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Seme Border: The Gateway Of Smuggled Frozen Chicken

Fron chickenSAYING that Seme, the border town between Nigeria and the Republic of Benin is notorious for easy passage of contrabands and haven for smuggling is not an overstatement.

Usually beehive with activities, a first time visitor to the town would assumed it is an international market instead of boundary as human and vehicular traffic in the town is a sight to behold.

Activities, particularly smuggling is usually at its peak from the early hours of the morning to midnight. Traders hawk their wares along the road while the forex dealers money are busy with their calculators, trying to convince migrants and passengers in transit on the prevailing exchange rate of the Naira to CFA franc and vice versa. Commercial drivers bargain with potential passengers on fares to either convey their goods to their destinations without arousing the suspicion of the Customs or to get them across the border without harassment from the Immigration.

People move in and out of the border with ease, especially those on foot, making it difficult to identify a migrant, a tourist or a trader. The presence of immigration officers is the only hindrance in crossing the border, but their method of inspection is quite suspicious.

Going by the volume of goods coming into Nigeria through this border town, there is no doubt that the border is very porous. Smugglers bring in contraband goods like textile materials, foot wears, vegetable oil, rice, cars and frozen food items (chicken and turkey) at ease. This is because their movements are not restricted or hampered either by day or by night. They move in convoy to the Nigerian borderline and move in file into Nigeria at night, when ‘bookings’ have been concluded.  

According to a source at the border who pleaded anonymity, the smugglers are well organised and coordinated.

With the connivance of some Customs officers, they operate like snakes with wisdom and wildness; they pay for information, passage, and protection.

The source noted that the Customs-smugglers synergy is so glaring and alive that whenever Customs patrol teams or monitoring squads run into the smugglers’ convoys, they only ask for and collect what they call ‘OD’, that is, money for officers-on-duty, because some ‘ogas’ somewhere might have been settled and pronto, a call to that oga would only give the ‘allow’ order to any of such patrol or monitoring teams, and the journey continues.

“The smugglers operate much ado as they have designed sophisticated techniques to beat the system. In collaboration with some of Customs officials, they deceive the government and the public. These arrangements are done specifically with those bringing in vehicles, rice, frozen foods and vegetable oil. For instance, those bringing in frozen foods (chicken and turkey) are made to drop a cartoon per vehicle at a designated checking-point after ‘bookings’ are completed.  

“So, if 500 vehicles are cleared in a particular movement, there would have been 500 cartoons of turkey and chicken on the ground. The Customs official would quickly arrange for one or two vehicles not worth more than N150, 000 or N200,000 and load the items into it, and take them to the Comptroller’s office with the tag ‘seizure’,” the source stated.

He continues, “At the Comptroller’s office, there is usually some gun shots to show conquest, and this is the usual routine. The Customs would allow ‘bookings’ from large consignments of rice of about 500,000 bags, which normally pass through the Yekeme Gbaji waters in large local boats and berth at Ojo waters, behind the Alaba International Market. These large consignments would pass through the Customs, but at dawn, a smaller boat with less than 5,000 bags would be arrested and greeted with gunshots by Customs officers just to create the impression that they are combating smuggling.”

The source noted that big time smugglers are regarded as sacred cows by the Customs and for this reason they have unrestricted passage for their contraband goods in and out of Nigeria, while the small time smugglers are used as shields for protection.

In effort to stem the trend of smuggling in and out of the country, the Nigeria Customs & Excise authorities led by its Comptroller-General, Dikko Inde Abdullahi, on July 6, renewed the war against smuggling tagged, ‘Operation Hawk Descend’ at Seme-Border.

According to Dikko, the launch was indeed a wonderful homecoming, having spent a critical part of his professional years as a career Customs Officer in this Command, stressing that renewed war is targeted towards providing fresh breath of life to the Poultry Product sector, which has been under severe assault by the smugglers.



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