The ban on rice importation and biting economic conditions are forcing daring smugglers to freight bags of rice as coffins carried in ambulances. This unprecedented antic of moving rice in an ambulance under the guise of corpses from Benin Republic into Nigeria was uncovered yesterday at the Seme Border by the operatives of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) who promptly arrested the vendor.
According to Customs officials at Seme Border, the suspected smuggler, Moses Degbogbahun, arranged 11 50kg bags of rice in place of a corpse in his Volvo ambulance with Lagos registration number DV 74EKY. Luck, however, ran out on him when he was subjected to a rigorous search by an officer who had observed him move “corpses” across the border regularly without being searched.
His frequent movement across the border made the officers at Aradagun area of Badagry to suspect foul play prompting them to insist on seeing the “corpse”. But they were, however, amazed to see that they had allowed so many “corpses” across the border without knowing the identities of the dead (rice).
The Customs mobile patrol team leader stated that the frequency of the said ambulance patronising the international route with the “dead bodies” had become alarming making it necessary to ascertain the identity of the dead. Rice smuggling across Seme Border became a lucrative trade to warrant such antic when the Federal Government banned rice importation into the country in its attempt to boost local capacity.
Meanwhile, over 50 million bags of imported rice, worth over N1 billion, are currently trapped in various warehouses in Cotonou, Benin Republic, following the ban on foreign rice import into Nigeria. Many importers who violated the import restrictions by government are now regretting because they can no longer push the imported commodities into Nigerian markets.
One of the importers told Daily Sun that many of them have lost their collaterals to banks because they cannot service their loans.
“We have lost a lot. The banks are not giving us breathing space. They have confiscated all our belongings,” he said.
Daily Sun’s checks revealed that the new Controller General of Customs (CGC), Colonel Hameed Ali, had threatened to discipline the Customs Area Controller in charge of Seme Border, Victor Dimka, if any grain of imported rice finds its way into the Nigerian market.
To demonstrate his seriousness, Ali, three weeks ago, signed an agreement with the Beninoise government to the effect that any ship from Benin ports must be escorted by the Benin Customs and handed over to Nigerian Customs. He threatened to stop trade relations with Benin Republic if the government continues to allow contraband goods into Nigerian markets.
This tough stance by the Nigerian government had pitted the importers against their bankers because most of them borrowed to import the goods. They had targeted the ‘ember’ months – the Eid-del Kabir and Christmas festivities – to flood Nigerian markets with imported rice. These bags, it was discovered, have been warehoused for over six months under an unwholesome condition.