… We do it so that customs won’t seize our goods – smugglers
…Uniform officers also engage in this act
How safe is that derica, half bag, or full bag of rice you just bought? How sure are you that the rice smuggled by traders from Seme and transported through the bonnet, beneath the car seat and other parts of the vehicle are healthy for consumption.?
These and more posers are waiting for honest answers as well as urgent intervention if Nigeria is serious about her fight against smuggling through porous borders.
Investigation has revealed that drivers, traders, etc engage in these harmful mode of smuggling rice to avoid being arrested at the numerous customs check points; Agbara, Elijah, Aradagun, Mowo, Iyafin roundabout before Seme.
Along Seme border route to iyana oba, there are several bays where bags of rice smuggled from Cotonou to Nigeria are rebagged by local fireworks. Some of the bays are located at Igbolerin bus stop, iyanaera, Alaba Rago, under the bridge opposite Adeniran College of Education (ACOED).
At these bays it is common sight to find fireworks and their accomplices stuffing rice from the bonnet, car seat, boots and other parts of the vehicle. These bags of rice are then repackaged into bags, sealed and resold to unsuspecting buyers.
According to Abudu Sule, a driver, who transport goods for dealers who engage in this trade, “we usually put rice inside bonnets and under the car seat because of customs. If we carry it in bags, customs will seize them. I am not a doctor to know if it makes the rice unhealthy for consumption. I am paid to transport the goods and that is what I do by all means possible. And ensuring that the goods aren’t seized is why I am paid”.
For a mother of four, Kehinde Lawal, who goes to Seme to by rice for sale, “the road is very tough now, we find it difficult to carry a single bag of rice from Seme to Alaba where we usually sell them. Women like me who buy one or two bags of rice or a gallon of groundnut oil face a lot of difficulties transporting it because of the activities of customs on the road. But those smugglers popularly called firewall who have given the custom officials bribe are the ones that have free passage without any disturbance. That is why we had to devise means to get the rice to its final destination.”
Explaining further, another woman Iya beji, said before now when customs seize our goods we beg and they collect a little money from us and give us our goods back but these days once they seize the goods, it is over as no amount of begging will make them release the goods back to you especially the customs at check points at Elijah bus stop. Recently they seized my four bags and they didn’t return it. My kids are currently at home because I couldn’t pay their schools fees as a result of my seized goods. For every bag I successfully buy and transport from Seme to Alaba, I make between N800 to N1,000. The only way you can make N1, 200 on a bag is when you divide it into fractions when transporting.
Ironically, the goods and merchandise of the real smugglers who smuggle large qualities of rice, and groundnut oil are allowed to sail through after “booking ” which is done before each check points along the route. In the dead of the night you will find trailer loads of contraband goods passing freely without any molestation while women who are trying to make ends meet are subjected to all manner of humiliation and troubles.
Another trader Uche, who sells fairly used bags at Vespa market, said that traders that bring in rice and Turkey from Seme are the ones at the receiving end from customs activities. Especially the rice sellers who are mostly women, most times they bring in three or four bags at the same time. It is difficult for custom officers to ignore their activities.
Apart from traders, police officers, soldiers, naval ratings also engage in rice smuggling along Seme Badagry route. Usually uniform officers leverage on the opportunity their job affords them to engage in this shameful act.
Most of the officers usually board commercial bus from seme to Iyana oba, sit on the front seat beside the driver with their smuggled bags of rice or Turkey or groundnut oil.
While a few of them are fully dressed in their uniform, majority of them especially soldiers wear their camouflage cap and military vest. Unlike the civilians firework who share the rice into smaller potions, to avoid being seized by customs these officers carry full bags unquestioned. It was learned that they usually buy this rice from Seme at a cheaper rate and sell to retailers.
The uniform personnel make a lot of money because they don’t pay (transportation) to the bus driver as they also help ensure that customs and other security officials don’t trouble the driver during transit.
Some years back, military police from Ojo barracks clamped on some of its personnel involved in this act at Agbara when their activities became embarrassing, unfortunately the act has continued unabated.
Reacting to the health implications of transporting foods through such means, Public health physician, Professor Akin Osibogun, who is also a former Chief Medical Director (CMD) of Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) said depending on what else has been on the car, you know there could be all kinds of contamination. The contaminants can be bacteria, it could be even chemical. For instance if they carried another chemical soap and detergent in the car and the rice is poured inside the car, if that vehicle has been used to carry soaps and detergents before, definitely when parking and rebaging other particles will be parked with it.”
“If you are buying rice, it is advisable to wash the grains properly before boiling. That is one way of reducing the risk, if you boil the rice properly, most organism will die. But then transporting rice inside car bonnets and engine isn’t the healthiest way to handle food.”