The directive of the federal government to shut all land borders across the federation was only effective in the south, THISDAY has learnt.
In Badagry in Lagos State, Idi Iroko in Ogun State and Shaki in Oyo State, among others, THISDAY checks revealed that smuggling was no longer profitable due to strict border security operation across the land borders in the south.
In Ogun State, THISDAY learnt, the stringent border operation had culminated in gunfire that claimed lives of innocent citizens in Imeko-Afon Local Government Area.
In the north, however, findings showed that smuggling “still persists at the borders between Nigeria and Niger Republic, especially in Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara.”
Across the north, residents in different border communities alleged that security operatives, deployed to enforce border closure, were aiding the activities of smugglers.
In Katsina, for instance, findings revealed that smugglers had resorted to the use of illegal routes to bring bags of foreign rice, bales of second-hand clothing and other contrabands into the country.
During its visit to Jibia at the weekend, a border community with Niger Republic, THISDAY observed some illegal routes that commercial drivers and motorcyclists were using to illegally bring goods and passengers into the country.
Besides, THISDAY learnt, rice smugglers were taking advantage of the country’s compromised security to bring their commodities into the country, but at exorbitant prices compared with pre-border closure era. One of the residents, who privately spoke with THISDAY at Jibia, listed the illegal routes the smugglers were using to bring in the contrabands from Niger Republic to Jibia LGA, Katsina include Sabon Gari, Dan-Harau, Alele, Makada and Maidabaro roads despite heavy security presence at the borders.
The resident alleged that security personnel were aiding the smugglers, collecting money from them to allow free passage at the 13 checkpoints between Jibia and Katsina metropolis.
A motorcyclist, who was involved in smuggling, explained that those engaged in the business understood the risks and dangers involved, though affirmed that they would not encounter any problem unless they refused to cooperate with security operatives at the checkpoints.
He said: “Unless one refused to pay the bribe for each category of items or when it is time for the officials to sacrifice you to prove that they are working – that is when they will arrest you in the name of smuggling.”
A commercial driver, Babangida Adamu acknowledged that smuggling activities had been booming because it cost N3,700 to bring one bag of rice from Maradi, a border town in Niger Republic to Katsina. Adamu said: “We charged rice smugglers N3,700 for each bag of rice carried from Maradi to Katsina State. We bring the contrabands through normal roads once we adequately settle the custom officers. Sometime, custom officers arrest us. But once we give them some monies, they allow us to pass even though some of them are very stubborn.”
Faced with the difficulty in importing rice into the country through land borders, some smugglers, who are mostly residents of the border communities, had changed from rice smuggling to fuel smuggling. Fact checks revealed that most of the smugglers had converted mini tanks, previously constructed underneath and their old rickety Peugeot 504 cars for the purpose of smuggling rice, to containers for petroleum products.
THISDAY observed that all filling stations close to the Jibia border post had been shut, though smugglers would always travel to Batsari and sometimes Katsina metropolis to purchase fuel.
At Jibia, a resident said the smugglers would “transfer the fuel into the tanks and move in a convoy under the cover of darkness to Maradi in Niger Republic.
In Sokoto, THISDAY checks revealed that all the border communities in Illela, Tangaza, Isa, Gudu and Sabon LGAs “are fraught with smuggling activities.”
In Zamfara, according to investigation, Shinkafi and Zurmi LGAs are rife with smuggling activities.
In Illela, a border community in Sokoto State, residents said border operation “is not yielding desire results. Some security agencies involved in the operation extort money from smugglers, there by allowed them easy passage.
“If the federal government wants the border drill operation to be effective, the security agents should be redeployed in order to achieve the aim of the exercise”, said a resident.
Another resident who spoke anonymously, said smugglers had already compromise security operatives, noting that they “are collecting between N1000 to N10, 000 to allow smugglers easy passage depending on the volume of commodities they are bringing into the country.”
A security agent, who is also participating in border operation, said the security operatives “are trying to curb the activities of smugglers. But the terrain always makes the operation difficult. Unlike other land borders in the south, there are many illegal routes in the north. It is difficult for the security operatives to man the illegal routes. The smugglers take advantage of desert to create many roads that are unknown to the security operatives,” the security agent said.
Also, Chairman of Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), Sokoto State, Mr. Ibrahim Salihu said the security operatives were fighting hard to curtail the activities of smugglers at various borders in the North-west.
Rather than crucifying them, Salihu said the security operatives “should be encouraged in the anti-smuggling war. There is no system that is perfect.”
A local rice retailer, Abdullahi Ibrahim said security agencies “should raid shops and markets where foreign rice and products are stored to serve as deterrent to all the smugglers.”
The spokesman of Nigeria Customs Service, Mr. Joseph Attah said it was not only officers of the customs service that were involved in border drill operation.
He clarified that the operation comprised officers of the Nigerian Army, Nigeria Police, Nigeria Immigration Service, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corp and the rest of others. He rhetorically asked: “Are you telling me that if customs service compromise with smugglers, will army, police, immigration and civil defence also connive with smugglers.”
Since the operation started some months ago, the customs spokesman claimed that he had not received any report about his men wrongdoing.
However, the spate of smuggling and other nefarious activities in Katsina forced Governor Aminu Bello Masari to accuse smugglers of inviting bandits to assist them in dismantling customs officers at checkpoints in the area.
Masari said: “What happened in Jibia, if you can remember some months ago, those smuggling rice and other commodities from Niger Republic because of the closure invited bandits to come and clear the road for them.
“These are the same bandits, who are now invading their homes in Jibia with the active connivance of the people living in Jibia and this I am going to deal with them. We know them and we know who is doing what.”