The World Bank has revealed that a whopping $5 billion (about N750 billion) goods smuggled into Nigeria through neighbouring Benin Republic and other West African countries annually remains a major headache to the Federal Government and other agencies responsible for management of the nation’s ailing economy.
The apex World Bank in its current report stressed that the stated amount represents about 15 per cent of overall volume of goods smuggled into Nigeria through the Benin Republic border alone.
The report also claims there is enough proof that over $400 million (about N6 billion, representing about 25 per cent of the total annual revenue collected by the Customs is lost through smuggling across the sub-regional borders.
In a recent interview with newsmen, the chief image maker of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Mr. Wale Adeniyi, described smuggling as “false declaration and concealment of goods, willful under-payment of Customs duties, trafficking in prohibited or restricted goods, use of unapproved routes and ports, forging of Custom documents and touting in Customs good and documents.”
While arguing that smuggling is a worldwide problem and that those who engage in it are considered economic saboteurs, he added that smuggling is a destroyer of the economy.
According to him, “Smuggling robs the nation of her revenue and provision of social services to entire community. Smuggling can destroy your health through importation of expired products fake substances and other drugs.
“Smuggling paralyses our local industries. Smuggling is a drain on the foreign earnings of the nation. Smuggling encourages acts of criminality that can lead to armed robbery and other heinous crimes. Smuggling is an unpatriotic act that can lead you into jail”, Adeniyi contended.
The World Bank report said that smuggling into Nigeria will further hinder the effectiveness of the Customs Service and cause more revenue losses if urgent steps are not taken by government to tackle it.
It therefore advised a liberalisation of trade policies which discourage smuggling across the borders.
Stakeholders in commerce and industry sector are of the opinion that unless the negative trend of the ban on rice importation is reversed, Nigeria will continue to pine away under the massive loss of N110 billion every year as a result of smuggling across the border.
They added that when other smuggled commodities, apart from rice, are computed, Nigeria’s losses will run into billions of dollars every year. The group, known as Nigeria Rice Development Association (NRDA), stressed that the country was losing N9.7 billion monthly from an estimated 80,000 metric tonnes of rice smuggled into the country from Benin Republic alone.
With this massive smuggling, it noted that huge amounts, that should accrue to government coffers from the high duty on rice is lost.
The group added that the potentials of the rice sector are being daily put at risk by the activities of these smugglers and their collaborators.
A rice miller in Kano State, Musa Abdullahi, said the call for the review became imperative because of imbalance of trade, smuggling and dumping of goods in the country.
He said while the government is trying to encourage local production of rice, thereby creating employment, income and value chain, some other people are rubbishing the noble effort by smuggling the product into the country.
Abdullahi said it was disheartening to note that government’s investments and policies were being threatened on a daily basis following the incessant smuggling activities by a few. “Unscrupulous smugglers find it attractive to smuggle goods from neighbouring countries into Nigeria without paying necessary duties. This affects investment in the country.
“For instance, Benin Republic consumes only white rice but imports parboiled rice with destination for the Nigerian market. If the Federal Government reviews the trade liberalisation scheme and closes its borders to smuggled goods, neighbouring countries will take us serious.”
He added, “The quantum of rice being smuggled through our land borders from the Republic of Benin is increasing on a daily basis. Almost 45,000 metric tones (MTs) are entering the Northern part of the country from Niger and Cameroun.”
A local rice farmer in Kogi, Bunmi Owolabi, said the major routes used for smuggling in the North are Maradi and Zinder, as lot of warehouses in Katsina state are used for smuggling of rice.
It is understood additional survey at the Seme and Idiroko border posts revealed that the big-time smugglers now have a long queue of specially-built trailers to carry 72 tonnes of goods – mostly rice – as against the 32-tonne trailer.
Apart from the huge revenue loss and hazards such products pose to Nigerians, stakeholders observe that excessively loaded trailers not only damage the nation’s roads, but create huge maintenance costs to the government.
The report observed that the small-time smugglers at the Seme and Idiroko border posts have become virtually lawless, as they resort to all manner of mischief to circumvent the law and smuggle products into the country.