• Details of how Kamba, Dole-Kaina border communities thrive on smuggling of rice and petroleum products
Olanrewaju Lawal, Birnin-Kebbi
Kebbi State has gained a reputation as the champion of the rice revolution in Nigeria. Its experimentation with cultivation of rice has been hailed as a milestone in the effort of the federal government to engender production and consumption of homegrown agricultural produce. Kebbi’s reputation further soared with the recent declaration by the state government of a N150 billion profit from the rice effort in 2017.
There is, however, another side to the rice story. A visit to the twin border towns of Kamba and Dole- Kaina – where rice smuggling is an enterprise that thrives with gross impunity and on a large scale – is an eye-opener.
Two towns, three countries
Kamba and Dole-Kaina are border communities in Dandi Local Government Area of Kebbi State. Respectively, they share borders with Lolo and Illo (in Dosso State) of the republics of Niger and Benin.
Kamba, 20 kilometres to the border post along the Niger border and 200 kilometres from Birnin-Kebbi, is a meeting point for smugglers of rice, cars and petroleum products to and fro Nigeria and the riverine communities in the areas.
Kamba, also, has a direct route to Gaya, a town about 100 kilometres inside Niger. Gaya is a famous commercial centre where Nigerian businessmen and women purchase fairly-used clothes, popularly known as “bend-down and pick.” Dole-Kaina, which is about 20 kilometres from Kamba and about 200 kilometres from Birnin-Kebbi is an island community; it is better known as a transit town that harbours smuggled paddy rice from Niger Republic villages. They are brought into the country by agents of rice mill companies in Nigeria for parboiled rice production.
During a recent investigation conducted in Kamba by Saturday Sun, with focus on the Niger Republic routes, it was noted that there are over ten different security posts including those of Nigeria Police, Nigeria Army, Nigeria Immigration Service and Custom Service.
Travellers on the route were subjected to rigorous screening which entails a series of questions and thorough searching of both passengers and motorists. A joint patrol security by INTERPOL was in charge of the extreme end of the Nigeria-Niger Republic border. Nonetheless, findings by Saturday Sun indicated a brisk smuggling activities. But smugglers do not ply the main road until odd hours between 12 a.m. and 5 a.m. Their favoured operation days are Thursday and Sunday.
Multiple sources within the community told Saturday Sun that smugglers usually camp in the forest along the border till the wee hours of the morning when it is safe for them to move in convoy.
Commercial motorcyclists in the area are familiar with the many smuggling routes. The routes according to motorists in Kamba includes, Buma and Kamba-Maje villages in Dandi Local Government Area; Bagudo, Kaoje, Tsamiya, Tugga and Maje in Bagudo Local Government Area. Usually, the smugglers burst out at Koko town before dispersing to various destinations.
Boon for bikers
A motorcyclist who gave his name as Shehu Musa Umaru, a Lolo indigene who confirmed the routes, said: “Most of the foreign rice you are seeing in Kamba market and other markets in Kebbi State were smuggled through all these illegal routes.”
According to him, there is no friction between the smugglers and Customs officers “because there is always mutual agreement between them.”
Said he: “Custom officers always lay ambush along these illegal routes. The smuggling of goods is minimal through the Kamba-Niger Republic normal roads, but it is very active in all these hidden routes.” For commercial motorcyclists and motorists, early morning and the evening period are the peak moments when they rake in money from travellers.
While commercial motorcyclists charge N1, 500 from Kamba to the border post, cars or any four-wheel drive collect N1,000 per passenger for the one-hour journey from Kamba to the border post.
Going westerly from Kamba to Dole-Kaina, the fare by commercial motorcycle is N500 per passenger, while the car fare is N300.
The choice of means of transportation depends on how quickly a passenger wants to get to his destination. Speaking with Saturday Sun, Yousuf Baba, a commercial motorcyclist disclosed that he earns an average of N7,000 in a day depending on how early travellers move in the morning and in the evening period. According to him, he prefers to come out early in the morning so “I can get passengers going to the border post or travelling to nearby areas to board vehicles going to Niger or Benin.”
The rice boom
Saturday Sun reporter visited Dole-Kaina’s river port, which served as a link to villages in Niger and Benin Republic. On the second day of his visit to the area, different wooden canoes and boats driven by outboards were seen at the bank of the river.
The nature of the commerce flourishing at the riverside was not difficult to decipher. It was observed that paddy rice were imported into Nigeria through the river. They came in loaded on the wooden canoes. A canoe paddler, Issa Haruna Dole-Kaina, explained thus: “We do convey paddy rice from Lolo, Illo and other villages from Niger and Benin to this place. We were told that agents of rice mills in Kebbi State are purchasing it for their production. Sometimes, we can carry a load of a trailer and as you can see (he pointed to a trailer) the one they are offloading over there. It may contain about 600 or more bags of paddy rice, depending on the size of the boat.” With regard to the selling price of a bag of paddy rice, he said: “A bag of paddy rice from nearby countries is sold at the cost of N7,000 per bag. We ferry them at N400 or N500 per bag. If a canoe is fully loaded, two Kanta trucks (a mini trailer) would be chartered to convey the product to different destinations”. Efforts to approach other canoe owners on the issue were rebuffed. A few of them were hostile and threatened to beat the reporter.
One of the elders at the Dole-Kaina river port, Alhaji Hassan Dole-Kaina expressed his concern about the activities of smugglers. “We usually see them bring paddy rice to Kebbi and when asked, they will tell us it was agents of rice mills that ordered them,” he said. On the exportation of fuel, he affirmed that “some of these boys do take to other towns near borders because they don’t have the product.” A food vendor, Hajia Aishatu Kamba told our Correspondent that she buys a bag of foreign rice at the rate of N12,500 in the town because the local rice in Nigeria still costs N15,000. “We have to be patronising foreign rice if you want to remain in the business”, she said. “We also like to be consuming Nigerian product but price and considerations for profits matter most in business.” To cut a long story short, despite the many Customs checkpoints from Bunza to Kamba and Dole-Kaina to the border post, smuggled parboil rice from Niger and Benin still find their ways into the open market.
As paddy rice is being smuggled into the country through the ancient waterway, petroleum products are also ferried in the opposite direction. The products, ferried by canoes are stored inside iron drums and in 25 and 50 litres Jerry cans.
The petroleum products are being exported from Dole-Kaina to villages in Niger and Benin Republic which share borders with Nigeria’s villages that are not accessible by road except by water transportation. The containers used in ferrying the products, including iron drums and 25-litre Jerry cans were sighted on the bank of the river waiting for upwards transportation. According to sources, those in the petrol business usually buy the product from Kamba filling stations at the rate of N145 per litre and resell to buyers at N200 per litre. One of the labourers at the river bank, (name withheld to avoid ostracization by his colleagues) told Saturday Sun: “If we buy a drum of petroleum at the rate of N20,000,we can resell it for N30,000 or more. If we buy 25 litres at N5,000 or N7,000, we resell at N11,000 or N15,000 to villagers along the riverine communities in Kebbi and in Benin and Niger.”