Communities and residents around Ere River in Ado-Odo in Ota Local Government Area of Ogun State have alerted the Customs on the activities of smugglers who use the river to smuggle goods, including rice and cars into Nigeria.
Ere River links Nigeria with Cotonou in Benin Republic through Owode-Apa and Ado-Odo-Ota, also links Gbaji and Badagry Lagoon with the Atlantic Ocean.
Worried residents of the area have urged Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Col. Hameed Ali (rtd) to stem the smugglers activities.
According to them, rice, vehicles, vegetable oil and poultry products are the major items smuggled through the river. About 25,000 bags of rice worth over N300 million have been smuggled into the country, the residents told the Customs boss in their appeal for their activities to be curbed.
According to a report by The Nation, the smugglers start moving their consignments into the country in the wee hours of the operational days.
A commercial motorcyclist popularly known as Okada alleged that some Customs officers, “powerful” people and the smugglers were working together. He blamed Customs and the high cost of rice for the illicit trade.
The Okada operator said the number of youths involved in smuggling has grown because of unemployment.
Goods smuggled through the area, he said, included tokunbo vehicles, textile materials, used clothes, bags, shoes, tyres, rice, frozen chicken, frozen turkey, vegetable oil, soap, furniture, sweets, cigarettes, apples, pineapple and palm oil
He said: “Unless the Comptroller-General of Customs visit the area, smuggling of all prohibited items through the river will continue. I hope you noticed that these buses are not registered anywhere in the country.
“Look at their number plates and you will notice that some of them do not have number plates, while some are carrying foreign number plates.
“If you count the number of people in front of each of the vehicles, they are no fewer than three and if you relate it to the number of buses, they used in transporting the rice, you will not count fewer than 80 people per trip.
“Those people sitting with the drivers are carrying guns and other dangerous items and they are ready to engage anybody who challenges them on the road and that is why some Customs officers are compromising.
“Majority of them are also ex-security officers and the few serving ones who have access to arms and ammunition and that was why I told you that it would be dangerous for you to take the picture of the vehicles because if they know that you are trying to take their pictures, they would be very brutal if they don’t kill us.
“The people you saw there are very deadly and they have wasted so many people that have threatened their business,” the cyclist said.
But a Customs officer denied the allegations.
He said Customs mounted surveillance around a church in Ota because it believed smugglers have a hideout there. Several bags of rice, he said, had been intercepted by some teams in the area.
“Although I don’t know where the river you mentioned is, we cannot deny that smuggling is going on around this place and that is why many of our officers have been posted to curtail the illicit trade.
“Those of us posted to curb the nefarious activities of smugglers in the border areas are not finding it easy.
“It is a difficult task because majority of those involved are youths from the area and they know the area very well. Don’t forget that we, security officials, are strangers and we are not expected to detect all the routes that smugglers use in a few days. So, if you have detected a new route, it is your duty to inform us before telling the public,” the officer said.