Three months into the closure of the nation’s land borders to trade across borders by the Federal Government to curtail the menace of smuggling of banned items such as foreign parboiled rice, vehicles and others, contraband items still serve as commodities for exchange in many Nigerian markets.
When BDSUNDAY visited some markets in Lagos, it was discovered that items such as second hand clothing, frozen poultry products like chicken, turkey and gizzard that are prohibited for import, but usually smuggled into the country through Seme border that bound Nigeria and Benin Republic, were very much available in the market.
It was also discovered that frozen poultry, which at the beginning of the border closure, was scarce, are now finding their way little by little into many Nigerian markets.
This observation has left many to wonder how smugglers manage to move these items into the country despite the presence of joint security personnel comprising of officers of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Nigeria Immigration Service (NCS) and Nigerian Police Force (NPF) within the border post.
Presently, a carton of foreign chicken popularly known as ‘Orobo chicken’ now goes for N13,500 while a carton of turkey, which was very scarce at the beginning of the border closure, now goes for N14,500 at wholesale price.
“Our market is now available but when we buy a carton of Orobo chicken for N13,500 from the cold room, we retail for N1,500 per kilo; turkey, N1,600 per kilo and gizzard now goes for N1,600 per kilo as well,” said a middle aged frozen foods seller, who gave her name as Iya Bisola.
According to her, sourcing for goods at the early stage of the border closure was very difficult until dealers started finding ways to bring in goods despite the closure of the border.
“I do not import these foods. So, I don’t know how importers are able to bring in goods amid the presence of security personnel at the border but we that retail, only understand the situation through hike in prices of goods. Though, prices are a little bit low presently, in the next one week, prices would go up, higher than what they are today. This was because Christmas is around the corner and demand is usually high at that time,” Iya Bisola predicted.
Confirming this, BDSUNDAY recalls that just recently, Fatuhu Muhammad, a member of the House of Representatives, representing Daura/Sandamu/MaiAdua in Katsina State, spoke on the floor of the House, describing the border closure as an exercise in deception.
According to him, the border closure is a fraud because while Nigerians are made to believe that the borders are closed; commodities are still finding their way into the country through the purportedly closed land borders.
Muhammad accused the men and officials of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) of being culpable in the act of allowing contraband items into Nigerian markets.
“We all know borders are closed. But they still allow things to go in and out. I was a living witness and I stand to be corrected. The day before yesterday (around November 14) I was there at the border between Nigeria and Niger around 1am. Nobody knew and I saw what they were doing,” the lawmaker alleged.
Muhammad however, called for the summoning of the Customs authorities by the House. He also queried the rationale behind the decision to shut down the land borders when smuggling of illegal goods it sought to control, still find their way into the Nigerian market.
“Customs needs to be invited here. They need to be questioned. This is the National Assembly. We need to know what is going to happen before you take any instructions; such very weighty orders to shut down the borders,” he cried out.
He lamented that the border closure had taken a huge toll on the livelihood of residents in his constituency.
Meanwhile, a 45-year old Omotola Adedoyi (not real name), a trader, who deals on second hand clothing, popularly known as ‘okirika’ in one of the open markets in the suburb area of Alimosho Local Government Area, Lagos State, told our correspondent how she has been able to sustain her business in the last three months.
“I used to stock my goods mid of every year ahead of the festive season. As at the time I stocked up my goods earlier in June/July this year, the border was still open and we were not having problem of sourcing for goods, but today, it has become very difficult,” Adedoyi lamented.
According to her, a bale of second hand clothing that was formerly sold for N180,000 earlier in the year, now goes for between N220,000 and N250,000 since the border was closed.
She said that people are really finding it difficult since the border closure because Seme border was the major route through which these goods come into the country, but today, many Nigerians are beginning to find alternative routes because, “man must survive”.
“This was why good and quality second hand clothing are very expensive in the market today. People retail the goods the same way they bought and that is the simple law of economics,” Adedoyi stated.
A source close to the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), who does not want his name in the print, told BDSUNDAY that Customs commands such as Federal Operations Unit, Seme and Idiroko commands are currently out of business since the border closure started.
The source further said that it is only Customs officers, who man the border lines that make money from smugglers.
“These officers collect big money from smugglers and help them to cross the goods through the bush paths at night. These officers ensure that the smugglers get to their destinations unnoticed because if the smugglers are caught, the officers would be held responsible,” the source claimed.
Despite the heavy presence of these contraband commodities in Nigerian market, poultry farmers in Ogun State recently commended the Federal Government for extending the border closure till end of January 2020.
They said not until recently, poultry farmers have not been enjoying the opportunity provided to them by the country’s population.
To them, border closure has help to reduce the importation of poultry products and increase demand for locally grown poultry meat, adding that if properly managed, the business of poultry can contribute tremendously to national development.
Olalekan Odunsi, a poultry farmer, said a lot of farmers that have shut down their farms before the border was closed, are already going to dust them.
“The chicks now are fully booked and farms are already filling up so that they can be able to meet Nigerians demand for meat consumption. The main thing is that we can feed ourselves because we have everything it takes to feed ourselves. So, I think the border closure is good, though presently it pains but with time we will get there,” he said.
With the opportunity created for farmers by the closure of the border, more jobs are now created the youth and Nigerians save more money.
The border closure, farmers say, would help in reducing unemployment in country, therefore they urged youths to make good use of the opportunity to start something in poultry business rather than wait for government to create job.
This was because the market is now open and the demand has increased for both poultry meat and eggs in Nigeria.
Pundits believed that in addition to closing the borders to trade that government to should make use of the opportunity to encourage Nigerian youths to go into poultry farming while farmers also need to expand their coast to benefit from the policy.
Recall that President Muhammadu Buhari ordered for the closure of the land borders with some of Nigeria’s neighbours in August 2019. The Federal Government had also given conditions that neighboring countries must in addition to adhering to ECOWAS protocols as applied to transit cargoes, must adhere to before the border would be reopened to trade.
Recently, Nigeria, the Republic of Benin and Niger, established a joint border patrol team; comprising the Police, Customs, Immigration of the tripartite countries to recommend a date for the reopening of the borders.