The Nigerian Navy, Forward Operating Base, Ibaka, Akwa Ibom, says it has arrested six suspects and seized 416 bags of contraband rice in two different operations.
Handing over the suspects and items to the Nigeria Customs Service on Monday, Commanding Officer, FOB Ibaka, Navy Cpt. Toritseju Vincent, said that smuggling of rice was inimical to local rice production.
He said a wooden boat carrying the first set of 223 bags of 50kg rice was intercepted on Sunday by officials of the Navy but no arrest was made as the driver of the boat escaped.
The second boat carrying 193 bags of 50kg rice was intercepted and six suspects arrested; other items seized included two pumping machines and two outboard engines.
According to him, the Navy will continue to do its best to nip rice smuggling in the bud to promote government’s drive towards the production of local production of rice.
“On behalf of the Flag Officer Commanding the Eastern Naval Command, I hereby hand over 223 bags of Habiba rice seized in the early hours of 28th April 2019.
“ It was unaccompanied because the suspects abandoned the boat and the products, the pumping machine and an outboard engine.
“In the same morning of Sunday, we also intercepted another boat with six suspects.
“I am officially handing over the suspects, the boat, pumping machine and outboard engine to you, the Nigeria Customs, along with 193 bags of Marori Benze rice, which we believe was brought in from Cameroon.
“We thank you for your cooperation, diligence and interaction in assisting us with these anti-smuggling operations,’’ he said.
He said the navy would continue to do its best to promote the Federal Government’s drive to promote our own local production of these goods.
“These anti-smuggling activities are inimical to the growth of our own rice industry.
“So we will continue to do our duty to make sure we nip it in bud, and bring it to a complete halt,’’ he said.
The Zonal Commander, Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Assistant Comptroller, Kolade Iloyode, received the suspects and bags of rice from the Navy and promised that the suspects would be handed over for prosecution to serve as deterrent to others.
Iloyode, who was represented by Kabir Ogah, Deputy Superintendent of Customs, Comptroller General of Customs Strike Force (CGC), Zone C, Akwa Ibom, commended the Navy for the support in combating smuggling.
He said the activity of smugglers was detrimental to government’s policy of rice sufficiency.
He said: “On behalf of the Zonal Commander, CGC Strike Force and the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) in general,
I want to assure you that these products will be evacuated immediately and converted to seizures.
“The suspects will be handed over to our legal department for prosecution, to serve as deterrent to others.
“This activity of smugglers undermine the intention of the government towards the policy of rice sufficiency in the country.
“And the only way the government can achieve this and improve the economic status of the country is through arrests and combating these smuggling activities.
“Of course, you have proven that you are not deterred, you are not tired, and you have also indicated your interest to ensure that the Nigerian government succeeds in this fight.
“Thank you for the efforts you have put in the fight against smuggling activities,’’ the customs official said.
One of the suspects, Mr Abia Etim, said he was a passenger on the seized boat and joined the boat from Cameroon to Nigeria.
Etim, a fisherman who plies his trade in Cameroon, denied involvement in the smuggling of the bags of rice.
He said: “I came from Cameroon with the boat carrying the rice.
“I fish in Cameroon and decided to come to Nigeria.
“I was only a passenger on the boat and not involved in the smuggling; the driver of the boat escape,’’ he said.