Mubi Market in Adamawa State played an unwilling host to men and officers of the Nigeria Customs Service (NSC) on Friday, December 18, 2019.
The operatives of the service stormed the market, which has been described as the hub of smuggled foreign rice in the Northeast geographical zone of the country, in a mop up action that resulted in the seizure of hundreds of bags of smuggled foreign rice to the disappointment of the dealers who had hoped to make huge profits from their illicit business during the Yuletide.
The Command Comptroller, Kamardeen Olumoh, said the raid was in compliance with a directive from the Comptroller-General of the service in Abuja.
“The menace of smuggling around this axis is alarming for quite some time, the Comptroller General of Customs ordered that operations be carried out; that Mubi Market be mopped up of all smuggled items, especially foreign rice.
“Today, we are in the market and we are able to evacuate large quantities of rice and this is a clear signal to smugglers. We are backed by the law, Section 147 of Customs and Excise Management Act has given us the power to enter or search premises day or night, to break and enter, make arrests; in fact, without a warrant and that is exactly what we did today,” Olumoh said.
Similarly, routine ambush operations were carried out in the Southwest when the operatives of the service embarked on random stop and search along the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway and its environs yielded the seizure of over 2,200 bags of foreign rice smuggled into the country between December 1 and December 22, 2019, according to Jerry Attah, Public Relations Officer of Federal Operations Unit, Ikeja of the service.
However, in spite of the tight security mounted at the nation’s land borders since the country’s land borders were shut to combat smuggling into the country, economic saboteurs are relentless in flooding the nation with contrabands, especially foreign rice and frozen foods.
A discreet investigation carried out by Sunday Sun showed that the sudden manner in which the Nigerian government announced the closure of the nation’s borders may have contributed to the relentless and desperation of smugglers in flooding the country with foreign rice.
Sunday Sun gathered that hundreds of thousands of bags of foreign rice awaiting shipment into Nigeria are currently at the borders between the Republic of Benin and Nigeria.
Multiple sources told our correspondent that the majority of business owners whose goods are still lying at the borders are desperate at recouping their investments.
“As I speak to you now, thousands and thousands of bags of imported rice are still lying fallow at the borders for importation into Nigeria. But bringing them in is a huge problem because of the border closure. We have never experienced this type of strictness at the borders in the recent years,” a source disclosed.
Findings by Sunday Sun revealed that the majority of the importers whose goods are currently lurking at the borders for onward smuggling into Nigeria have now resorted to selling them in units to traders, who bring them in trickles into Nigeria through unmanned and illegal entry points with the help of commercial motorcyclists and canoe operators.
But despite the relentlessness of the men and officers of the Nigeria Customs Service at impounding goods smuggled into the country, desperate merchants are equally unrelenting in their illegal business.
Our correspondent gathered that the traders are cashing in on the desperation of stranded importers to recoup the money invested before the closure of the nation’s land borders.
Findings further showed that any trader who succeeds in bringing foreign rice into Nigeria now has the prospect of making between N5,000 to N7,000 profit on each bag of smuggled rice compared to the less than N2,000 profit prospects on a bag of local rice.
A bag of foreign rice at the border, it was learnt, now sells for between N8,000 and N9,000 at the border while the cost of conveying each through the illegal routes ranges from N2,000 to N3, 000. This makes the average cost price of a bag of foreign N12,000. On getting to Nigeria, a bag of rice is sold for between N17, 000 and N19, 000 to local traders who later re-sell it to the final consumers between N22, 000 and N24, 000.
Sunday Sun investigation further showed that getting foreign rice into Nigeria is just as herculean as preventing it from being seized by men of the Nigeria Customs Service who comb markets in search of smuggled rice.
However, traders who deal in the contraband are equally devising ways of beating the men and officers of the Nigeria Customs to this hide and seek game.
One of the ways by which they beat the operatives of the service to the game is to stock their shops with limited bags of foreign rice to mitigate their losses in case of invasion of their shops by men of the service and re-stock immediately from their secret warehouses, especially at nights to avoid playing into the hands of the service or their informants.
Similarly, moving smuggled rice to their final destination after bringing it into the country from the illicit routes also requires some measures of discreetness.
Aside from trying to conceal it from the prying eyes of the men of the Customs, merchants of the contraband now refrain from putting all their eggs in one basket.
Sunday Sun gathered that a trader with, for instance, 30 bags of rice, may resort to conveying them in five different vehicles, which will travel at different intervals and distance with the leading vehicle providing situation reports and direction at a given period to the other drivers behind.
A policy analyst, Gabriel Ejutse, however, believes that the Nigeria Customs is winning the anti-smuggling war, adding that the difficulty being encountered by smugglers in bringing the few bags that manage to enter the country would in no time frustrate the smugglers out of their illegal business.
Ejutse opined that the best way to frustrate smugglers bringing foreign rice into Nigeria is to flood the country with local rice and crash the price.
His words: “The best way to discourage the importation of foreign rice is for farmers in the country to convince Nigerians that they have what it takes to meet local demands. If our farmers can flood the country with good quality local rice and sell at cheaper rate, Nigerians will be discouraged from buying foreign rice.
“Let’s say, for instance, a bag of local rice sells for N10,000 while smugglers find it difficult to break even selling his smuggled rice for N14,000, they will definitely be frustrated from smuggling foreign rice into the country because people will stop patronising them.”