Smuggling: Why Customs May Not Win The’ War’

By Frank Odinukaeze

Smuggling:Why Customs May Not Win The' War'

 

The Nigeria Customs Service( NCS),is in a state of “War,” though not the conventional war, it is a war between two opposing forces pit against the other in wits and superiority to determine who ultimately controls the economic soul of the project called Nigeria.

In this war, the means justifies the end. And that explains why it has increasingly become difficult to prosecute this war against smuggling and smugglers, because the enemy might be the person strategizing with one on how to prosecute the war. It has become a guerilla warfare, where the enemy is faceless and is within.

Smuggling is a war that the Nigeria Customs has been condemned to fight and win. But winning the war against smuggling might be as hard as a camel passing through the eye of a needle. This is because within the Service, are fifth columnists who aid the perpetuation of smuggling.

Smuggling is one of the factors undermining the nation’s economy .It is the act of or process of taking things or people to and fro to a place secretly and illegally or the process or plans of taking people or things out of the country illegally.

The multi- modal nature of the country with multiple mode of entry makes it susceptible to smuggling.

According to a report by CableNews Newspaper Journalism Foundation (CNJF), published recently, on the subject of smuggling,the detailed and investigate report revealed the immensity of atrocities being carried out at the borders with the nation losing billions of naira to smugglers and smuggling.The Cable exhibited a high level of audacity and tenacity in its report of how cartels have built an empire of strong network across the borders of the country.

According to the report,”In Owode,a border town in Ogun State,it was discovered that all one needs to move petrol with ease to Benin Republic is to pay#67000 for “a pass” issued by unidentified officials of the Nigeria Customs Service ( NCS) , according to smugglers who ply the route”

Petrol smuggling has become very fashionable among smugglers because “It is a” very lucrative”business and often done at night” Petroleum smuggling is a chain business in which all the security agencies play a role. Smuggling of petrol products that takes place on a daily basis across the borders, even as far as Niger Republic,and Cameroon.

 It is frightening to note that daily,millions of liters of petrol are smuggled out of Nigeria at a resultant cost of about N2bn, according to the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC),with millions of Nigerians grappling with periodic fuel shortages and the clamour for the removal of fuel subsidy which is said to gulp N150billion monthly.

Investigations reveal a black market of subsidies, one in which individuals smuggle thousands of gallons of fuel to Nigeria’s neighbors with support from security operatives.

It is disturbing to note the involvement of government officials in smuggling

In Ikom,Cross River State, ,where Nigeria’s border with Cameroon lies, “The business of smuggling fuel into the neighboring country is controlled by an “elected government” made up of a chairman and other members of the executive council.

The key responsibility, according to some members ,residents and as observed is to coordinate the village business and “pay settlement” fees running into millions of naira to security operatives to look the other way.

Observers however are worried that while the NCS,is doing everything humanly possible to stem the tide of illegal smuggling, across the borders, those saddled with the responsibility of policing the borders , unfortunately have betrayed the trust the nation and indeed the service reposed on them.

According to Deputy Comptroller ( DC), Sahalu Adamu of the NCS ,who represented the Customs Area Controller (CAC) Aminu Umar, of the Western Marine Command,who presented a paper titled,” The Role Of the Western Marine in Combating Crimes In our Water Ways” at the Powerful Pen Media Chapel of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ),one day capacity building training programme for Journalists in Lagos, recently, noted that in a bid to suppress the tide of smuggling, successive governments in Nigeria have taken some measures to empower the NCS to fight smuggling.”

“Smuggling in Nigeria as in other parts of the world is not without risks and some form of hazards, as officers have many at times engaged smugglers in hard combat ,which leads to death, sometimes arrests ,prosecution and in some instances prosecution,” Adamu stated.

Adamu revealed several methods smugglers deploy to carry out their nefarious activities. Some of these methods include:Falsification of documents ,false declaration of goods, concealment; under declaration, amongst others.

As a result of these vices, Adamu said,” This is why we usually embark on 100 per cent examination, in other to get the actual items contained in the container.”

He said another method used by smugglers is over valuation of goods.

“Some people are drug traffickers, arms dealers, among others. So to bring in the money from this illicit business, they don’t know how to do it, so they resort to over valuation to bring it in. So, they over value items just to bring in money.”

He said one of the reasons people engage in smuggling is to evade duty and levy and also to get rich quick. He said in other to discourage people from going for some items which can be produced in Nigeria, government deliberately placed high duty and levy on such items.

“Government is doing this to discourage you, so that you can patronize the locally manufactured ones.That explains the restrictions by government via levy to make it difficult for you. But people are trying to run away from these levies to bring in contraband, thereby killing our local manufacturing factories,”he said.

 Stressing that “We are crying that our economy is not growing, but we are the ones killing the economy. If Nigerians jettison foreign goods, smugglers will be tired of bringing these goods. We Nigerians contribute to smuggling. The more you buy foreign smuggled goods ,the more the economy will go down”

Indeed, the economy will continue to go down as long as those who man the border posts connive and are compromised by smugglers in the illegal business of smuggling.

Another challenge of smuggling is the inability of neighboring countries to respect and protect the bilateral agreement with Nigeria on smuggling across borders. From all indications, it appears the bilateral agreement between Nigeria and her neighbors have gone moribund.

The uncooperative attitude of these neighboring countries to address the issue of border smuggling was one of the reasons Nigeria shut her borders for almost two years.

The porosity of the nation’s borders has cost her billions of dollars in smuggling.

 In some parts of border towns in the country, smuggling has become a family business.

“Fuel smuggling has become the mainstay of several inhabitants of border communities and security operatives, some of who are directly involved, while it has created indirect employment for many others.

“If you have the money and understand the business very well, you will make up to N200,000 to N400,000 per week”, a source at a border town claimed.

Also speaking at the event ,Deputy Comptroller of Customs (DC) Ali Garko,who represented the Customs Area Controller (CAC),Federal Operations Unit (FOU) Zone A, Ikeja, Lagos,DC Hussein Ejibunu, noted that FOU is an intervention unit.”We conduct checks and patrol the borders.We complement the commands as intervention unit. Same as the Taskforce,”We have the strike force which work directly with the commands. Whatever the command does,they conduct checks where necessary. And in the event of any leakage,the FOU will take charge ,and report back to them whatever wrongs they have noticed, “he said.

He said the command has also made over 28 arrests and 35 other cases awaiting trial.

Despite this huge success Customs is making in the areas of seizures, and arrests smuggling continues to thrive particularly within the borders with effective connivance of the security operatives at the borders.

It therefore becomes worrisome how the fight against smuggling can be won by  NCS, when in actual fact some of its men are aiding and abetting smuggling.

How can the fight be won when at Ikpoguidi in Benin Republic, vehicles load up smuggled petrol from Nigeria? At Badagry, selling of nylons and gallons to fuel smugglers is good business

“There are even artisans who construct additional tanks for vehicles used for smuggling petrol , often at the cost of between N40,000 to N80,000 for a tank that could take 300 liters of petrol” findings revealed.

But while the direct and indirect players are thriving as a result of the illicit trade , Nigeria’s petroleum sector continues to bleed, with a system that appears to be rewarding the most fraudulent despite the government subsidy in place.

As DC Adamu noted, smuggling is an economic sabotage against the nation. It is one of the reasons there is high rate of unemployment, as most of the companies have folded up owing to the activities and effects of smuggling. It is also a contributory factor to insecurity, armed robbery and banditry amongst other heinous crimes.

It is therefore considered that unless the bad eggs in the NCS are identified and weeded out, the war against smuggling might turn out to be an exercise in futility.

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