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Thursday, 22 February 2024 05:55

Report: How customs officers aided smugglers by providing insider information

An undercover investigation has exposed how officers of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) update smugglers on the itinerary of their colleagues in a bid to facilitate the movement of smuggled goods. 

The undercover investigation “Undercover as a Smuggler” was carried out by Fisayo Soyombo, an investigative journalist and founder of the Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ).

Soyombo attempted to illegally import 100 bags of rice from the Republic of Benin into Nigeria to prove how porous the country’s borders are.

The investigative journalist succeeded in transporting the bags of rice without resistance from security operatives, owing to information provided by some officials of the NCS.

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In the report, Soyombo narrated how he linked up with a smuggler identified as Jide, who in turn linked him with one Alaba at Ilaro, a town in Ogun state.

The investigative journalist also narrated how he and the smugglers travelled from Ilaro, through Olorulekan, Ebute, Oja-Odan and Ologiri to Adja-Ouèrè, a trading town in the Benin Republic, to buy the bags of rice.

After the purchase of the bags of rice in November 2022, they were transported through the forest by some motorcycles to Oja-Odan for temporary storage before being moved to Ilaro.

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However, there was a delay in the transportation of the rice from Oja-Odan to Ilaro because one of the smugglers said he had not been given instructions by some NCS officials.

“There is someone who controls each of those roads, even the road leading right to the border,” Soyombo quoted the smuggler as saying.

“They are customs bosses; you have to be under one of them. You have to let them in on your plans, your movement. They are the ones who tell you the specific days and hours when you can move. Once you have their permission, you have no problem.”

After some days, the smugglers were yet to receive signals from the customs officers for the transportation of the rice to Ilaro.

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Subsequently, the bags of rice were sold off after customs officers raided a smuggling safe house in Oja-Odan. 

In April 2023, the investigative journalist embarked on the second phase of the trip.

“Things pace faster than usual on April 5, 2023, the day I resume in Ilaro for phase two of my mission,” he wrote.

“We had seen the stalls back in November, so it was unnecessary to re-enter Benin Republic. Instead, I make payments and wait in Ilaro while the motorcycle smugglers move the 100 bags to Oja-Odan through the forests.

“Then we begin the arduous wait for the rogue Customs officers to grant permission for smuggling by road. It takes only six days this time.”

You can read the full investigation here.

 

‘NIGERIA’S SMUGGLING PROBLEM’

Over the years, smuggling has been blamed for the widespread of fake products, arms, and prohibited goods among others in the country.

In 2019, former President Muhammadu Buhari closed some of the country’s borders to encourage local production of food, especially rice.

The border closure was criticised by some economists who believed that the country could not singlehandedly feed its citizens.

In May 2023, Buhari said Nigerians would eventually appreciate the border closure, adding that God can effectively guard the borders of the country.

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