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Border Closure: Smugglers Devise New Methods To Beat Customs

the heavy policing and thorough security checks at the land borders,
aimed at ensuring compliance with Federal Government’s closure order,
smugglers are still plying their illicit trade, as they have now devised
new methods and new routes to convey their products, especially bags of
rice, turkey and vegetable oil.

Investigations by Saturday
Telegraph reveal that the illegal dealers in the commodities now engage
the services of motorcyclists and canoe operators to convey bags of rice
and cartons of vegetable oil from Benin Republic to Nigeria. An
undercover operation by our correspondents, who were embedded among the
smugglers, exposes the covert and deadly operation of the men of the
underworld, showing how they bypass the borders by going through the sea
and land using remote villages. On the sea, our reporters witnessed how
a team of smugglers paddled their canoes in very dangerous manner,
along the Cotonou- Badagry beaches, passing through places like Gbetrume
and Inagbe to beat the eagle-eyed Customs officials. Some of the
smugglers are also armed in the process as they ferry their illegal
products in a combat steady manner, as narrated by one of the smugglers.
Witnessing smuggling operations
to be smugglers, our reporters had approached some canoe paddlers for
help to take their wares to the other side of the sea.

to carry out the dirty job, but not without a fee, one of the
traffickers, advised our reporters to brace up for the show ahead. The
canoe operator, who spoke in pidgin English, while claiming to be the
‘captain’ of the boat, said he is not new in the business, as he had
been conveying people across the sea over the years. Not wanting to lose
their money in case of any eventuality or a confrontation with naval
officers, which could make them abandon the job, the traffickers opted
to collect their money before embarking on the journey.

gbege we dey go now. We never know whether we dey come back or we go
yamutu, make you just ready and make you give us our money before we
comot”, he said in adulterated language. The journey was however
hitch-free as the canoe operators eventually stopped at place where some
‘okada’ riders took over the job. On land, the smugglers move their
wares through Igolo, a border village and its neighbouring hamlets to
pass through Owode and Idiroko in order to bypass Seme border and reach
their destination.

The risky process of the new method has
however led to the increase in the prices of the grains and oily liquid,
as bikers now collect N100 per bag as against the N50 that was in force
before the closure. In the same vein, bikers that hitherto convey
between three and five bags on a single journey, now load up to six bags
to do brisk business. As such, a single journey that used to cost the
smugglers not more than N200 now makes them cough out N600 per route.
This has no doubt added to the rising cost of the commodities, as it has
made the price unbearable for consumers and end-users of the products
to purchase.

Involvement of Customs, giant coys’ staff

investigations show that some Customs officials as well as drivers and
haulage staff of some big and international companies are involved in
the ongoing illegalities. Our correspondents did not only see how big
trucks were allowed into the country, but also witnessed how they
smuggled bags of rice,turkey and vegetable oil, using the cover of their
business empires. On the particular day, convoy of trucks belonging to
cement, paint, shoes and other manufacturing companies were seen packing
the smuggled products into their vans.

One of our reporters,
pretending to be a smuggler, had approached some of the drivers, who
narrated how they have been ‘helping’ others to convey their goods
across the border, before agreeing to take her bags of rice across the
border for a fee. One of the drivers explained that the Customs
officials would be compensated by their bosses once the goods arrive
their destination. He said: “When we are stopped by the Customs people,
we will just tell them that the rice belongs to the white men, our ogas,
and that it is for their domestic consumption. They know how they get
their money from our bosses.

“Police and Customs do not disturb
the drivers of white men and big companies. That is the opportunity we
have been using to take it across the border. We only enjoy the
privilege to make our own money. “But your money will depend on the
number of police and Customs check points. You know that they always
take our apples and those apples belong to our oga. So, you will have to
pay for the apples”, he said. True to his words, the officials met on
the road were only shown the apples, which they took, promising to see
the driver and haulage staff in ‘town’. What is however not clear is the
place they referred to as ‘town’ as well as the reason for allowing the
trucks to move despite the government order.

When asked the
reason for their movement even with the closure, the driver simply
replied that some buses belonging to big organisations are allowed to
move with a special pass. “We can move, just like the multinational
corporations can move. We enjoy the same privilege and they were told to
allow us because our companies are international”, he said. An
on-the-spot assessment to various markets by our correspondents across
the country however shows that there is low patronage of the products
owing to the rising cost of rice and vegetable oil.

