By Eric Elezuo
The porous nature of the country’s borders, especially the land areas, is becoming alarming. This is as more and more contraband or banned goods are common place in every metropolis in the country. These items are fabrics or clothing materials, frozen foods, rice, leather products like shoes and bags among others.
The reasons are not farfetched as the blame has been heaped on the activities of smugglers; dare-devil smugglers at that, who care less about the sanctity of human life, and who are armed to the teeth.
These smugglers are known for their deadly activities which include shooting their way through security barricade, dare-devil driving, which has in most cases dispatch some innocent bystanders to their untimely graves, and outright corrupt practices.
But, it has been exposed that the smugglers and the act of smuggling, as dare-devil as they seem to be, could not, and have not achieved the feat single-handedly. It is believed that there are forces that compromised laid down rules, or bend rules to give the smugglers and smuggling a leeway to bringing to pass their act of sabotaging the economy of the nation. These forces, as investigation has unearthed, are the security operatives. How far are they involved?
The borders of the nation are situated in many angles of the nation’s territorial boundaries. Some of them are the Lagos-Seme Border, the Idiroko Border, the Bakassi Border, the Maiduguri-Chad Border among many others.
The then Minister of Interior, Abba Moro, once declared that there are over 1,499 irregular (illegal) and 84 regular (legal) officially identified entry routes into the country, and this confirm the very porous state of these borders which permits illicit trading, and worse still, transnational arms trafficking.
In Adamawa State alone, there are about 25 illegal routes into the country from neighbouring countries. Terrorists and smugglers take advantage of this leakage to bring in small arms and light weapons (SALWs). As a result, over 70 per cent of about 8 million illegal weapons in West Africa were reported to be in Nigeria.
However, of all the land borders of the Federation, the Lagos-Seme Border is most manned in terms of personnel and others. However, also it is the most porous as investigation reveals.
Investigation has revealed further that smugglers have been able to smuggle contraband items into Nigeria using various methods such as the use of jalopy-like looking vehicles conveying fruits such as pineapple and water melons. But much as the enforcement agencies suspect foul play, they take what is offered after a bargain and look the other way.
At the Custom check point at the Badagry Round-about, a man in rickety attire was seen hovering around every vehicle stopped by the customs officers. His job was simple; carry banned items to the Custom’s locker room, forcefully. He is the henchman for the government officials, and insists on intimidating the smuggler until they can part with a substantial amount.
The smugglers have changed the everyday activity of the local consumers, making available in some cases, expired foods and other items to unsuspecting customers. A typical is the trade in frozen foods which has attracted a wave of corruption in its sales and consumption. This product, which is supposedly banned by the Federal Government is smuggled in from neighbouring countries, chiefly the Benin Republic. It is believed that the product is not good for consumption because it takes days or even months before it gets to the pots of final consumers. As a result, importers or rather cross border smugglers lace the product with chemical preservatives such as formalin, which medical experts say is harmful to human health.
According to a customs officer at the Agbara Customs check point, whose names are withheld because he is not authorized to speak for the service, frozen chicken, though a cheap source of white meat for most Nigerian homes, is banned by the Federal Government, but still find its way into the country because of the activities of smugglers, porous borders and dubious customs officers.
“We are aware that the product is banned from entering our borders. We are also aware that the product is everywhere in most metropolis. The reason is not farfetched. It is as a result of the activities of die hard smugglers, and also porous borders occasioned by the compromise of dubious officials,” he said.
The officer noted that the service has never relented in its effort to curb their activities as any seized item is not only confiscated but buried.
The Customs officer told The Boss that their officers cannot be exonerated in the matter of banned products making their way into borders of the country.
As the boom in the business of frozen foods and other luxurious items, which are banned heighten, much people got into it, albeit unlawfully. These are smugglers, who are not only the rubber stamped law breakers or criminals, better known as ‘fayawo’, but includes law enforcement agencies notably members of the Police, army Customs among others. While the smugglers use every form of unlawful means, including coercing, bribery, and in worst case scenario, exchange of gun fire, the security agencies perpetrate theirs through the popular ‘espirit d’corps’. It is not uncommon to see to uniformed officers escorting a truckload of banned or prohibited items into the country without a check. They are waved on with a nod of the head in the spirit of ‘dog no dey chop dog’ as one police officer who was escorting a Mitsubishi bus, ladened with turkey told his colleagues at the Agbara check point of the Customs service
The Boss investigation at the Seme Border encountered a native, who gave his name as Ege. He narrated that the security operatives do not in any way attempt to hide their identities as most of them appear full clad with their service trucks and other official insignia, adding that it has become a booming trade.
“These officers have no shame. They parade themselves as though they are performing a legitimate duty in full uniform with their trucks in full colours,” Ege said.
He added that the business is lucrative to the law officer-turned smugglers, and even more lucrative to the policemen, immigration officers, Customs officers and soldiers into it as they don’t settle anyone on the way. He stressed that ferrying a carton of frozen chicken and the likes could attract as much as N1500 or N 2000, and most trips can take as much as 40 cartons. In the same vein, a bag of rice attracts as much as N1, 000 or more, depending on the bargaining power of the customer.
“This is big business for these people. They can carry a carton of chicken for as much as between N1500 and N2000, and each trip can accommodate as much as 40 cartons, which means raking in as much as N40,000, excluding rice in most cases. Remember they spent nothing on the other than fueling the truck. These people can bring in anything, good or spoilt so long as it pays money,” he said.
At the Alaba Rago area, just before the Lagos State University, soldiers in uniform were spotted unloading bags of rice from a Hilux truck, which plate number was scarcely visible. The hefty looking officer was confidently giving instructions to itinerants to unload the truck. The woman whose ‘goods’ were being off loaded told The Boss that she through her nose to settle the soldiers, adding that the good thing thereof was that the journey was smooth, with no form of harassment on the way from other security operatives.
A police officer, who stays at the Afromedia area of the Expressway, and who used the bank’s police truck he drives to support smuggling explained that once he wears his uniform, nobody dares stop him. While maintaining that the business was dangerous because of ‘I too know’ officers, he said that it was very lucrative.
“There are officers though who are doing the job as if it is their father’s job, and those ones will embarrass you, and sometimes, if you are not lucky will match you to the station where your vehicle and items are confiscated. Those ones are I too know,” he said.
Yet another maintained that all the security agents are the same, adding that one can only be held on a bad day, or when such a person failed to meet the enforcer’s demand. He stressed that whenever there is a seizure, one of two things must have happened.
“Let’s forget this matter, there is no seizure or arrest of any type. What we see sometimes are situations where the offender does not have enough to settle the officers on duty’s demand or when there is public outcry and they are mandated to make arrest by their superiors. Then they get to work. Apart from that officers, especially Customs can collect as little as N500 to pass a small time smuggler,” the respondent said.
The smuggling act is not only on items, as The Boss discovered, there is also the smuggling of human beings or persons. This is basically perpetrated by the Immigration officers, who take gratification from immigrants to get across the borders.
At the Badagry Roundabout where an Immigration post is mounted, our correspondent noticed three immigrants without valid papers who were made to squat on the floor.
In their half baked English Language, they explained that they had parted with something at the previous posts they had passed. However, the same set of people was seen at Ijanikin area, obviously, having ‘bribed’ their way through.
When The Boss approached them, one of them said, “We give them something.”
This attitude of the security agents, either as the perpetrators, or those granting access, has seriously affected the fortunes of the country, and continued to affect it. This is a case of ‘if the gold rust, what will the iron do’.