“Ultimately, the economic integrity between Nigeria and neighbouring, Benin Republic has to be seriously reviewed.
The fact that they aren’t consuming the rice but they keep importing it, is a calculated attempt to undermine Nigeria,” these are the words of Comptroller Dera Nnadi, the Area Controller of Ogun 1 Command, Nigeria Customs Service (NCS).
In this exclusive interview, he narrates a review of the Command’s activities in 2021. Nnadi also expounds on the peculiar advantages and challenges at the Ogun border communities, even as he makes a case for Nigeria on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
How would you assess the activities of Customs at the Ogun 1 Command against intense smuggling last years?
The fact remains that the borders are closed. So, the major work we do here for now is to enforce the anti-smuggling laws of the federation to ensure that there is no abuse. Having said that, we are not expected to declare bumper revenue for close to two years.
I’ll like to state that the job of the Ogun 1 Customs Command amid the closure of the land border is so significant that if we do the job well, it would translate into more revenue for our seaports.
The revenue that would have been declared at this border post is assumed to have been moved to the seaports because the goods that should have come through the land border is believed to have gone to the seaports. So, the high revenues at the seaports is a collective win for Customs and the nation.
A more secured border would translate into increased revenue at the seaports until the borders are reopened.
Available reports indicate that Benin Republic continues to import large quantity of rice into the Nigerian market thereby frustrating government’s localm production initiative. How have you been able to deal with this?
The border closure wasn’t just against rice imports. I can give timelines. On January 1, 2017, this border and all Nigerian land borders were closed against smuggling of used vehicles. On May 26, 2018, there was restriction on all forms of trade at this particular border alone.
In August 2019, the total border closure was declared against rice, illicit activities and all trade activities. In December 2020, there was another closure on account of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, Ogun 1 Customs Command has had four border closures from 2017 to date.
While we are seizing some of the rice imported through Benin Republic, it is important to note that Benin has borders with Nigeria from Lagos to Sokoto. This country also has borders with Benin Republic via Kwara, Oyo, Lagos, Niger, Kebbi and Sokoto. Benin is really a strategic partner to Nigeria. However, we frown at their economic sabotage with regard to not respecting Nigeria’s import and export laws.
Attempts could be made to smuggle rice from Benin Republic to Nigeria through any of the border regions as well as the unapproved routes. We seize the ones within our area as we announced during the last press conference that we seized over 7,000 bags of rice which is equivalent to 12 trailers. From January to December 2021, the quantity of rice seized by Ogun 1 Customs is almost 80 trailers. Imagine what Seme, Kwara, Kebbi, Niger and Sokoto Customs Commands would have seized.
Despite these efforts, the truth is that we can’t seize all the smuggled rice. There are cases where our officers go to the creeks to make seizures and they are killed. After killing the officers, you can be sure that the rice would find its way into the Nigerian market because those who went to stop it have been killed. There are other attempts like that where you attempt to seize 10 vehicles of rice and you’re attacked and you only succeed in capturing six. We can’t rule out these occurrences.
Ultimately, the economic integrity between Nigeria and her neighbour, Benin, has to be seriously reviewed. The fact that they aren’t consuming the rice but they keep importing it, is a calculated attempt to undermine Nigeria.
How have you handle the challenge of smuggling among Nigerian youths
This is one of the unfair perceptions and narratives that we are trying to correct in this part of the country. Ogun State is a very wide area. The state has boundaries with Lagos, Oyo, Osun and Ondo, internally. It also shares boundary with Benin Republic at Imekon, Idiroko, Owode, Ilarra, Ileshe, Ogungbe, among others.