In a move to tighten the noose on food smugglers, the Nigeria Customs Service has deployed drones and more operatives to restrict the diversion of foodstuff to neighbouring countries through about 1,500 identified illegal border crossings.

The National Public Relations Officer of Customs, Abdullahi Maiwada, confirmed to on Sunday that the NCS had increased its presence across the borders, including the illegal routes.

The development, he added, was in compliance with the Presidential directive to the security agencies to stop the smuggling of food out of the country as part of decisive measures to stem the food crisis in the country.

Amid the falling value of the naira, traders who deal in grains have been taking grains and other staples to Niger Republic, Chad and Cameroon for higher profits.

But this had driven up the prices of food in Nigeria, resulting in protests by citizens and attacks on food trucks by desperate citizens in some states.

Worried by the situation, President Bola Tinubu directed the National Security Adviser, the Inspector-General of Police and the Director, Department of State Services to go after food hoarders and smugglers.

The government ruled out the importation of food as part of strategies to address the high costs of foodstuffs and the economic hardship troubling the country.

Following the directive, dozens of food trucks leaving the country had been intercepted and sent back.

Giving an update on the measures against food hoarding and smuggling, the NCS spokesman,Maiwada, explained that the deployment of drones was under the Trade Modernisation Project of the Federal Government, noting that the equipment needed for the protection of the borders was being provided through the TMP.

“The deployment of drones and other software is part of our Trade Modernisation Project, which has been concessioned. The TMP was approved by the Federal Government for 20 years. So any development that has to do with what you are asking is part of the contract,” he stated.

In July 2023, it was reported that the NCS was collaborating with the Trade Modernisation Project Limited under a public, private partnership arrangement.

Speaking at the inauguration of the NCS Trade Modernisation Project management office in Abuja at the time, Saleh Ahmadu, chairman of the project, said the TMP would invest a total of $3.2bn in the aforementioned period.

“The project would result in efficiency in NCS’ service delivery. Under the terms of the concession agreement, TMP will invest a total of $3.2bn over a 20-year period, which will generate more than $200bn in revenue for the Federal Government.

“As trade becomes increasingly complicated, the project will equip the NCS with the necessary technology tools and platforms to drive trade harmonisation,” Ahmadu had stated.

Asked about the number of personnel that would be recruited, the Customs spokesperson said, “We have recruited a large number of personnel in the last few years in terms of human resources. And even this year, based on the approved budget, there is going to be the recruitment of more junior staff to be able to effectively manage the border areas. I may not be able to give the exact figure now, but I know that over 2,000 officers have been recruited from 2019 till now.

“In terms of equipment, modernisation, the use of drones and other sophisticated technologies in managing the borders that are contained in our Trade Modernisation Project which is concessioned for 20 years.

“The concession agreement is between the Federal Government and Trade Modernisation Limited. They are providing scanners, software and all necessary technologies required at the seaports, airports and borders.”

On whether the concession was already in place, Maiwada stated that the concessionaires had started working.

“It is in place and they are working assiduously. They have started working and very soon we will see the manifestation of what they are doing,” he stated.

On the deployment of technology to check food smuggling, the chief superintendent of Customs admitted “There is still room for improvement.’’

He added, “However, very soon you are going to see the deployment of Non-intrusive Inspection Technology across our borders. I think they are providing about 74 of them or more. These are to be deployed on the seaports, airports and land borders.”

NIT technologies are force multipliers that enable Customs officers to screen or examine a larger portion of the stream of commercial traffic while facilitating the flow of legitimate trade, cargo and passengers.

They include digital X-ray and vibration monitoring, ultra-high frequency analysis and dynamic contact resistance measurements.

Maiwada had earlier told our correspondent on Saturday that the agency had intercepted food smugglers in Kano, Katsina and Sokoto states.

The agency recently revealed that it intercepted 15 trailers that were fully loaded with food items and were heading out of the country through the Sokoto State border.

Obaseki tackles scarcity

Meanwhile, the Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, has said he is taking steps to combat the current hike in food prices in the state.

He urged collaboration and support of all stakeholders to proffer lasting solutions to the incessant price surge and guarantee better welfare for the people of the state.

Obaseki met with relevant stakeholders, including market associations, traders, and farmers’ unions, among others, at the Urhokpota Hall, in Benin City, to chart actionable measures to address the rising cost of living, particularly food prices in the state.

He said, “I called this meeting because of the cost of living in Nigeria as things are hard, especially the prices of food. The people can’t eat anymore and as an administration, we can’t just keep quiet but to act.

“We have called this meeting to see how to solve this problem as trading blames will not lead to any solution to the serious challenges we are facing. All problems have solutions, and we are here to discuss and see how to solve this high price hike challenges facing us.

“You said trade unions are people fixing prices, but I don’t know how they work to achieve that in the market. I want to know how they fix prices. I thought it was demand and supply that controlled the prices.

“If we say unions are the problem then we must look at the unions and their activities and how to control them. We must set up a committee to check and look at the activities that lead to price hike. The committee will help us know if they are doing anything against the law.

“This meeting shows that bad road has a role to play in price increment in our markets. I have been begging the Federal Government to help repair and fix the Ekpoma/Auchi Road since when Babatunde Fashola was Minister for Works but no results till now. I appeal to them to ensure contractors complete the road which has been on for over 30 years. I have approached Dangote and BUA to support us in doing the bad portion of the road because their trucks ply that route.”

Earlier, Solomon Idiogbe, representative of the Edo Civil Society Organisation appealed to the governor to help check the activities of unions across various markets in the state as they significantly contributed to the rising cost of goods and services in Edo.

Edo State Market Women Association Leader, Madam Blackky Ogiamien, commended Obaseki for his administration’s commitment to the welfare of Edo citizens, particularly in the area of security.