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Investigative Journalist Fisayo Uncovers How Nigeria Customs Aid Smuggling

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Customs Smuggling

In an endeavor to shed light on the alarming porosity of Nigeria’s borders, an investigative journalist and founder of the Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ), Fisayo Soyombo, has also unveiled a troubling practice within the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), where officers collaborate with smugglers by divulging information about their colleagues’ movements, thus facilitating the illegal transport of goods.

Soyombo’s investigation, dubbed “Undercover as a Smuggler,” involved an attempt to smuggle 100 bags of rice from the Republic of Benin into Nigeria to expose the porosity of the border. With assistance from certain NCS officials, he successfully transported the rice without encountering any resistance from security personnel.

In his report, Soyombo detailed how he connected with a smuggler named Jide, who then introduced him to Alaba in Ilaro, Ogun state.

The journey continued from Ilaro, passing through Olorulekan, Ebute, Oja-Odan, and Ologiri, ultimately reaching Adja-Ouèrè, a trading hub in Benin, where the rice was purchased.

Following the procurement, the rice was transported through the forest via motorcycles to Oja-Odan for temporary storage before being further moved to Ilaro. However, delays occurred in the transportation process due to a lack of instructions from certain NCS officials, according to one of the smugglers cited by Soyombo.

Quoting the smuggler, Soyombo revealed:

“There is someone who controls each of those roads, even the road leading right to the border. They are Customs bosses; you have to be under one of them. You have to let them in on your plans, your movement. They are the ones who tell you the specific days and hours when you can move. Once you have their permission, you have no problem.”

Despite waiting for signals from customs officers, the smugglers were unable to proceed with the transportation to Ilaro. Consequently, the rice was sold off after a raid by customs officers on a smuggling safe house in Oja-Odan.

In April 2023, Soyombo embarked on the second phase of the mission, where he observed a quicker pace of events.

He noted:

“Things pace faster than usual on April 5, 2023, the day I resume in Ilaro for phase two of my mission. We had seen the stalls back in November, so it was unnecessary to re-enter Benin Republic. Instead, I make payments and wait in Ilaro while the motorcycle smugglers move the 100 bags to Oja-Odan through the forests. Then we begin the arduous wait for the rogue Customs officers to grant permission for smuggling by road. It takes only six days this time.”

After being granted permission to smuggle the purchased rice, Soyombo also revealed that:

“Throughout the approximate 20 minutes on that road, we do not encounter a single security official — not the Customs, not the police. Our only contact with the police is on the streets directly leading to the market in Ifo, and they all know the game plan. Rather than stop us, the police themselves wave us through the thoroughfare until we arrive at the market, welcomed by the cacophonous sounds of vehicles unloading smuggled products, and traders haggling prices.”

‘Ilaro’s Biggest Smuggler – IBD Dende’

Soyombo’s report also highlighted that while rice smugglers who bribe Customs officials get killed, individuals like Ibrahim Dende Egungbohun, popularly known as ‘IBD Dende’, the founder of IBD Hotel and renowned as Ilaro’s foremost smuggler, persistently advance their operations, facilitated by their close ties to authority and influence.

Dende has numerous allies, including President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, for whom he publicly canvassed support in the 2023 presidential election. He is also popular in the entertainment industry, where he has been referenced in the songs of many popular Nigerian musicians.

Dende has been arrested multiple times by the NCS, but on each occasion, he emerged free without any charges. In 2018, he was reportedly in customs custody over alleged smuggling.

Quoting the smuggler, Jide, Soyombo revealed:

“Dende used to import Turkey, but he subsequently smuggled guns and his cover was blown; this was around August 2022. He is a big thief. He doesn’t play in the league of petty thieves like us. He fled the country for a while, but he recently returned.”

This claim, however, never got out to traditional media.

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