Although the impact of the closure is still being felt in the society, leading to increase in prices of consumables, including rice, of which the country has not attained competitive local production, the alleged influx of goods smuggled into the country is compounding the problem.
For now, going by investigations and survey of border communities, goods that are tagged as contrabands, especially rice, poultry products and other farm produce have daily been finding their way into the country through the ‘closed borders.’
This contrasts what the National Public Relations Officer of Customs, Joseph Attah, told The Guardian late last year, that the essence of the border closure is for national security, to encourage farmers and to stimulate economic activities.
“Nigerian farmers are really happy with what we are doing, they are even suggesting that the borders should not be opened anytime soon … We cannot do anything that will counter the reason that led to the closure.”
Reports from major markets, including Daleko, Ojuwoye, Mile 2, Ile-Epo, Agege, Oyingbo, among others, showed that foreign rice is still being sold.
It is the same thing with the poultry industry as influx of frozen products from neighbouring countries have spoilt the market for local farmers, who have invested heavily based on government’s directive.
For instance, ahead of the last festive season, poultry sellers at Ijora, Mushin, Sango, Mile 12 recorded huge losses, as imported frozen chicken crashed prices forcing dealers to sell at giveaway prices, in order not to incur colossal losses.
The development is gradually robbing off on the success recorded by the industry between August and November, with the cutting down of smuggled poultry products by one million metric tonnes, as 70 per cent of about two million metric tonnes of poultry meat consumed locally is smuggled into the country.
The Guardian learnt from reliable sources that smuggling is currently thriving at the borders. The newspaper gathered that all the border communities —Idiroko, Ihunbo, Ijoun, Ajegunle, Owode, Ilaro, Ilara, Imeko and others are good bases for smugglers who bring in the products in connivance with officials of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS).
A resident of Ijohun, Joseph Kadara (not real name) told The Guardian that smugglers do have a field day around the axis, as foreign rice, poultry products, cars and other items from the neighbouring Benin Republic find their ways into the country.
He said: “The current activities of smugglers across the border can no longer be described as smuggling anymore because Customs men are conniving with the smugglers to bring in the goods. Within the interval of 10 minutes, you will see vehicles loaded with foreign rice, turkey and chicken moving in convoy towards Sango, unhindered because they have ‘settled’ the Customs; it is as bad as that.
“The noise of border closure is a ruse. The exercise has failed to achieve its aim. The customs have compromised, it is better to re-open the border than for us to pretend the border is closed and goods are still coming in behind closed doors.”
A farmer in Imeko area, Jagun Olamilekan, who also testify to the development accused customs of being the problem of Nigeria.
“Their overzealousness when the border was initially closed made people think they were actually working. They did not only cease our farm produce on the excuse that they are imported from neighbouring countries, but also made life unbearable for us, accusing us of smuggling in the name of transporting our farm produce from one location to the other.
“Now, especially at night, you see smugglers driving in without anyone accosting them. We can no longer pretend that all is well, local farmers have invested in rice production, poultry farmers have raised the bar and have invested more, but now the border have been stylishly opened to bring in rice and other produce that were supposedly shut out.
“Go to stores and markets and see how foreign rice have dominated the market, local rice that was the toast of Nigerians before December are rotting away because our people have seen foreign rice again. What a policy that cannot be sustained; this is sad! We are back to square one, the market is now dull in terms of sales,” he said.
Biodun Onalaja, producer of Okun Rice, at the Ogun/Osun River Basin, Itoikin, Ogun State, told The Guardian that rice farmers and processors are back to square one.
According to him, the border closure worked initially between September and November and his factory then, was processing rice both day and night. He noted that towards the end of December, smugglers, especially in the eastern and northern states like Adamawa and Kano began to have a field day.
“I don’t think rice and other produce can come in without connivance with men of the Customs Service. Just last week, we received memo from the NCS inviting us for a meeting on this. Every rice farmer and miller can tell you that the Customs are the problem of this country.
“The compromise was too much. If you go around the markets, you will see that foreign rice is everywhere. We are back to pre-border closure era in terms of sales,” he said.
Efforts made to get the National Public Relations Officer of Customs, Joseph Attah, to respond to the allegations were unsuccessful, as he failed to pick the calls or respond to text messages sent to him, as at the time of filing this report.