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Young women quitting trading for rice smuggling

Young women, especially single mothers across the South West geopolitical zone of the country, are gradually abandoning petty trade to join the “booming business” of…

Young women, especially single mothers across the South West geopolitical zone of the country, are gradually abandoning petty trade to join the “booming business” of rice smuggling.

The women are involved in the smuggling of rice from the Republic of Benin into Nigeria through the numerous bush paths around the country’s porous borders with its western neighbour, bringing the produce into Lagos.

Daily Trust Saturday reports that some of the women moved to Lagos from other South West states and beyond to participate in the illegal venture.

The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) said it intercepted 222,285  bags of  50kg bags of foreign parboiled rice, equivalent to 370 trailer-loads from smugglers in less than three years, spanning September 2021 to April 2024.

During a visit to different shops and markets in Lagos recently, our correspondent saw most rice traders in the Alaba Rago and Daleko markets, both in Ojo and Mushin local government areas, selling smuggled rice openly.

During the visit to Alaba Rago, our correspondent saw many bags of smuggled rice being offloaded from vehicles parked by the side of the road and at the same time, being hurriedly moved into wooden sharks used as stores.

The traders at the different markets in Alaba, Mushin and Alagbado seemed happy as huge sale of smuggled rice is adding to their profits, giving an indication that the illegal trade is likely to rise further in the coming days.

According to sources in Lagos and Ogun states, the smugglers have become very active ahead of the Sallah festival coming up mid-this month.

Women in action

Young women of about 30 years smuggle goods through different points of the border during the day and at night, sources added.

At the crack of dawn every day, hushed frantic activities begin in villages located along Seme and Idiroko borders as some residents set out on foot or in small vehicles to smuggle rice into the country.

Adenike Odufayo, a single mother, told our correspondent that she used proceeds from the sale of rice to fend for her three children.

“I come all the way from Ibadan to Lagos to buy rice. My husband left me years ago for another woman. One of my friends, who is also a single mother, introduced me to the business. The business of smuggling is risky because one is prone to different assaults and sexual harassment from male security operatives at the borders. The consoling aspect of it is that money comes in at the end of each trip.

“I once lost all my life savings when Customs officers seized my goods. All pleas to make them see reasons why I joined the trade fell on deaf ears. That was why I knew why they refer to smuggling as “Fi aya wo,” meaning, take whatever that comes your way with your mind. 

“I started again months later after I collected a loan from a microfinance bank. I was previously hawking balm and other pain relief medicines in traffic at Molete in Ibadan,” she said, while tending to many small bags of smuggled rice.

Another rice seller who simply identified herself as Folashade said she left fish business for rice smuggling.

She said fish was becoming too expensive to buy and that she went into rice smuggling with the little money she was able to save from selling fish.

“I know that smuggling is risky. It is even riskier as a Nigerian than the trade itself. I lost my husband after six years of marriage. I have three children, a boy and two girls. 

“Life was not easy for me as a single mother. I joined other young women in the market to smuggle. 

“We go to Cotonou market to buy rice in group. After purchase, we give the rice to crossers to help move them across the border line. If you want them to move it to an agreed location, they will, but with an extra money,” she said.

Evangelist Enoch Ojo told our correspondent in Badagry that a lot of young women had abandoned their pretty trading for smuggling, saying it fetched them quicker and bigger money.

“They don’t have to sit in their small stores waiting for buyers under the rain and in the heat of the sun. All they need to do is walk into Benin Republic, buy two or three bags of rice, split them into smaller bags and walk back to the Nigerian side of the border, from where they will board a vehicle to their destinations,” he said.

Enoch further revealed that some of the women travel from as far as Osogbo or Ibadan to Lagos to embark on smuggling.

According to him, the women sleep inside open vehicles or wooden stores, making them prone to any form of sexual harassment. 

It was also observed that some security men, and sometimes, even the elderly act as carriers for local smugglers and are paid up to N500 or N1,000 for delivering a quintal of rice to warehouses set up across the border.

Most of them make multiple trips to earn as much money as possible.

Ashipa, Gbetrome, Topo, Suntan beach, Owode-Apa, J5 park are some of the villages from where it becomes very easy to cross into Badagry with small bags of rice strapped around their waists and some hanging by their shoulders.

Seme and Idiroko, both in Lagos and Ogun states, share open borders with Benin Republic.

Jide Kalejaiye, a 52-year-old rice carrier at Idiroko said: “The big merchants have set up small warehouses along the border, where we deliver the smuggled rice. The typical warehouse, which is usually an uncompleted house, is emptied every week and the collected rice is moved to town.”

He said the carriers did most of the work at the crack of dawn, travelling several kilometers from their homes to deliver the rice. 

“We embark on many trips on foot, carrying rice bags weighing 10kg or more before we can make reasonable quantity,” he said.

He said the second spurt of activities would come around 9pm when most locals are indoors enjoying the night breeze.

Some of the carriers also move rice bags in the evening, just before nightfall, meandering in-between coconut trees. They rarely move at midnight as that is when the risk of getting caught is the highest.

A police source at Seme police station said most of the people involved in rice smuggling were unemployed. These villagers take rice from the dealers and carry same into Lagos or Idiroko. In most cases, young unemployed men and women act as carriers. Sometimes, the elderly can also be involved.

Despite efforts by the authorities to check the smuggling of rice, the huge margin of profit continues to drive the illicit activity. 