Local rice in foreign bags

new twist to the rising prices is the fact that some smugglers now put
local rice in the bags meant for the foreign product. This was witnessed
in one of the villages, where our correspondent was on covert
operation. The village (names withheld), which was far away from the
border and many miles into a busy Lagos busy area, had some of
inhabitants repackaging the product. Saturday Telegraph team saw some
people in the process of exchanging the bags, this they noted was to
make it more attractive as many people believe in the consumption of
foreign products. “This is just our way of making good money in this
period. Many people want to eat foreign rice, they prefer Uncle Benz and
other foreign rice but they don’t know the taste. “Once they see it in
the foreign bag, they will buy it. We have been selling it to them, and
they are eating it. That shows you that many of them do not even know
what they are buying”, one the sellers told our correspondent.

Visiting the markets

many parts of Nigeria, including Lagos, Benin, Kano, Port Harcourt and
several others, Saturday Telegraph investigations showed that the prices
of various brands of rice which is a staple food of most homes have
also gone up while the availability of both local and foreign rice
products vary from one market to the other Our Correspondent who visited
Butcher Street Market on Mission road, New Benin Market on Benin-Lagos
road and Agbado Market on Akpakpava road, all in Benin City, the Edo
State capital gathered that local brand packs of rice are available with
sharp rise in their prices while the prices of foreign products are
prohibitive. The prices of some of local brands range from N19, 500 to
N22, 500 per bag while that of foreign rice is between N25, 000 and N27,
000 each bag.

Indications showed that local rice is available
in large stock in some of the markets visited while foreign products and
brands are in low in stock. However, aside the low or high availability
of the rice products, there is low patronage by customers due to the
increased prices. Among the local brands available in the markets
visited include Mama Choice N22,000,; Patron N21, 500, Tomato Rice N19,
000; Big Bull N22, 500 and Royal Naija N25, 000. Those of foreign brands
are within the ranges of N27,500 for Cap Rice, Tomato rice N26, 000,
Yummy Yummy N25, 000, Royal Stallion N25, 000 while the price of 20kg of
Gripple Seven is N13, 000. The Niger State Chairman of Rice Farmers
Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), Alhaji Idris Abini blamed the reason for
the increase and differences in the prices of local rice on activities
of hoarders and also the farmers. He however told our Correspondent
that, before the year runs out, there would be bumper harvest and rice
would flood the markets and thereby crash the prices. When our
correspondent visited the Engr. Abdulhadi’s Kure ultra modern and the
popular Kasuwa Gwari in Minna, only few shops have foreign rice (Caprice
and Stallion) displayed.

Prices differ

The prices of
local rice in Ebonyi otherwise known as Abakaliki Rice has continued to
increase. Though the commodity is much available in the markets and
various mills across the state where they are processed, packaged and
sold, the price of the rice has been on the increase because of its high
demands arising from the restriction on foreign rice. A market survey
conducted in across major markets in Enugu, including Ogbete Main Market
and New Haven Market shows that full bag or bushel (50kg) of foreign
rice (Caprice brand and Tomato brand) goes for N21, 000 as at this
weekend, as against N20, 000 it sold about three weeks ago.

Similarly, half bag or half bushel (25kg) of foreign rice currently goes
for N10, 500 as against N10, 000 it sold about three weeks ago. On the
other hand, full bag or bushel (50kg) of local rice currently sells for
N14, 500; while half bag or half bushel (25kg) goes for N7, 300. This is
against N12,500 and N6,500 respectively about three weeks ago.

across the country have said that following the closure of the
country’s borders, the demand for local rice has increased, occasioning
widespread scarcity in some states. Most of the shops visited by our
correspondents in different towns showed that there were limited stocks
of local rice on sale.

The most available brands of local rice
in the markets in Imo are ‘Mama’s Pride’ and ‘Chef’s Choice’, and both
are produced in Nasarawa State. One of the traders in Owerri, Ebuka
Uzoigwe, lamented the ordeal traders undergo to get supply of rice,
adding that the country was not yet prepared for the border closure. He
said: “Local rice is speedily going out of the reach of ordinary people
and it is not yet Christmas. The rice is not even available and even
where it is available it is costly. Before the border closure, local
rice was sold about N14,000 but now Mama’s Pride is N20,000 while Chef’s
Choice is N18,000. They are almost the same price with foreign rice
which is sold about N22,000 but unavailable.

