers was hampering government policy.
Mamudu, who described the development as alarming, pointed out that the Command, between December 2013 and January 2014, had made seizure of 9,871 bags of rice, 5,431 cartons of frozen poultry products with Duty Value Paid (DVP) put at N59.2 million and N21.7 million respectively.
He said, “Immediately I took over, I hit the ground running; the results are streaming in, and this is what you are seeing today within this short period of my assumption of office. I personally coordinated a seizure of a truck-load of 600 bags of rice.”
He said that the perpetrators of the illicit business, despite efforts to curb their activities, had devised other means of bringing in the commodities into the country by using motorcycles, popularly known as Okada, and small vehicles to transport rice through illegal routes.
Mamudu said the motorcycles carry at least 10 bags each per trip, while the smaller vehicles carry at least 60 to 80 bags of rice at a go.
The Comptroller explained that the motorcycles and vehicles loaded with rice moved in a convoy, and if not apprehended, the smugglers would have successfully imported a truck load of rice. However, no fewer than 1,000 motorcycles and over 200 small vehicles loaded with rice have been seized by Customs officials.
The command recorded revenue collection of N5.5 billion in 2013 as against N5.3 billion in 2012 with a progressive collection of about N174 million.
On the anti-smuggling efforts, the comptroller explained that the Command has recorded 1,368 seizures with Duty Paid Value of N1.314 billion, as against 1,084 seizures with DPV of N694.1 million recorded in 2012. This, according to him, showed a progressive difference of 284 seizures with DPV of N619.886 million.
For the first month in 2014, the command said it recorded 83 seizures with DPV of N37.5 million as against 71 seizures with DPV of N28.4 million recorded in the same period in 2013.
He said, “The menace of motorcycle smugglers of rice is worrisome. You can see the number of motorcycles we have seized. You can imagine what our operatives go through to apprehend one motorcycle, because any mistake may result in death of the smuggler with a consequent crisis.
“The last time we held this press conference you saw trucks and trailers load of rice. What they use in this axis as against trailer; they use these vehicles. Now, you can see how they arrange rice inside these vehicles. This is a Volvo car; if you count all the bags of rice inside this car, you will get between 70 and 80 bags. A Starlet car carries close to 40 bags of rice.
“Now, this is what they have resolved to doing and when they are attacked inside the bush or anything happens the society will be made to believe that somebody was attacked because he carried 30 bags of rice. But, you can imagine the number of vehicles that carry these 30 bags of rice a day. And that is why we want to make people to see the menace of these vehicles. It is not only in trailer that they carry rice.
“Just like we take you to where they do it with motorcycles, it is the same thing that they are now doing here at this sector; Idi-Iroko sector. Look at the quantity of rice on these motorcycles; by the time they make three trips, they are carrying three trailer loads of rice,” he said. He said the host communities in the border area are not helping matter in the command’s fight against smuggling.
Mamudu explained that his men were being confronted with a lot of difficulties in the course of discharging their duties.
“These are all motorcycles arrested at different times with bags of rice on them, different quantities of bags of rice. The motorcycles here are over 1, 000, we have some in other places.
“What the people are now saying is that we have sent them out of business; we have not sent them out of business but they are the ones who have sent themselves out of business because their business is illegal,” he said.
The Customs boss explained that there are legitimate ways of doing businesses, saying that while rice importation is not banned, rice is not allowed to be brought into the country through illegal routes.
“There are legitimate ways of doing business, there are a lot of items that can be carried across the border and are not prohibited.
“They don’t have to go through prohibition before they can survive. Some of them carry frozen poultry products. It is a Federal Government policy, it is not Customs policy, we are here to execute Federal Government policies but they see us as enemies. We are here only to enforce the law.
“Rice is not banned, but rice is banned when it comes into the country through unapproved routes. The border stations are unapproved routes for rice but you can make other importations. And this is why we try to encourage the society here, across the border, their traditional rulers, the traditional council, traditional institutions to educate their people so that they can engage themselves in lawful businesses,” he said. (Source: NAN)