Rice smugglers, whose illicit operations were affected by the closure of land borders, seem to have found a way out of their present predicament by diverting into a new line of business; the smuggling of pineapples. Despite the eagled-eyed security operatives deployed to man the boundaries since the closure of the land borders, the smugglers are having a field day, away from the prying eyes of the law enforcement agents.
Reports revealed that the diversion of pineapples into the country is the new moneyspinning business that smugglers engage in, as they have resorted to the use of locally-built vehicles, popularly called fayawo, to convey the products and fast-track their illegal businesses. According to some of the smugglers, who confided in our correspondents, the new trade, which was necessitated by the border closure, has started yielding dividends, as some of the smugglers now smile to the bank.
On August 19, this year, the Federal Government announced the closure of all land borders across the country in order to check the increasing smugglings of prohibited goods and services across the country. The action, which has now been circumvented by the smugglers, was to assist, among other reasons, in checking the smuggling of rice, cars, petroleum products, and other goods into the country from neighboring countries, especially Benin Republic as well as curb human trafficking.
Our correspondents gathered that the new trend in smuggling and the diversion into the prohibited pineapple business was occasioned by what some smugglers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, described as their “inability to remain idle” in the wake of the border closure. One of the smugglers, simply referred to as Oga Ben, said he and colleagues decided to venture into the new line of business so as not to go hungry in face of their dwindling economic fortunes.
“We cannot afford to be idle. Since the Federal Government has closed the border and we need to feed our families, the development is our only resort to stay in business regardless of what is happening presently in the country.” While the government order is receiving mixed reactions across the country, statutory agencies saddled with the task of checking these arbitrary practices, such as the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), Nigeria Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), appear to be discharging the presidential directive with all sense of responsibility.
Recently, there were reports of remarkable improvement in government’s revenue profile, according to the NCS helmsman, Col. Hammed Ali (rtd), who said his agency was raking in close to N5 billion on a daily basis, while others on the divide, such as the manufacturing sector believe the effect of the border closure was impacting on their businesses with the sum of N2 billion been lost every day since the action commenced.
To underscore the enormity of this huge financial loss, particularly the productive sector, it was reliably gathered that there have been intense pressure on the part of the Organised Private Sector (OPS) to appeal to the conscience of the government of the day to soft-pedal on its border closure in the overall interest of the nation. This, it was learnt, was to help ensure that Nigeria does not infringe further on the ECOWAS protocol on trade liberalisation in the sub-regional sector.
Beyond this, however, is the fact that while government appears to have taken the fight to the doorsteps of the smugglers, a new smuggling dimension may have resonated with smugglers now diverting to pineapple smuggling businesses. Market checks Further checks by Saturday Telegraph revealed that, in many markets, especially those in Lagos, traders are of the belief that imported pineapples are more delicious and more nutritious than those grown locally.
However, some local farmers have argued that they are not willing to plant the fruit because it takes time to harvest, aside the lacking of inadequate facilities to produce quality fruits in Nigeria unlike in some neighbouring countries where fruits are planted. A trader simply identified as Madam Osayemi, who sells pineapple at Ogba Market in Lagos State, expressed sadness over the lull in the business, saying that the situation has not been encouraging.
She said: “It has not been easy for us to get pineapple because the border is closed and we buy it at a high price. Before we buy it at N200 and I sell it at N250 but now I sell it at the rate of N350. I have no choice but to increase the price of my pineapples because I have to pay shop rent and other bills in the market”.
“Pineapple is one of the best-selling fruits in Nigeria that one can sell and make a quick profit and it contains vitamins and more nutrition for the body. Over 70 percent of pineapples smuggled into the country daily are sweeter than the locally-produced fruit, but due to the border closure, there had been a price increase in pineapple.”
In the line of fire Another young man in the line of the business, who identified himself as Joseph Shobowale gave a clear description of how they smuggled pineapples into the country, narrating how they perfect the illegal act before transporting it into the country. “Most of the pineapples we see in Nigeria are foreign pineapples because they are more nutritious than Nigeria’s pineapple.
We pass through Golo, and from there, it is transferred to the border, where the Customs officers collect ‘pass’ (bribe) from. “The ‘pass’ they collect allow us to be able to situate those goods in Idiroko garage. From there, we get a car to deliver these goods to different locations in Lagos and Owode in Ogun State”, he said. On his part, Olawale, a major player in the illicit transaction, said, he faces a lot of hurdles in the hands of Customs officials, as such he has to work according to their dictates. “We give them details about the goods and the car in order to bring them in; if we are caught, we are urged to pay a huge amount of money because the goods are contraband. Now that the border is closed, we take risk in bringing those goods in.
