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FOOD SMUGGLING: FG Intercepts 141 Trucks Smuggling Grain To Niger, Chad, Other Countries

Food smuggling

In continuation of measures to address the food inflation and cost of living crisis, the Federal Government Tuesday said it had so far intercepted 141  trucks attempting to smuggle grains and other staples to Niger Republic, Chad, Cameroon, and the Central African Republic.

The Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Bashir Adeniyi, said that the service had within two weeks arrested about 120 trucks smuggling food items from Nigeria while the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, stopped 21 food trucks from leaving the country on Tuesday.

As the CG was disclosing the measures being enforced to ensure food security at the House of Representatives in Abuja on Tuesday, truck drivers, who have been targets of attacks by hoodlums, had threatened to declare a strike if the situation persisted.

Several trucks and warehouses, mostly owned by manufacturers and other members of the organised private sector have come under attack from hoodlums as the food inflation and the cost of living crisis in the country spiralled.

Recall that last week, some youths stole food items from trucks stuck in traffic along the Kaduna Road in the Suleja area of Niger State.

On Sunday, hoodlums attacked a warehouse belonging to the Agricultural and Rural Development Secretariat of the Federal Capital Territory Administration located in the Dei-Dei area of the capital city where they looted rice, grains, and other relief items.

The miscreants in their numbers also stormed another warehouse in the Idu Industrial Estate, Jabi, Abuja, but were repelled by the troops guarding the facility.

Similarly, another set of youths attacked trucks conveying building materials and spaghetti in Ogun and Kaduna states on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

Worried by the unsavoury development, the organised private sector warned the attacks could lead to a shutdown of industries across the country.

Briefing the federal lawmakers on the enforcement of the Presidential directive to curtail food smuggling during the sectoral debate series, the Customs CG, Adeniyi, said President Bola Tinubu had given a directive that the arrested trucks be diverted to the local markets in the area where they were arrested to force down the prices of grains and other food items.

120 food trucks

“We arrested in two weeks about 120 trucks of food items going out of the country. These are the food items Mr President has asked us to give back to the local markets where the arrests were made. We believe this will drive down the price of food items in these places,” he added.

 He stated that the decision to halt the smuggling of food items was to fight hunger and not encourage those who wanted to enrich themselves at the expense of the people.

He warned against adopting quick-fix solutions to address the food scarcity in the country, adding that the country must put in place long-term measures to address the situation.

Adeniyi explained that the Customs were playing their part in ensuring that the problem of food security was addressed, adding that currently, most agriculture inputs attract zero duty and the value-added tax.

The CG noted that the need to learn from lessons learnt while auctioning seized food items in Lagos was the reason the service was ha to commence the program outside  Lagos State.

About seven persons died in a stampede at the NCS Old Zonal Headquarters in the Yaba area of Lagos State during the auction of bags of rice confiscated from smugglers by the NCS last month.

The incident forced the authorities to suspend the exercise.

Bringing the lawmakers up to speed on the public auction, Adeniyi said President Tinubu directed the NCS to auction to vulnerable Nigerians the food items intercepted at the Nigerian borders, noting that the implementation of the programme kicked off in Lagos, but was stopped.

Adeniyi further said the seized foodstuffs were to be sold to the local markets nationwide on the President’s orders.

He said, “Mr President has directed that we sell directly to needy Nigerians food items produced locally but which were seized. This is one of the ways to address hunger and food scarcity we are facing. We have started this in Lagos.

“Also, the President has also directed that imported food items seized by the Nigeria Customs Service should be sold back to the local markets for resale to Nigerians.”

Fielding questions from lawmakers during the session presided over by Deputy Speaker, Benjamin Kalu, Adeniyi gave reasons why the auction of seized grains was temporarily discontinued by the NCS.

“We started in Lagos but you know what happened. There was a stampede. No matter the number of bags of rice you share or sell, it will not be enough.

“We have to focus on one place at a time. We will use the lessons we learnt in Lagos to coordinate this programme when we resume,” he said.

In their enforcement of the Presidential directive against food smuggling, operatives of the Maiduguri zonal command of the EFCC have arrested 21 trucks loaded with food and non-food items heading towards N’djamena, Chad Republic, Central African Republic, and Cameroon.

The Head of Media and Publicity, EFCC, Dele Oyewale, said in a statement on Tuesday, that the trucks were intercepted in a sting operation at major exit routes along Kalabiri/Gamboru Ngala and Bama Roads, Borno State.

 It said, “Investigation showed food items cleverly concealed in the trucks that would have gone undetected but for the eagle-eyed vigilance of operatives of the commission.