By Udeme Clement,
Smuggling with motorcycle, popularly known as Okada, has been one of the major challenges facing security operatives at Nigeria’s border with Republic of Benin. The porous border with numerous entry and exit points as well as the volatile nature of the border communities make curbing this menace extremely difficult. Though smuggling adversely affects the nation’s economy, many members of Idiroko communities are not yielding to efforts by government to enlighten them on the challenge. This was evident in the case of an Okada smuggler around Idiroko border, who died as he sped away with bags of rice to escape security checks.
When Sunday Vanguard visited the border, about 4000 motorcycles were seen in the premises of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Ogun State Command. The motorcycles, confiscated while being used to smuggle items from Benin-Republic to Nigeria, occupied the whole compound from the gate to the main building. It was observed that some of the motorcycles were padded with extra iron carriers.
The Customs Area Controller (CAC) of the Command, Comptroller Waindu Jilantikiri Multafu, told Sunday Vanguard that the motorcycles were seized by his officers from smugglers using them to carry rice at Idiroko border. He added that his team just intercepted additional 400 motorcycles, arrested some suspects, even as five smugglers were sentenced to jail after a successful prosecution by the NCS. “Some motorcycles used in smuggling are modified with extra iron carriers and can carry up to seven bags of rice at once. Our investigations revealed that the riders often charge up to N1.000 per 50kg bag of rice and can go many times in a day. To them, this illicit business worth’s the risk because the money involved is enticing. We are also mapping out new strategies to tackle them, because smuggling constitutes serious sabotage to government’s effort in growing the economy”, he said.
He went on, “Rice is the must smuggled item and Idiroko border is no exception. The different between Idiroko and other land borders in the country is the terrain. The roads are mostly like footpath, making it difficult for big vehicles to find their way into the border like motorcycles. But we are working tirelessly with intelligence driven technique to curb this menace. Our officers patrol the border day and night. That was why we made seizures of a large number of motorcycles you saw in the Command. We do not hesitate to arrest and prosecute suspects, in order to make them realise that smuggling is disservice to our nation.”
On how they make massive seizure of Okada and contraband items at such a difficult terrain, he said, “Our officers are the most equipped and we work as a team, even with our subordinates. When I took over the Command, I applied for operational equipment and the top management provided us with arms, ammunition, helmets, patrol vehicles and jungle boots among other work-tools. As such, we equally tackle Okada smugglers who go through the forest within the border. We also work in synergy with other security agencies. For instance, there are border Police patrol team , Army as well as other forces, and we usually have patrol operations with them.”
Also, during Sunday Vanguard’s visit to the border, some operators of wooden and iron tricycles were seen crossing the border to Nigeria. A particular tricycle operator who gave his name as Mr. David was seen buying petrol at the Conoil filling station very close to the Immigration’s check point at the border. On what type of trade tricycle operators do at the border, the CAC said, “If you observe carefully, those people using tricycles are disabled, so they use tricycles as a means of movement. Because they are physically challenged, sometimes they attract sympathy, but that does not prevent us from checking them when they are crossing the border and taking firm action to protect our economy. You will also observe that some petrol stations are close to the border, but we do not have the power to decide where filling stations should be sited. Petrol scarcity is not common at Idiroko.
So, if someone comes to buy fuel with a small keg at a filling station for domestic use, he is allowed, since such a person is not carrying a tanker. But we do not allow petrol tankers to cross the border. For instance, when pump price was N86, we stopped two tankers from crossing the border and made the owners to sell the product they were carrying at the official rate of N86 to the public. We are doing our best to protect our economy and this has shown in our revenue records in the first half of 2016. Our revenue target for the year is about N9.3billion, but in the first half of 2016, we realised over N4billion, that shows an increase of N600million, when compared to what was recorded in the same period last year. Aside from motorcycles, we made seizures of various contraband items within six months. We thank the current Comptroller General of Customs (CGC), Col. Hameed Ali (rtd) for equipping our Command adequately for the task.”
On efforts to enlighten the border communities about the dangers of smuggling to national development, he said, “Since I came here as the CAC, we have organised several meetings with the communities. We visited the Obas and leaders of the surrounding communities repeatedly, but the issue is that the people are very volatile and see smuggling as their major duty. Though the Command has not recorded any death since I came, some of our officers have been attacked and severely injured by smugglers. Some have been discharged while others are still in hospital for treatment.” Meanwhile, some Customs officers at Ilase check point, who spoke with Sunday Vanguard, described the current CAC as a competent officer and an experienced investigator who has done a lot of high profile investigations in the Service before being deployed to Idiroko, even as some said that he is fondly called ‘Bullet’ in the Command.