Porous borders, multiple creeks frustrating Customs effort at combating smuggling

The anti-smuggling operations of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) seems to be yielding significant result with the increase in number of seizures recorded by its anti-smuggling unit based in Lagos, the Federal Operations Unit, Zone ‘A’ and other border commands.

Recent statistics released by the Zonal headquaters of the NCS based in Lagos shows that no fewer than 20,778 bags of rice, 28,000 cartons of frozen poultry products and other commodities were seized between January and April this year.

It seems a week doesn’t pass in which the federal operations unit will not intercept smuggled rice and other products. Last week, the unit totalled all the seizures bringing it to 481 various seizures with a Duty Paid Value (DPV) of N668.3 million alongside the arrest of 42 suspects, between January and April, 2016.

Providing a breakdown of the seizures, the Comptroller stated that 141 different seizures of rice, totalling 8,148 bags of 50kg parboiled rice and 50 bags of 25kg with DPV of N53 million were recorded.

112 different seizures of imported frozen poultry products, totalling 20,742 cartons with Duty Paid Value of N112million, 32 units of vehicles, 12 cut buses with Duty Paid Value of N87million.

Others are 50 different seizures of vegetable oil, totalling 2,519 kegs of 25 litres, 24 kegs of 10 litres, 140 cartons of kings oil, 148 different seizures of general merchandise comprising new & used textile materials, new & used foot wears, mosquito insecticide, spaghetti noodles, various soap & detergent, used tyres, narcotics, compressors, hard drugs, Indian hemp etc with a DPV of N397 million.

Notwithstanding the feat and how good the record may appear, the business of smuggling is still growing and appearing increasingly unabated due to the multiple entries and exits around the land borders coupled with numerous creeks which cannot be effectively manned by personnel of the NCS.

In the case of rice smuggling alone, Nigeria is said to be losing an average of N120 billion yearly to smuggling and almost 100 percent of rice smuggling into Nigeria happens through the creeks and borders with Benin Republic.

Nigeria also loses trillions of naira yearly in revenue to smuggling of prohibited goods such as cars, poultry products and textiles amongst others.

Even with the recent ban on importation of rice through the land borders, there appears to be an upsurge in sea smuggling of the product and other items especially through the creeks as evident in the statistics released by the Federal Operations Units, Western Marine and Seme commands respectively.

Dare devil smugglers have since devised other means of bringing in the staple food by crossing them through the waters from the creeks of Badagry and Agbara for onward transfer into trucks.

Attempts by the Ogun command of the NCS to impound two trucks loaded with smuggled rice from smugglers recently led to a bloody clash between the officers and the smugglers which led to the untimely deaths of 5 persons who were said to have been hit by a stray bullet inside their houses in the area while several sustained injuries.

The incident was said to have happened at Igolo, a border town between Nigeria and Benin Republic.

Based on the foregoing, it is clear that with the various unchecked illegal entry and numerous creeks in the country, there is little Customs and other various border security agencies could do to effectively tackle smuggling.

Corroborating this fact, Zonal Coordinator in charge of Zone ‘A’ Assistant Comptroller General Charles Edike had while seeking the support of the Nigerian Navy to police the waterways said with Nigeria’s vast coastline, it would be impossible for Customs officers to effectively tackle smuggling on the waterways alone.

He said” there is no how we can man all the coastline in the country effectively. Even if you bring all customs officer in Nigeria to man the coastline, we still cannot cover all effectively because there are thousands of creeks here and there that the smugglers know the terrain and so they can easily manoeuvre and then get away,”

Speaking in an interview with SHIPS & PORTS DAILY, a retired comptroller of Customs, Azubike Nwadike said Nigeria’s porous borders has only succeeded in contributing to the security and economic challenges faced in the country.

He said given the fact that protecting Nigeria’s border is vital to its national security government needs to put in place both short and long term measures including provision of adequate and modern technological equipment to effectively protect its borders.

He added that the government should also give the security personnel free hands to operate as they are sometimes constrained because of ‘orders from above’ to carry out their duties.

“Security officials are under a lot of constraints. At times, it is not easy for them to come out to say their problems. Part of the conditions is the system itself, the bureaucracy because it is not easy for somebody who is serving to come out to tell you the truth on what they are going through.

“Recently, the minister of transportation said part of the problem of the fuel scarcity is that the fuel meant for Nigeria is smuggled to Cameroun and neighbouring countries. A tanker cannot just be put in a pocket and taken across the border; they are supposed to have passed through approved border. So part of the problems those manning the borders have is that are not given the free hand to operate due to orders from above and lack of equipment,” he said

Given the nature of the porous borders, vast expanse of the sea and the limited resources available to customs and other border security agencies to adequately police the borders and coastline, there is absolute no doubt that we will continue to see increase in the rate of smuggling.

Political will, provision of modern security surveillance equipments, good welfare package and renumeration as well as interagency collaboration and synergy is therefore imperative if government is indeed desirous of curtailing smuggling if not eradicating it completely.

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