It was midday on March 12, Monday, popularly nicknamed ‘J-Boy’, a swift, street-smart motorcyclist flapped his cow-skinned, portable bag at the front of his motorcycle, ready to fire on.
J-Boy was not just a good rider, but also a great accomplice with the Kogi-born Mohammed Muktar, who is adept in the business of smuggling foreign rice from Benin Republic to Nigeria.
It should ordinarily be a difficult task to dare travel out of the country with no valid proof of identity but it is more herculean to smuggle bags of foreign rice under the nose of men of the Nigeria Police Force, the Nigerian Army, the Nigeria Customs Service and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) – especially at this time when the borders are shut. But none of these security agents could stop Mohammed, a notorious smuggler, and his accomplices.
So, when Mohammed gave J-Boy a nod to ride on, the latter took the cue at once. “No qualms,” he said, bravely and gravely.
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On his Bajaj motorcycle, he carried Mohammed and the reporter – and zoomed off, travelling the terrible roads that connect Towe de l’arrondissement (meaning ‘town’) in Benin Republic, from Nigeria – starting from Igan Alade road – Yewa North, Ogun State.
An undercover expedition into the world of smugglers
As we sped off on the crude terrain, I quickly expressed my anxiety about the dangerous journey we had just commenced. But my co-travelers, who knew how the system works, told me to calm down, assuring me of safety and success in the journey.
However, the smugglers had no idea that I was a journalist working under cover. I had earlier presented myself to Mohammed as a newbie, who would love to invest in the smuggling of foreign rice from Benin Republic to Nigeria.
However, before putting my money on the line, I told him I needed to experience how smugglers outsmart Nigeria’s security agents. I needed to gauge the risk involved in the business into which I was venturing.
Before finally crossing the Nigerian border to Benin Republic, we travelled through Igan Alade, one of the communities on the borderline of Ogun State and Towe, a neighbouring town at the French-speaking Republic of Benin – bypassing a police station at Igan Alade, an NSCDC Divisional Headquarters at Tata community, a Nigeria Customs Area Command at the Ijoun community, and at least seven checkpoints manned by different security agents.
Throughout my round trip to observe the smuggling expedition, I noticed that none of the officers at any of these checkpoints – usually barricaded with bamboo across two sides of the roads – was particularly interested in stopping any smuggling activity.
Instead, the officers greeted us with flashes of smiles and sometimes, hand-waves.
Culled from The Nation