Idiroko border in Ipokia Local Government Area of Ogun State has, for a very long time, been reputed for its bustling nature owning largely to the illegal activities of smugglers, who used the border community as a transit point to flood Nigeria with contrabands.
But this unenviable distinction of this border community appears to be fast disappearing following the Federal Government’s decision to shut down the nation’s land borders as part of efforts at strengthening the nation’s security and to protect its economic interest.
Signs that it is no longer business as a usual for economic saboteurs at Idiroko multiply with every metre of the journey from the Sango Ota end of Ogun State to this sprawling community with the presence of security operatives along the Atan-Owode-Idiroko road. Operatives of Nigeria Police Force, Nigeria Customs Service, Immigration service and other ancillary agencies line the route at intervals with scores of checkpoints.
Men of these security outfits looked possessed of a belligerent vitality especially for returning travelers and motorists, who they search frantically to ensure that no banned items get into the country.
Except for a medium sized bill board which conveys information on immunization and another attachment with the inscription ‘Goodbye from Nigeria’, and perhaps with the sight of Immigration personnel who, occasionally move around, a first time visitor to this boundary might need more evidence to be convinced he or she is at a border of two countries. But residents are quick to point out that the seeming inactivity in the community is one of the major fallouts of Nigerian government’s decision to close land borders into the country.
…Border still porous
But despite the closure, gaining entry and exiting Nigeria and the Republic of Benin remain as easy as ever. While documentations are required before gaining formal entry or before exiting either of the two countries, Sunday Sun reporter who visited this community last Thursday discovered that people still make illegal entry and exit to and fro the two neighbouring West African countries.
The reporter who played an undercover at this community found out that some commercial motorcyclists aid and abet illegal migrants, making brisk business by conveying people to and fro Nigeria and the neighboring francophone country. For visitors traveling without necessary documents getting into Republic of Benin or coming into Nigeria, these commercial motorcyclists charge between N2,500 and N1,500 to ferry them, using many of the illegal routes within this border community.
According to one of them, the amount will take care of the travellers’ transport fare and the ‘settlements’ of security agents along these illegal routes.
For close to seven hours spent at this border, movement of goods in or out of both countries was conspicuously non-existent except on an occasion when a van belonging to the Nigeria Customs was sighted conveying items, which this reporter later gathered to be seized contrabands from the border. But residents said smuggling still takes place although in small scale.
According to them, petty smugglers still go about their illegal business in connivance with the locals, using the illegal entry points in and around this community. “Since the government ordered the closure of land borders, getting food items like rice, frozen foods, groundnut oil and imported spaghetti over to this place, has become extremely difficult because of the tight security in and around Idiroko,” a woman said innocently during a conversation.
The woman disclosed that some smugglers still take advantage of these illegal routes, which are largely bush paths and swamps, to ferry contrabands from Republic of Benin into this community.
But findings by this reporter revealed that a good number of such smuggled items often get seized by security operatives at the border, whom they said have moles among the locals in addition to mounting massive surveillance in the area.
Sources said a good number of smuggled goods seized recently were discovered while being conveyed by smugglers within the border community in anticipation of being transported hinterland.
Tales of two rice consumers
While most Nigerians continue to lament the prohibitive cost of both foreign and local rice which they say now sell between N24,000 and N19,000, residents of Idiroko are gloating over the reduction in the price of this food item.
Findings by this reporter showed that a bag of foreign rice sells for N9,200 within the community.
“Before now, a bag of imported rice used to sell for between N10,200 and N10,700, but since the government ordered the closure of the land borders, the price of the food item has come down to N9,200 because the dealers no longer get buyers since it now extremely difficult to get it across to other parts of the country,” a resident disclosed.
No grain, please!
If there were any doubt over the strictness of border security operatives against contrabands into Nigeria, the disposition of commercial drivers at the border to passengers with rice and other contrabands would douse such skepticism.
For the entire period, which this reporter spent at Idiroko garage, commercial drivers at the motor park denied every passenger with rice, no matter the quantity, access into their vehicles. When asked why they refused passengers with foreign rice with even as little as quarter of a bag entry into their vehicles, one of them revealed that any driver caught with rice in his vehicle risked getting his vehicle impounded.
“The owner of the rice only gets his or her rice seized, but it is the driver who bears it more. If you are lucky to get your vehicle released for you, you can be sure that such a driver will pay dearly before he can be released,” the driver declared.
Curiously, a few of the drivers who refused to pick passengers with rice and Bonita Spaghetti were, however, seen picking some passengers with not more than two cartons of frozen foods and those with no more than two gallons of palm oil.
It was learnt that the security operatives at checkpoints often overlook such items, believing they are meant for consumption rather than for sale.
Living close to the border no doubt has a huge advantage to the residents of Idiroko community. Besides having access to cheap imported goods, majority of the people, this reporter learnt, also engage in doing brisk business either as dealers in contrabands or by rendering ancillary services to smugglers. But with the closure of land borders, many of them are said to be finding it difficult making money as it was in the past. Some commercial drivers openly lamented the development, which they said was responsible for the low turn out of people visiting the community.