Local rice traders said the price of the commodity in the South West spiked in the past few months after the federal government floated the naira to strengthen the local currency.

The ban on the importation of rice also accounts for the spike. Following the import ban, the price of rice in Nigeria has gone up. 

The rice that was sold at N30,000 in 2023 is now being sold as high as N70,000 per 50kg bag,  claimed Tawa Ojo, a local rice trader who used to sell to buyers at Sango-Ota in Ogun State.

According to officials of the Customs Service in Zone A, more than 370 truckload of rice were seized from smugglers in three years 

A former comptroller of the unit, Kehinde Ejibunu, said his position, which commenced on September 10, 2021, was a bit challenging but very successful. 

He said part of the challenges encountered when he assumed duty newly was the continued rate of attacks on officers by suspected smugglers while on duty. 

“To mitigate such level of attacks, the unit embarked on sensitisation programmes and courtesy visits to traditional rulers in border communities. These yielded drastic reduction in the level of deadly confrontations and attacks,” he said.

He said 386 suspects were arrested in connection with some of the seizures, while 22 of them were convicted for committing different offences.

“Unfortunately, while on legitimate duties within the zone’s area of operations, eight officers sustained different degrees of injury while five lost their lives in the line of duty,” he disclosed before he bowed out as the comptroller of the unit. 

Due to rampant rice smuggling, local traders said the price of rice had also gone up over the last few months.

Before December 2023, a bag of Aroso (one of the brands) was available at N35,000 per 50 kilogram, but it is now sold between N70,000 and N80,000 per 50 kilograms.

However, the attacks on Customs officers have forced the different commands and units of the NCS in the South West to intensify efforts to check smuggling operations.

Comptroller Timi Bomodi, comptroller in charge of Seme area command, while speaking on its anti-smuggling stance said that between January and February 2024, the command successfully made 168 interventions, which resulted in the seizure of 2,193 bags of 50kg (3 trailer load equivalent) of foreign parboiled rice, 81,930 liters (3 tankers equivalent), 9 vehicles, 1,425 general merchandise, 265 parcels of cannabis sativa and other narcotics, 149 pkg of codeine and 2 locally manufactured guns. 

Bomodi said all the seizures were with a combined Duty Paid Value (DPV) of N366 million.

He said a total of 13 suspects were arrested in connection with the seizures, and that six of them were granted administrative bail, while three were handed over to officials of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) for further action.

“One was handed over to the police, while three suspects are still in our custody. At this point, it is important to highlight the importance of joint security meetings held regularly here at the Joint Border Post. 

“These meetings provide valuable intelligence and opportunities to cross-fertilise ideas about border management. We note that collaboration holds the key to success in border management, that’s why we insisted on information sharing among sister agencies,” he said.

Highlighting the importance of the Lagos-Abidjan corridor, of which he said the Lagos-Badagry expressway was a major composite and a singular passageway accessible via multiple tributaries. He said: “Our creeks and the Atlantic traverse this single entry point. That is why collaboration with the Nigerian Navy is imperative and significant. The Nigerian Air Force and Army have provided critical support throughout this period.

“As the lead agency in border security and facilitators of international trade, we are constantly aware of the need to balance responsibilities through the use of risk management tools at our disposal. We are also aware that those whose illicit businesses have been significantly hindered by our activities will spare no effort in devising new methods to counter us. Some of these efforts will include misinformation and disinformation. 

“We would like to assure the public that we will continue to remain alive to our responsibilities and will not be deterred by naysayers or anyone intent upon casting aspersions on our officers, some of whom have paid the ultimate price for their services to their country. Others have been severely maimed and will bear the scars of their bravery to their graves.

“These are challenging times for the Nigeria Customs Service. As criminals get more desperate and daring, we at the Seme/Krake joint border post will ensure the sustainability of a more formidable defense.”

 

Customs tightens noose around western waters to combat smuggling

The NCS seems to be tightening the noose around the western waters to cub smuggling activities around the country’s backwaters.

The comptroller in charge of Western Marine, Paul Bamisaiye, said the command had also stood down offensive smuggling of unwholesome goods through the waterways.

He said the command achieved this through effective deployment of its patrol boats on a 24-hour basis to check smuggling.

“The command is poised more than ever to rid the waterways of all acts of smuggling and economic sabotage for the benefit of the growth of the economy of Nigeria,” he said. 

Also speaking on the efforts of the Idiroko command, the public relations officer, Hameed Oloyede, said the topography of the area accounted for the reason smuggling activities is going on at the area.

Oloyede said the effective deployment of officers along the border line accounted for the humongous seizures of rice in recent times.

He said the command had also adopted enforcement duty with human face in order to avoid recording any casualty.

On the involvement of some security operatives in smuggling, he said a good number of them had been arrested in the past, adding that most of them abandoned their goods and took flight to avoid the possible consequence of their actions.

“We have impounded bullion vans, ambulance and trucks carrying sand used to smuggle rice.

“We are often at the mercy of the villagers, who are more sympathetic to the course of the smugglers. They see smuggling as a right and not a crime. We try as much as possible to avoid excessive use of force.

“My comptroller has often embarked on sensitisation of community leaders on the need to advise their young ones to stay away from smuggling. It is a difficult terrain, but we are giving the smugglers a run for their money,” he said.

 

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