Smuggling In Idi-Iroko, A Way Of Life

The road from Sango-Ota in Ogun State leading to Idi-iroko, Ogun State, has 52 petrol stations that are a little less than derelict. One of them, Conoil, had four attendants sitting idly by, gazing at nothing, it seems. The sub-rural, sub-urban town resembles one of the many towns in that vicinity, but as one gets close its Ajegunle, the first-time visitor becomes vulnerable probably because he looks like a tourist in an environment where everyone knows just about anything that the other person does. Okadas rush hither and thither. People you see around Idi-Ogun by the Ipokia junction have a businesslike mentality – business centres, hawkers, traders in petty goods, shops where all manner of goods are sold – all seem to mark the town out like a nice Texas cowboy town, safely packaged nicely in the hinterland of Nigeria’s South West.

Just a little farther from the palace of the Oniko of Ikoland, Olakunle Ojo, is the border between Nigeria and Benin Republic. Human activity here is at fever-pitch, perhaps explaining why there is a heavy whiff of security, heavy duty cargo scanning machines, immigration, customs and plain clothes SSS security personnel. Perhaps too, this is why the fuel stations are empty for the products to be taken out at night. Shade Adebambo, 25, who runs a GSM telephony business was born, bred and educated in Idi-Iroko. ‘’ Our people here are normal people. They just do business. We merely buy and sell,’’, she said, pointing to the barrels of red oil that line the kerb close to her shop.

But there was more to this that Adebambo, in all of her years in Idi-Iroko, may not have seen. Just by her GSM shop where Uchene Arinze, 32, sold his curtain blinds, careful activity takes place. Contraband drugs, ‘Esapharma, 30kg Made in Italy’, are meticulously packaged and couriered under the eagle but conniving eyes of immigration officials at the border. The vehicles used as conduits for smuggling these drugs into Benin via Igolo police post look like custom built Okadas, manned exclusively by cripples. Cripples? All of them. ‘’That way, they are useful to themselves and their families’’, an Okadaman who wanted to be anonymous said.

The full story of smuggling activities in Idi-Iroko came to light the following day. Before that however, it turned out that border activity in Idi-Iroko had attracted ladies of the night. Their activities, a source told TELL reporter, have caused a major cause of concern to some hoteliers who it was revealed, want NGOs to carry out enlightenment campaigns to secondary schools in the town to forestall an outbreak of HIV/AIDS. At the BK Hotel, off Idi-Ogun way, there was an argument between a woman of the night and a customer who refused to pay for the nocturnal services he enjoyed.

The houses on the roads leading to the many river beds where contrabands like vegetable oil, kerosene, fuel are smuggled in or out of Idi-Iroko are many. By the sides of nearly every mud-and-thatch house leading to the river are giant tankers, jerry cans and pans.

‘’All of this is normal in any town that conducts international business’’, Olatunji Adekunle(not real name) insists. Adekunle, a police officer, together with immigration and customs officers, was at one of the illegal points where the contrabands are smuggled into Idi-Iroko. According to him, ‘’nearly everybody in Idi-Iroko is a smuggler. I’m one too. I cannot rely on my salary as a policeman and most of us manning these illegal points of taking goods outside are smugglers too. All we do is make sure that everyone is well taken care of, even the traditional rulers, the security officials’’, he said. According to Adekunle, anyone interested in conducting the ‘legitimate’ palm oil or petrol business should know that the business flip-flops, but should come in with at least 1,000 yellow jerry cans with each going at a market price of N5,000 each. When these goods hit town, Adekunle said, they sell like hot cakes because the Nigerian palm oil industry is hardly alive. But what happens to the cars and other contrabands like petroleum products? ‘’They follow the same pattern. It is only those who are greedy that get caught’’, he said.

‘’Everything you call illegitimate is legitimate here in Idi-Iroko’’, a source who did not want to be named insists. According to him, what takes place in Idi-Iroko is a mere reflection of what happens at the high seas where a lot of illegal oil bunkering takes place. ‘’My only regret here is that things are brought here from outside and taken away by people who are not even natives of this town. It would gladden our hearts if there are school, hospitals and low cost housing estates instead of the international trade by barter that goes on here’’, the source said.

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