Most of the bags of
foreign rice you see in the market today are old stocks.” “Some of us
came together, contributed money and ordered a trailer load of local
rice. It is two months now since we gave money to our supplier and we
have not gotten any supply. Only recently the supplier called us to tell
us that to facilitate timely delivery of the supply, we must add an
extra N1500 for each bag of the rice. It is the final consumer that will
bear the brunt. ”

When asked about the Abakaliki rice from
Ebonyi state and the Coscharis rice, he said the Abakaliki rice was also
as scarce as others while stressing that they were yet to see Coscharis
rice in Owerri. “For now, people that want to buy Coscharis rice, we
refer them to the television where they saw the advertorials. The point
is that we did not produce enough to go round before we shut down our
borders. After the border closure, it became obvious that most of the
states we thought were producing rice do not even have enough to serve
their state which is why we no longer get regular supply and when we
get, we get them at exorbitant prices.” Mrs. Ngozi Okereke in Orlu
confirmed that for the first time, she just got supply of the Coscharis
local rice and that it sells for N21,000 a bag. She also lamented the
sudden hike in the price of local rice in the market. “It defeats the
purpose of closing the borders and banning the importation of foreign
rice,” she said.


In the southern parts of the
country, local rice such as Bblue, Maurice, Maka, Offada, “O’god” and so
on are largely available in the markets and while foreign rice like
Tomatoes, Good Mama, Flourish, Good luck and so on prices were put at
N27,000, N28,000 e.t.c at Sekona, Oluode, Ilobu, Owode markets of the
state. At the popular Ogbeogonogo Central Market in Asaba and Midwifery
Market along Okpanam Road, the price of a 50kg locally produced rice has
risen by more than two-third since July. As at October 10, the price of
Caprice foreign rice rose from N16,000 to N29,000 while locally
produced stonefree Tomatoes rice skyrocketed from N13,000 to N25,000,
even half-bags went up from N6,500 to N15,500.

While foreign rice
is scarce in the markets visited, owing to the border closure, local
rice, which is expected to have flooded the marketplace, is at lower
production. Prices of poultry food like frozen turkey and chicken rose
at fastest pace from N1,300 to N2,200 and N1,100 to N1,400 respectively.

Chief Job Creation Officer, Prof. Eric Eboh, to Governor Ifeanyi Okowa,
said Okowa had succeeded in using agricultural landscape to develop the
state and create wealth and job for unemployed youths and graduates in
the state. He said: “We are already milling the rice.

It will be
from farm to table. We will process and package it to be launched. It
will end up at the government conference table, where it will be served
for governors and captains of industries, and declared open to be
exported to other countries for consumption.”

In Abia State, the
much talked about Abia Rice (Osikapa Abia) could not be found in any
market. It was gathered that the Abia Rice has no particular point of
production but as produced at the various rice producing communities.
Recently, the Chief Press to Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, Mr Onyebuchi
Ememanka, told journalists the Ikpeazu administration has established
four cottage rice mills at Ofeme, Bende, Acha and Uzuakoli with plans to
establish additional mills in Arochukwu and Bende.

In Bayelsa,
the local rice, which is now the generally accepted, has flooded the
markets. A visit to Swali market the biggest market in Bayelsa showed
that almost all the local brands of rice were available. It was noticed
that there were more than six brands of local rice at the market. North
Despite the closure foreign rice is still available in some markets in
the North, especially in Sokoto State. One of our correspondents who
visited markets in the North noticed various brands of foreign and
locally produced rice. The brand names of the rice seen in the Sokoto
old market includes Naija, Sogar, Tomato Anajo, Royal Stallion, and
Diamond among others, while the local rice include King, Royal, Naija,
Labana, while others have no brand names.

Traders in the old
market in Sokoto said the hike in the price of foreign rice had made
consumers to have preference for local rice. A trader known as Aliyu
said the price of foreign rice had increased to N1000 per measure and
50kg bag of the commodity is being sold at above N18, 000. According to
him the increase has led to consumers demanding locally produced rice
with a stable price of between N550 to N600 a measure. In Kano, despite
the availability of local rice and the springing up of many milling
companies, the prices of the commodity has skyrocketed.

Some of
the rice farmers and sellers in Kano have different positions on why the
price of the commodity is high, some believe that lack of implements
and lack of seri-ous government intervention caused the hike in price.
Alhaji Zakari GarunBaba a big time Rice Farmer, believes that all the
Federal Government’s policies on rice farming was rather a failure
because most of them who were truly in the business were not considered.

could see that after spending these huge amount the prices of rice in
the final analysis will be determined by how it is being produced
locally, that is why today we have a bag in the market been sold at
N15,000 to N16,000”. In the same vein Alhaji Sabiu Bako a rice miller
who recently open his milling company, said from diesel to other
operational items needed to produced the local rice they spent millions
of Naira that is why it is still high price in the market. The Federal
Government Boarders Closure has received a significant supports from the
Nigeria Rice Producers who says the policy is greatly making impact on
the home grown rice.

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Last Updated: October 19, 2019

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