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Smuggling, seizures and dubious disposals

By Josef Omorotionmwan
When people do the same thing the same old way and keep expecting different results, that is the very definition of foolery. Nigeria is one country where we simply laugh when calamity strikes and after that, life continues.

We are concerned today with the numerous cases – a few of which we can only reproduce here – where Nigeria wastefully sets fire on money-spinners and other items that are desperately needed by all. For us, by whomever and by whatever name, destruction by fire is arson. And where we must resort to burning, let it be with a sense of loss and trepidation.

First, we cannot quantify the amount of havoc that has just been wreaked on the people of Ebubu in Eleme Local Government Area of Rivers State. In the weekend of October 30 – November 1, 2015, thousands of residents of the area besieged a pit where large quantities of frozen chicken condemned by men of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, were said to have been buried.

On Friday, October 30, the Customs men dug a pit and buried thousands of cartons of frozen poultry said to have been brought in six containers, seized at the Onne Port.

No sooner had the Customs “undertakers” left the “cemetery” than the community people moved in to exhume the products, which they carted home for consumption. In many homes in the area, it was barbecue-galore as they roasted and fried the chickens, leading to endless meriment to which friends and guests from other areas were freely invited, thanks to the GSM regime.

At a point, however, concerned citizens began to send messages across Eleme and neighbouring communities about the danger inherent in the consumption of the condemned chickens. In fact, we hear that the Archbishop of Commonwealth Covenant Church, the Most Reverend Moses Kattey, made it part of the subject of his preaching on Sunday. He also issued several warnings to people outside his congregation about the danger in eating the condemned poultry.

Apparently, the seizure was a direct result of the recent shake-up at the Customs. Those who supervised the importation arrangements might have left the scene before the goods arrived.

Again, the burial here could have been symbolic. We are unable to envisage the size of the pit that could accommodate six containers of frozen poultry. In the familiar tradition of what the Binis call “kolo yunu, kolo yokpan” (pluck into the mouth and pluck into the bowl), more than five containers might have escaped into the markets. This aspect is for another day.

The products were impounded not because they were bad but because they were contrabands. Because of the uncontrolled nature of the disposal, a lot of contamination could enter into the products between the points of seizure and disposal.

And this is coming at a time when everyone seems to have moved away from talking about orphanages into the area of internally and externally displaced persons because of the latter’s political attractiveness. We think that with a bit of control, it would have been more humane and economically efficient to make the seized poultry available to the displaced camps that now abound everywhere, instead of burying or setting them ablaze.

Secondly, we are still at a loss to understand why early in the present democratic experiment, when a large cache of sophisticated arms and ammunitions was recovered from the militants of the era who were beating a retreat from militancy; and the recoveries were set ablaze.

Yet, we kept complaining at that time that our military and the police lacked the type of sophisticated weapons that we were setting ablaze. Even at a point, we virtually surrendered to men of the underworld because of their sophisticated weaponry. Couldn’t we have converted these weapons to legitimate ends?

Thirdly, as we speak, a barge laden with struggled crude is burning in the Warri waters, and this is virtually a daily occurrence in the Niger Delta Region, courtesy the ever vigilant Joint Task Force and our Marine Forces.

Again, on 12 December 2012, eleven takers used for illegal bunkering activities in Edo State were destroyed by our security agents. Evidently, it is bad enough that certain elements would continue to plunder the common wealth of the entire people. It is also painful that vandals would consistently engage in stealing our petroleum products in spite of the risk involved.

We, however, think that anyone who attempts scratching his body with the intensity of the itching certainly stands the risk of having his body totally bruised. With our uncontrolled methods of disposal, we pollute the water, the air, the land; we poison the people; and we degrade the environment. In most cases, decisions are made without public scrutiny of the cost-benefit analysis.

Whichever way one looks at it, the destruction of tankers and barges would result in colossal wastes running sometimes into billions of Naira. Add to this, the allied cost of destruction – man-hour plus the cost of procuring condemned tyres and other fire enhancers.

Other hidden costs come in the form of the negative effects on the people and the environment – considerable damage to the soil and the environment in which the burning takes place as well as the depletion of the ozone layer and the concomitant green house effect. Our approach depicts one of clear double standard: when smuggled vehicles are impounded, we do not set them and the ships that brought them ablaze. Rather, the exotic cars are auctioned out at ludicrously low prices or given out to girlfriends as birthday gifts. Where, then, is the justification for striking a match on impounded tankers and barges together with the petroleum products?

We can also inflict the intended psychological trauma on the smugglers and at the same time, make money by selling the liquid content back to the oil companies; and auctioning the tankers and barges to the public. This way, the tanker owners who allow their vehicles to be used for smuggling would be further tormented each time they see the vehicles plying our road.

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