Customs versus Rice Smugglers

Egbudin showing press the smuggled rice

The Nigeria Customs, Seme Border Command, says it seized more than 32,796 bags of smuggled rice between January and December last year

By Anayo Ezugwu  |  Mar. 31, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT

THE Seme Border Command of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, is not relenting in its fight against rice smuggling through the border. The command said in a press release made available to Realnews that it seized more than 32,796 bags of rice between January and December 2013.

Willy Egbudin, controller of the command, said the seizure could not have been achieved without sustained enforcement drive and support of the comptroller-general of Customs, whose zero tolerance for smuggling has been their watchword. “We are for the umpteenth time made to respond to seemingly endless inquiries about our anti smuggling campaign particularly with reference to rice which has since been banned from being imported into the country through the land borders. Upon resumption, as the controller of the Command, I raised the anti-smuggling tempo by increasing the existing patrols and fortifying the approved check points with the deployment of very vigilant officers. About 32,796 bags of rice were seized between January and December 2013. This forms part of the N949,427,160.00 duty paid value of rice seized by the customs nationwide.

A Truck containing bags of rice covered with pineapple
A Truck containing bags of rice covered with pineapple

“To ensure full participation of all officers in the yuletide operations when rice smuggling is on the increase, the Controller cancelled all holidays and leaves. This paid off as we made single seizures of rice worth N12.5million and N7.5million at various times. Our close watch also beams on travellers who bring in bags of rice in what can be described as trickles under the pretext that they are meant for personal consumption. Intelligence reveals that such small quantities ranging between 25kg and 50kg per trip are stored in commercial quantity for onward shipment into markets. We are defying this antic by seizing such small quantities from persons coming into the country with them. This relentless drive has made us unpopular among many trans-border travellers and traders.

“But our primary interest which is service to the Nigerian state is paramount to our entire workforce. Our anti-smuggling drive has now stretched to various swampy areas where vehicles could not access, in addition to the visible vehicular patrols and proper manning of our approved checkpoints, we have increased foot patrols along the bush paths and raised our level of intelligence gathering for preventing, interdicting and uncompromising arrests of smuggling suspects,” he said.

The command is also partnering with the traditional rulers, leaders of communities and other security agents in the country to end rice smuggling through the border. “The controller has set in motion a system that makes the fight against smuggling more inclusive. By meeting with traditional rulers, community chiefs, youth leaders, sister government organisations and all stakeholders in the border project, smugglers will in no distant time have no hiding place.
This drive got the blessing of Rilwan Akiolu, Oba of Lagos, who joined in the campaign by urging other traditional rulers to key into this patriotic drive by joining to dissuade their community members from smuggling and any other unlawful activity.”

Egbudin confirmed the support from traditional rulers in a recent press interview where he said “As I resumed duty here as the Area Controller, I visited the traditional rulers including the Oba of Lagos. We know the importance and influence of the traditional institution on the people. The Oba of Lagos did not just promise to support us in the fight against smuggling, he has called on other traditional rulers within this area to do same. They are supporting us.
We are also meeting with the representatives of the various communities in our effort to build and sustain robust customs community relations. The agenda for these meetings include asking them to pass the anti-smuggling message to the people. We are also passing the message to all Nigerians too. People are advised to obey the laws of the land including import and export- related laws.

Truck with revealed bags of rice
Truck with revealed bags of rice

“Smuggling is a crime and the more we educate people about it, the better. We achieve prevention through dissuading people to import normally and pay duty to government. When I came on board, my message to communities and traditional rulers during my familiarisation tour had been a clarion call to partner with us in the protection of the national economy by discouraging smuggling among their subjects. We have been utilizing every opportunity at various fora to enlighten the citizenry on the ills of smuggling and this is an area where we also seek collaboration with the mass media,” he said.

The controller also applies unannounced visits to our officers in their various field operational areas to see for himself and ensure our men are fully on the ground in line with CGC’s directives. According to Egbudin, the command has created a more robust customs community relations meeting with a town hall model kind of interaction. He said that the meeting was meant to bridge the gap between the customs officers on duty and the natives who deserve a sense of belonging to view smuggling from the lens of a customs personnel.

Continuous education and enlightenment in the simplest forms of communication are among Egbudin’s strategies to keeping the locals sensitized and mobilised in supporting customs efforts for a more economically viable and secured country. These non customs stakeholders have joined in expanding the intelligence network as the command maximizes its advantage of knowledge about the terrain to achieve its aim while also urging the youths to explore the very many legitimate means of livelihood outside smuggling.

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