The Oasis Reporters
December 14, 2017
Coming on the heels of the Operation Python Dance military success in the South East of Nigeria and the shutting up of the mouth of Nnamdi Kanu, chief agitator for a separate Biafran homeland in Nigeria’s eastern region, fairly or unfairly, one thing is certain.
The south east is not ‘feeling alright’, due apologies to the memory of James Brown who sang the hit song, ‘I Feel Alright’ .
When news got to the office of The Oasis Reporters that a bag of rice was being sold in the South East for 20,000 naira and above in early December and that it was even scarce while the same commodity was on sale in the south west and in the north for 12,000 naira or less, we sent our Investigative team to investigate and find out the route of rice to Igbo land and the root cause of the price differential considering that the south east was a stone throw to the Port Harcourt, Onne, Warri, Sapele, Calabar and Koko ports in the Niger delta region.
Those aforementioned ports are even closer to Europe and Asia by about 100 nautical miles than Apapa and Tin Can Island ports or even Cotonou port in the Republic of Benin.
Why then should rice or other goods come only through the south west before being transported to the south east at a much higher rate of shipping, then by road haulage to the south east, that adds almost $500- $1,000 more expenses per shipment?
Before delving into further details, this is how Rice gets to Igbo land
First, it gets to Lagos, either via smuggling routes from Cotonou in Benin Republic or through the ports (Apapa or Tin Can) in Lagos, South west Nigeria.
Smart rice smugglers take it slightly up to Abeokuta, Ado Ekiti or Ibadan, then it is taken in small quantities via special drivers through abandoned or less popular roads to the south east via the Niger Delta.
For each bag of rice, the cost of transportation is between 2,500 to 3,500 naira per bag.
First the driver gets to the bank and obtains bundles of fifty naira notes to grease the palms of Police or military checkpoints along the way, and the check points are usually very many.
Once a driver gets to the police blockade, he stretches forth a clenched fist for a handshake. 50 naira is secretly exchanged and he moves on mumbling a greeting without stopping for any search.
Our undercover reporter also observed that the Mobile police checkpoints collect 100 naira per vehicle. First, a ‘mopol’ (acronym for a mobile police officer) would bark in a shrill and menacing voice, “Driver, Paaarrrk”!
That is a signal that 50 naira would not suffice. The driver then doubles the tip and drives slowly to a different calm looking mopol shakes hands, secretly exchanging two crisp fifty naira notes, and zooms off.
Only inexperienced drivers unwisely stop for a search and foolishly allow the bags of rice to be “arrested and confiscated” for the IDPs in the north or resold by them.
There are some discreet checkpoints that do not collect cash from the drivers directly. But the drivers are strongly advised to buy one pure water sachet since the sun is very hot, from just one little boy only, under the close watch of a police man.
You don’t take the water. You just drop the fifty naira note and move on.
Consequently, Rice for the Christmas or new year in Igbo land will come at a price tag, slightly better than the Operation Python Dance or Crocodile Smile that saw outright confiscations in the Nnamdi Kanu period of heated and hated struggle for a Biafran identity which left the government nervous and the military, jittery.
Question is, why are the ports in the south south, next door to the south east being left underdeveloped and under utilized or being crippled gradually while the Lagos ports in the south west are being upgraded to international standards to yield more revenue to the federal government and the Lagos State government only, leaving the east decrepit and forlorn when it is cheaper to ship there from Europe, Asia and the US than to the South west?
You can figure that one out.
Note This :
All vehicles going out of the South-south or the south east back to the south west or the north never get checked and no bribes demanded. It is free and civilized passage with decent exchanges of banters between security officials and drivers and they all seem to know each other by name!
Curious friendship there.