In this piece, ANOZIE EGOLE looks at the efforts of Nigerian authorities to curb the menace of smuggling and save the ailing economy
The menace of smuggling does no economy any good. However, recent developments have shown that officers of the Nigeria Customs Service are in what could best be described as a seizure spree with the interception of so many contrabands running into billions of naira by some of its commands. Financial Street gathered that between January and June 2021, six different commands of the NCS, including the Federal Operations Unit Zone A, Western Marine Command, Ogun, Oyo/Osun Ports & Terminal Multipurpose Limited Onne, among others seized different contrabands with Duty Paid Value of over N160bn in the first half of the year.
Investigations by also show that among the seized items, 50kg bags of foreign parboiled rice took the lion’s share, as over 81,329 units of the commodity were seized in just three commands Oyo, FOU A and Ogun within this period.
A freight forwarding analyst, Dr Eugene Nweke, described smuggled goods as capital lost.
“It is capital down the drain. The money that should have evolved in our performance for foreign exchange and local circulation is being pushed away. It does not give room for accurate financial performance and accountability. It is a minus.
“Any small resistance will be on the dollar, serious capital is going down the drain. It has a very bad implicationon the economy. But what is important is that the government will rather prefer to do that rather than encouraging smuggling,” he said.
For logistics expert, Mr Onyeka Obiajulu, in as much as the government has failed to review the list of items on the prohibition list, smuggling and seizures will continue.
“Not until the government takes a second look at the items on the prohibition list, smuggling will continue to be one the increase. We should allow trade liberalisation. Some items on the list are not supposed to be there. Government’s policy encourages smuggling.
“They should work with data not hearsay,” he said.
The National Public Relations Officer of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, Stanley Ezenga, urged the Customs to embark on more sensitisation of the importers on the list of items on the prohibition list.
“Some of these importers are not aware of the items on the prohibition list and some of their agents are not helping them. They should have been educating them on what to bring in and what not to,” Ezengs said.
The FOU Zone A, in June, recorded 144 seizures with a DPV of N3.3bn.
The controller in charge of the command, Usman Yahaya, told newsmen at Ikeja that the seizures include 14,789 bags of 50kg rice, 727 cartons of unregistered pharmaceuticals, 2,784 cartons of frozen poultry products, 28 units used vehicles, 116,000 litres of petrol (in 4,649 containers), 237 bales and sis sacks of used clothing, 20 cartons of Tramadol, 885 pieces of used tyres, 10,400 cartons of alcohol beverages, 84 different kinds of vehicles laden with rice and 5×29ft containers of semi processed woods.
Meanwhile, the Public Relations Officer of Ogun 1 Command, Hammed Olayode, stated on Thursday, July 15, that the command intercepted different contrabands with DPV of N834,765,273 in the period under review.
According to him, the items intercepted include 31 units of 25kg vegetable oil, 30bags of 50kg sugar, 51 cartons of tomato puree, 1,514 wraps of cannabis sativa, 44 used automobile tyres, 55,600 litres of Petroleum Motor Spirit, 1,110 cartons of frozen poultry products, 84 bales of used clothing, 115 pairs of used foot wears, 12 sacks used handbags, 127 pieces of body cream, 20 cartons of medicaments, 140 used cars and 24 used motorcycles as means of conveyance.
From the findings above, there is high rate of smuggling with cars within the period under review.
Why smuggle exotic cars?
From the seizures displayed so far, it was observed that the two commands impounded 164 cars in the period under the review. Some of the cars are exotic, that one begins to ask why would someone buy such cars and find it difficult to pay the duty.
But the one million dollar question is, why do people prefer to bring in the cars through unapproved routes?
Some top car merchants have blamed the bottlenecks associated with car clearance for the high rate of snuggling across Nigeria’s borders.
Chinonso Chikuwe, who sells cars at Berger Automobile Market, near Apapa, said, “It is easier to bring in such products from the land borders. If you go to the ports, you will spend a whole lot of time and money to clear, and at the end of the day, the same Customs will stop you at Mile 2 to collect another money. You will still pay some Wharf Landing Fee and all that. So you see, it is more expensive there than through the land borders.”
