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Amazing World Of Female Smugglers
The News 2007/4/30
By Paul Adeagbo


Women are as active as men in the dangerous business of smuggling. The weaker sex? Not these ones

Even at 4.30 a.m., the Mile Two terminus on Badagry expressway in Lagos is usually a drone of voices. The voices are mostly those of smugglers and their cab driving accomplices. This writer, on an official assignment on the Badagry-Seme smuggling route, observed Chimobi Nnamaka, 32, dash off to look for a vehicle that would ferry her goods to another terminus where she would board a vehicle to Warri. Nnamaka had arrived at the Mile 2 terminal only about two and half hours earlier from Togo and had just woken up from sleep. Curious that a husband would leave this paragon of beauty to risk the hazards of smuggling, this writer enquired from her why she ventured into smuggling. The response: “My husband attempted to discourage me, but I would not yield. I know how much I make from each trip. My husband was retrenched from an oil servicing company and we have three children to cater for. What am I supposed to do?”smuggles into Nigeria.

Introduced to smuggling eight years ago by a friend, Nnamaka ventured into it with N7500. Initially, she would pair with her friend to buy goods at the Seme border, which she smuggled into Lagos and finally to Warri to sell. Over the years, the Imo State indigene has become successful in the trade. In Warri, she confides in the reporter, she boasts of a shop stocked with goods worth over N5 million.

Nnamaka has been riding the turbulent waves that accompany the business. To her, the risks encountered in the course of a smuggling trip simply pass for an interesting adventure. She recalls one night she was stranded at the Seme border how a Customs officer attempted to rape her at the corner of the arrival lounge where she had holed up for the night. To avert the violation, she had to pay the officer a huge ransom. About five times, she had had a close shave with death when armed robbers attacked the bus she was travelling in. On a number of occasions, her wares had been seized. Despite it all, she remains adamant smuggling is the only business that could fetch the money she needs. Though she has a National Diploma in Marketing, she vows seeking a salaried job with the certificate is out of the question. She would rather market the shoes, bags and other wares that she smuggles into Nigeria.

Nnamaka is just one of the scores of female smugglers that traverse the numerous smuggling routes between Nigeria and the neighbouring countries of Togo, Benin, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. Every night, at the Mile 2 terminus, there are no fewer than 300 of the female specie either preparing to depart for the borders or arriving from smuggling runs. Those waiting for dawn to depart lie on bags of rice or benches belonging to night food vendors or mai tea, sit on cartons of tin tomato paste, or are stretched out on their wrappers on the floor. The late arrivals from the routes are busy sorting out goods brought in in all sorts of disguise to beat customs check and seizure.

There seems no age limit or class to the smuggling female membership. Bosede, 19, a student of Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education, Ijanikin, Lagos State, brings in goods from across the border to sell in Lagos to make a living and pay her school fees. She insists that selling jeans and ladies wears has been a veritable means of meeting her financial needs. An unfortunate product of a broken home, Bosede’s parents have re-married and none of them appears to have interest in her welfare. Smuggling has provided an escape out of poverty and, it is, she maintains, better than prostitution.

The smugglers have to contend with the social stigma that attends their trade. Most female smugglers, it is generally believed, trade away their chastity, especially to the rampaging Customs officers on the prowl, to succeed. Last month, in a commercial bus conveying mostly female smugglers to Seme, trouble started when the ring refused to reimburse the bus conductor who had paid the toll demanded by Customs officers at a checkpoint. The driver’s mate maintained that he had only charged the women as mere passengers and did not add the cost of ferrying across their contraband. One of the women, declaring no kobo would be added to the fare, burst out that but for financial problems, no decent woman would be involved in what she described as “the dirty business of smuggling,” as they (the women) throw all caution to the wind to achieve their goals.

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   The woman, who identified herself as Alhaja Alake, unabashedly narrates her smuggling odyssey to TheNEWS. When she started smuggling 15 years ago, she lost so much money as her goods were always seized. To overcome that plight, she applied a leverage to give her a sure footing. The leverage was that she succumbed to the sexual demands of many a patrol team leader. As she understood the ropes, she restricted herself to an intimate affair with a middle level but highly influential Customs officer who commands a voice in the smuggling circle. That sexual degeneracy has been working magic for Alake who boasts her wares can never be seized. The smuggler says many other women in the business also sacrifice away their fidelity to achieve the same aim, although they may be ashamed to admit it.

Interestingly, the women have female collaborators in uniform. Business is booming for the conspirators. The uniformed ladies serve as escorts to vehicles loaded with contraband for N1000 per trip and successfully make as many as seven trips on lucky days. Last year, in an instance witnessed by this magazine, some female smugglers, having loaded goods into five Mile 2-bound buses, employed the services of some female police and military personnel to shield them from the prying eyes of Customs officials and policemen at checkpoints on the Badagry highway. A female soldier confirms the N1000 a trip charge for her escort job. In the lucrative chain, the escort from Seme disembarks at Okokomaiko, on the outskirts of Lagos, where some other soldiers and policemen take over the job, for N200 per vehicle, of escorting the contraband to the terminus at Mile 2. The escorts flash their identity cards to enquiring security agents to give the contraband a safe passage.

Yenusa Saka, Customs Comptroller at the Ogun Area Command, is worried that the number of females taking to smuggling is shooting up steadily. “We don’t have any specific location that we can point to where the female smugglers stay. They are in every location. Some of them reside at Idi-Iroko. They ferry the goods to Lagos to people who have shops for retailing and those who can afford to pay for them in bulk,” he fumes.

Caging female smugglers has not been easy. The low and middle level operators among them seem to have a way with security agents. The adequate supply of sexual favours from the women to security agents is boosted by a psychological sympathy that flows from the agents, most of who consider this specie of smugglers as a disadvantaged weaker sex pushed into the business not necessarily by greed for money but by some overwhelming matrimonial or unavoidable financial problems.

These are the small players. There are, however, the baronesses who wield so much power in government corridors, have so much money to grease palms at the highest echelon of the Nigeria Customs Service, have male and female couriers in their employ, own their vehicles to facilitate their smuggling business and, what is more, roll in the hay with top government officials and Customs officers. This class of female smugglers get away with, virtually, murder. As admitted by a Customs Superintendent who pleads for anonymity, the vehicles of such baronesses are untouchable. On most occasions when such vehicles are intercepted and detained by “ignorant” Customs officials at checkpoints, “the order to release them comes promptly from above.”


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