Smugglers’ Paradise: The story of Nigeria’s vehicle smuggling network
Recently, the federal government lifted ban on importation of vehicles via the nation’s land borders thus prompting speculations of automatic decline in vehicle smuggling across the country’s borders. However, contrary to expectations, smuggling still thrives across the nation’s entry points. Olatunji Ololade, Assistant Editor, takes a journey into the world of smugglers while examining the status quo of Nigeria’s automobile industry.
Few men are born with a will like Babatunde Banjo’s. The 35-year-old vehicle smuggler affects a rare spirit. Before he established his car dealership, Banjo was just another hustler, a border mercenary desperate for his own gig. But first, he had to learn to “fly with cars.” Then he perfected the art of “flying with cars” and Banjo would work no other calling. Soon, he overcame the fear of border patrols and their bullets and determinedly, he careened through customs and police checkpoints along the Idi-Iroko border in order to get his merchandise into the country every two weeks and get closer to his dream. Now he is living his dream. Among other things, he owns a vehicle sales outlet, a retinue of rogue drivers and border mercenaries, an awesome reputation with law enforcement agents and border officials and the fear and envy of fellow smugglers. According to Banjo, “It has not been easy. Vehicle smuggling is very dangerous. It claims lives. There is always so much to worry about. The most important thing is to establish an understanding with the customs and police officers manning the border… We always settle them,” he said. But at times, even that understanding peter out and the smuggler have to brave the border patrol bullets, swampy forests, ditches and thickets dotting the 59 illegal routes along the border, often at the expense of his men and the merchandise. Although the government has lifted the ban on the importation of used-cars through the land borders, smuggling continues to flourish. “It would take a miracle for the government to eradicate vehicle smuggling. It’s cheaper and devoid of the bureaucratic bottle-necks characteristic of the legal importation procedure,” argued Festus Akinyomade, a Political Science graduate and used-car agent. There are several routes utilised by smugglers while bringing cars to receivers in Nigeria. They avoid the main road because of the heavy presence of security operatives of the Nigeria police, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Immigration, Joint Border Patrol, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and State Security Service. There is the Iyana-Ile-Oba road affords the smugglers the security of driving into the country without being noticed by the security operatives manning the border. There are other roads that link the major road along the Idi-Iroko road. Those roads are also utilised by the smugglers. Just after Iyana Ile-Oba is Iyana-Igboso. Others include, Ihunbo, Igborodo, Ayetoro village, Akojaga road, Ilashe village, Koko road, Ogosa, Araromi, Tipper garage and Ajegunle. Although Idiroko is its principal frontier post, the Ogun State Command of the NCS oversees at least eight other border stations. These include Alaari, Idopetu, Ifohin-Tedo, Ijofin, Ijoun, Ilara and Imeko. Two of these outposts, Idopetu and Ijofin, share marine borders with Benin Republic. According to Adeojo, it is believed that Ajegunle and Ogosa are the most confusing routes because each has about two and three bypasses. Ajegunle has Zomi, New road, Iko gate road beside the Iko Gate Grammar School, while Ogosa veers on to Araromi and Tipper garage. Most of the roads are very difficult terrain for security surveillance or patrol, as some of them are specifically designed by the smugglers for their activities. Some are designed as footpaths only to widen at further distance. Some routes are designed with ditches. “Smugglers hardly fall into those ditches because we know the...
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