“Most of the time, we have some routes in the bush and that is why goods are more expensive because they don’t allow them to pass through the borders. Custom can collect it and not release it because the border is closed for now and we are not obeying the laws of the country.” Smugglers’ haven He further said it depends on the road as it takes a lot of weeks before they could deliver the goods to different locations. We used different cars to bring in these pineapples. We use Mazda, Peugeot, and curve 3 double doors commonly known as ‘fayawo motor’ (smugglers’ vehicles). “Most of the pineapples are from Germany, India, China, and Benin. It passes through the sea and lands in the border at Golo in Nigeria. We leave immediately after we deliver the goods because it possible for us to get another person who may want to deliver these. “The reason we bring in pineapple is that it is fast selling and cheaper and it is very beneficial to our body system. 50 percent of our fruits in Nigeria are imported and smuggled into the country.
Another smuggler, Mr. Wale Adeogun, also expressed his worries on the challenges he faces while passing through the border that was locked to deliver goods to the market women. The smuggler who spoke to Saturday Telegraph, during a visit to the Agege market recently, said: “While I was coming today, I paid N10, 000 just for my goods to be released because the owners had called earlier but there was no chance to pick the call, because I was locked up but was released around 6am with my goods. I have no choice but to pay the bribe.”
He added that there was a high demand from traders from the North, because the pineapples are fast-selling product and it is more nutritious than localised fruit. That is why it’s been sold abundantly in Nigeria by all market women and the molars. Another trader, Mrs. Adeshina Rofiat, at Jakande Ketu Market, said there was no difference between Nigeria’s pineapple and the imported ones but ‘’Nigerian pineapple is seasonal,’’ from imported ones. She, however, preferred to sell Benin Republic’s pineapples because it has a good taste and it is fast selling. “I sell my pineapple at the rate of N300, which was not so before,” she added. She further said: “The pineapple is expensive because the border is closed and the customs don’t allow the smugglers into the country; even if they were allowed, they would have to pay a huge amount of money so that the goods can be brought into the country.” Customs on the alert However, Customs Officer, at Seme Border, identified himself simply as Husseini, told the Saturday Telegraph, that: “I don’t think there is any genuine reason why they (smugglers) bring in pineapple since it is planted in the country. There is no point, but he thinks they do it just to earn a living.”
He, however, said when they (smugglers) were caught, they were meant to face the full wrath of the law and would be punished accordingly to the law. He said: “Now that the border is closed, they still find a way to manoeuvre the goods into the country but with all their ruses, we are still ahead of them no matter what. “But there are known solutions to challenge the nuisance that smuggle pineapple into the country”, he said, advising that “they should desist from all evil acts and find a legitimate means to earn living.” Reacting the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS)’s Public Relations Officer at Ogun I Area Command, Abdullahi Maiwada, said 654 bags of coconuts were seized among other Items from smugglers. He explained that coconuts were intercepted at Ipokia axis and other illegal routes at the border, while denying the smuggling of pineapple fruits through the Idiroko Border.
Abdullahi said: “Our borders, both approved and non-approved are properly manned as no right-thinking smuggler could think of smuggling such item in large quantity. “The intention of daredevil smugglers was to smuggle such into Nigeria in defiance to Federal Government’s directive on partial border closure. Smuggling of whatever item is suppressed in Ogun Command to barest minimum.” Nutritionist, doctor comment Meanwhile, a nutrition expert, Dr. Olusola Malomo, has warned Nigerians that food safety could become an issue if they don’t watch the rate of consuming the imported pineapples.
In an interview with Saturday Telegraph, Malomo said: “Number one, one major issue we need to consider with the importation of pineapples is food safety because pineapple is a highly perishable product and the time of transition=, if you look at it, between one place and another, it would have started spoiling. “But because of nature of the bark, that is the skin of the pineapple, you would discover that it still looks greenish. But it is by the time you peel it that you would see it has started decaying and if care is not taken because at the point where it starts changing its physical features could harbour microorganisms so food safety issue is one of them.” As far as Malomo is concerned, there are other issues that have to do with content and the perishable nature of the pineapples and how long they might spend in transit.
“There is also the fact that it is sugary and that apart from the transition and perishable nature, even the vehicles they use in transporting them do not conform to the hygiene standards and could expose people to food poisoning and contamination. And that will now depend on how soon it is purchased by consumers, you know by the time they get to the major markets. There is also the issue of its content. If you check, you will discover that our own local pineapples are bigger and the level of fluctos, that is what the sugar level in pineapples are called, is higher in these imported pineapples so people tend to consume more of these imported ones more than our own conventional pineapples which are bigger and have more fibre,” he added. A medical doctor, Dr Doyin Ogunyemi, also weighed in, saying she doesn’t see any issue with the pineapple as fruit except if genetically-modified or not processed properly. “Pineapple is a fruit. For starters, I don’t know if there is an increase in the importation of pineapple, you would know that. But fruits are vegetable that are generally healthy; they only become a problem if they are either not properly processed or not if they are genetically modified. I can’t tell that either but essentially, fresh fruits, nutritionally grown, naturally grown and hygienically prepared are generally healthy to eat.”