With the renewed onslaught against importation of smuggled poultry products by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Shulammite ‘Foyeku writes on the urgent need for the Service to also include in its response strategy, acquisition of incinerators and elaborates on the dangers associated with the current method of disposal of the seized products.
A total of 8,000 cartons of frozen chicken seized by the NCS operatives of the Western Zone were last week destroyed to mark the launch of a special anti-smuggling operation code named ‘Hawk Descend at Seme Command.
This is coming against the backdrop of reports of incessant smuggling of poultry products into the country and accusations by stakeholders in the poultry sector that Customs is not doing enough to stem the tide of illegal importation of the product into the country from Benin Republic.
It is estimated that 80 percent of poultry products consumed by Nigerians are smuggled into the country through the borders from Benin Republic.
With a renewed pledge to intensify seizure of these smuggled poultry products, Customs seems determined to rid the country of this illegal importation which has continued to threaten the investments of local farmers with unfair competition.
Comptroller General of Customs, Abdullahi Dikko, while addressing poultry stakeholders at the launch of the campaign on Tuesday had assured that with the renewed onslaught, his officers will also devise means of intercepting the products before they are smuggled into the markets and even raid cold rooms.
This is because raiding the local markets and even major streets in different parts of the country where these products are publicly found with increased patronage by Nigerians still remains a challenge for Customs operatives in the area of preventing casualties.
He said, “We need to be a little cautious if we are to go to the open market because we don’t want to inflict casualties. When you go to open markets, the tendency is there that the officers will be attacked and they would want to protect themselves. But we will devise means; if you buy from the open market, you will take it somewhere and we will get you when you are taking it there.
“We welcome contributions from all our stakeholders. Give us information, once we have the credible intelligence, leave the rest to us. We have the capacity. Pinpoint some of these cold-rooms, we will go there and raid them.”
The Service has however acknowledged that it cannot win the fight alone without the support of other security agencies, especially due to the porous nature of the borders.
Represented by Deputy Comptroller General (DCG) Enforcement, Investigation and Inspection, Tahir Musa, Dikko said, “We are not pretending; even with all our arsenals, we know we cannot win this war on our own. We are counting on all of you our stakeholders as dependable allies.
“We will rely on you for total and conditional support because our war is your war, our victory is victory for our threatened poultry industry, our economy, our security and indeed our national sovereignty,” he said.
Dikko said with the renewed onslaught, it is expected that the level of seizure of poultry products will increase.
“I can assure you that with this operation, smuggled poultry products will be stopped within the next few weeks but we are given it three months so that we can sustain it on a regular basis,” he said.
Method of disposal
As Customs prepares for this onslaught, special consideration must also be given to method of destroying these products.
Of concern is the uncivilized manner seized poultry products are disposed of after being impounded by operatives of the NCS. Till date, what has been the tradition of the Customs operatives is to burn and bury these seized poultry products, not minding the health risks to both officers and residents of the vicinity.
The stench from the premises of Seme Command where these products were buried last week is more hazardous to health than consuming them!
The odour from the premises of the warehouse of Federal Operations Unit (FOU), Zone ‘A’ located close to the Customs Training College, in Ikeja and the Western Marine Command has also become a source of worry and concern to people living in the area.
Even officers are sometimes confused about where new poultry products will be disposed when they have been impounded as they have dug all available spaces in the command and their warehouses to bury previously seized poultry products.
Thought of acquiring an incinerator
The Customs boss was quick to acknowledge that the manner of disposal is raising serious environmental questions. He said in the course of the operation, the NCS will work with relevant agencies to ensure that the seized items are disposed properly in a way that will not be harmful to the environment and people living in the community.
“We will engage ministries of environment at both Federal and state level; environmentalists and other stakeholders to pursue better ways of disposal in an environmentally sustainable manner.
“We are aware that the Lagos State Government has incinerators, and the best way to destroy these chickens is to send them to incinerator. We are going to write to the Lagos State Government and see if they can come to our assistance,” he said.
While the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) has warned against consumption of imported poultry products as they have been found to contain substances that can predispose one to various diseases, burning of poultry products in open pits is also much more harmful to human health.
This method of disposal produces many pollutants including carbon monoxide and many dangerous health conditions can be caused by inhaling or ingesting even small amounts of these pollutants.
According to the Canadian Center for Pollution Prevention, open burning of garbage poses health risks to those exposed directly to the smoke. In the short term, exposure to smoke can cause headaches, nausea, and rashes. Over time, it can increase the risk of developing heart disease.
Incinerators however burn very hot and destroy many of the dangerous waste chemicals. Most of the remaining toxins are captured in the smoke stack using high technology and what is left over is discharged high into the atmosphere where it can be diluted before it is inhaled.
While Customs says it is aware of the environmental implications and health hazards of the local method of burning these products, the thought of acquiring an incinerator now is rather coming too late. It is expected that all necessary logistics be put in place if the onslaught against smuggled poultry must be sustained.
A senior officer who spoke on condition of anonymity said; “If they want us to really continue seizing we must also be thinking of how we will dispose them. The little that we have seized so far is becoming a problem with the way we are disposing them. So we must also think really of better ways and means of disposing these things.”
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