The PTML chapter chairman of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, George Okafor, in a chat with Financial Street in Lagos, blamed government policies for the rate of smuggled vehicles in the country, even while the borders were closed.
“Even when they closed the borders, people still smuggle vehicles. Take it or leave it, it is less stressful bringing in vehicles through land borders than through the seaports. At the ports here, you pay duties on damaged cars, as if you are bringing in new cars, and people are not comfortable with that,” he lamented.
A car dealer, who pleaded anonymity, described smuggling, especially of vehicles, as a global phenomenon that will take time to stop.
“The government should find a way around it. They should allow people bring in cars through the land borders and collect their full payment,” he added.
Meanwhile, the FOU A boss, Usman Yahaya, stated that 28 units of exotic cars valued at N258.61m were also seized within the period under review.
Smugglers’ modus operandi
Financial Street checks reveal that the smugglers always devise means of carrying out their illegal business. They even stuff the smuggled goods in fuel tankers and jerry cans and they mostly operate at nights when the coast is a bit clear.
They also engage security agencies either by gratification or in gun battle just to ensure they have their way.
A trader at Igbolerin area of Lagos State who gave his name as Mr Ade, alleged compromise by government agencies who are supposed to guard the boarders and the smugglers.
“There is compromise between the security agencies, whose duty is to ensure that goods do not come in, and the smugglers. They have the time they move after they must have settled the operatives, and if you go before or after that time, you will be intercepted,” he stated.
Christian Robert, a rice seller at Ikotun, Alimosho Local Council, said there was no time rice stopped coming in, even during border closure.
His words, “We were doing our business of buying and selling of bags of rice, even during the border closure. It is all about you having the right contact.”
A driver along Iyana-Oba Badagry axis added, “We know when to move the goods. Sometimes, we work with the help of some security agencies, if you settle them, they will even excort your goods. It is cheaper there, and when we bring then we sell cheaper.”
Anna Okorobi, a resident of a border community, said lack of cooperation from the border communities is one of the major challenges faced by Customs in the fight against smuggling.
“Over time, officers of the NCS have lamented lack of cooperation from border communities. We have heard stories where communities team up with smugglers to fight Customs officers. There is need for cooperation between border communities and officers of the service,” she stated.
A Customs officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said sometimes officers were restrained by government policies.
“Policies, most times, affect our work. In some cases, you will see the smugglers and residents openly fighting officers and they will expect you not to fight back because you are armed. If you mistakenly shoot in the air, they would say you want to kill them and the law doesn’t support you to shoot at them,” he said.
Another trader at Iyana-Oba said the fight against smuggling is lopsided.
The trader said, “The way they fight smuggling here is different from what obtains in the northern part of the country. There, smugglers move freely without interruption; but it is not the same here.”
The FOU A Comptroller, Yahaya, has boasted that the his command has all it takes to fight smuggling.
“From the foregoing, you will all agree with me that smugglers are undaunted in their determination to cripple the country’s economy, considering the magnitude of the seizures showcased. With the series of seizures, one would have expected a reduction in their activities. Nevertheless, we have the capacity to render smugglers in this zone miserable. Whatever is the driving force behind their activities, we will continue to make it unprofitable for them.
“We have also been having confrontation with smugglers, especially in the volatile areas like Idiroko axis, where smuggling is considered a legitimate business. However, such confrontation will never deter our operatives from carrying out their statutory responsibility.
“Smugglers must desist from engaging in their nefarious activities,” he added.
Other respondents set agenda for the NCS to stop the illicit trade.
Mr Dapo Ade advised operatives of NCS to start with impounding those vehicles used for smuggling.
“I feel the Customs should start with impounding those vehicles used for smuggling because they don’t have any other value except for smuggling.”
Another respondent advocated adequate engagement between officers of the NCS and the border communities for a close working relationship that will ensure a good fight against smuggling.
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