“Border Closure Is Only Enriching People” – A Week In The Life Of A Smuggler

September 22, 2020

“A Week In The Life” is a weekly Zikoko series that explores the working-class struggles of Nigerians. It captures the very spirit of what it means to hustle in Nigeria and puts you in the shoes of the subject for a week.


The subject for today is Mr M, a businessman and smuggler. He talks about the risk involved in his job, how bribes affect the prices of goods, and his hope to diversify his source of income.

MONDAY:

I wake up with my heart beating very fast. I calm myself down by taking deep breaths. In my dream, I bought large quantities of rice from smugglers who evaded border patrol. Immediately after paying them, customs officers came in and seized the rice. All my money, gone. 

God forbid.

This smuggling business is risky — you risk your money, your property and your life. However, if it goes well, it can be highly profitable. Risk varies depending on the part of the smuggling chain you’re in. We have the drivers, who convey the goods from point A to B. These ones risk their lives because they drive at breakneck speeds to avoid being caught. We also have people called crossers. Their job is to ensure that goods successfully cross from point A to B. This involves making “arrangements” with the right officials along a particular route. They risk their time and money because, sometimes, after making all the plans, goods are still seized. Most times, this is due to an unforeseen circumstance like oga from Abuja is around or your money for that day has expired. Then, we have businessmen like me.  I own the goods, the cars, and I pay both the drivers and crossers, so I risk everything. 

In Nigeria, any profitable business comes with a lot of risks. One of the worst things that can happen is when the car and the goods are seized. 

Again, God forbid. 

I’m done with overthinking this early morning. I’m going back to bed.

TUESDAY:

Thankfully, there are no bad dreams today. I spend some time thinking about how far I’ve come in this business. I started out as a cab driver and then moved into conveying rice from the border into Nigeria. Then, I gathered some cash and became a businessman who’d buy from people coming from the Seme border.

Going to the border is a very desperate and dirty job. You can be there for three to five days, sometimes for two weeks and they [customs] may not allow you to pass. As if that’s not bad enough, there are so many processes involved in a single trip.

The crosser will go-ahead to do the bookings and negotiations. They’ll negotiate a rate with the officers based on the number of cars that are expected to pass through. Because you don’t pay immediately, the next step is getting a tag that drivers present at the checkpoint. We use the tags to know the exact amount of cars to pay for. This is useful in cases where your car doesn’t pass through their checkpoint. I’ve had cases where we booked one checkpoint, but because the officers were fighting with the next checkpoint, they didn’t allow us to pass. Or, you’ll hear that special patrols are monitoring so everyone is playing safe and not allowing cars pass. That way, we don’t pay for services not provided.

We have people that we call antennas. These are bike men that we pay between ₦3000 — ₦5000/day to be on the lookout for what we call “strange Hiluxes.” These are officers outside of the ones you’ve booked. We mount these antennas at bus stops, and their job is to inform us when they see strange vehicles. They communicate with each other especially in cases where they are trying to get a clear picture of who’s inside the car. 

You’ll also book [pay] hunters and any other person you think can delay you on the road because you can’t afford any delay while driving.

I tell people that officers are the cause of increased prices of food. All these payments and bookings are added to the cost of rice. From the border, a bag of rice costs ₦13,500, yet as the direct supplier, I buy for ₦24,000. After I add my profit when reselling, it becomes ₦25,000. By the time the market trader adds their profit and cost of transportation, it becomes ₦27,000. On and on it goes until it gets to the final consumer.

Nobody needs to tell me that we’re in trouble in this country.

WEDNESDAY:

For this job, we build our own cars so they can withstand the load of goods. We change the spring of the car and tyre — we use cargo tyres for trucks. 

The way you’ll drive a loaded and empty built car differs. For a loaded built car, you can run at a particular speed because that’s when the shock absorbers will work. The car will balance well. However, when you offload the goods, it becomes so light that when you’re climbing anything, you’ll just be hearing gboa! gboa! 

Some smuggling cars are built for the forest, and their raising is different from the ones built for the express. It’s hard to recognise the cars built for the express because of how neat they usually are. Some drivers even use those ones to do shakara and carry their girlfriends. However, there are some that are God forbid after offloading. You can’t drive them because of how high they get.

I’m going to spend a large part of my day inspecting the car a mechanic built for me. I sent him some samples, and I’m just hoping that he hasn’t done rubbish. 

THURSDAY:

If you ask ten drivers the toughest part of this job, they’ll tell you that it’s the risk. As a driver, you’re always racing against time. I’ve seen too many accidents in this job. 

One time, one Hilux was pursuing my driver. As he got to the front, road safety people had blocked the road. So, he decided to climb the culvert and that’s how his tyre burst. He lost control of the car and entered the bush. They tracked the trail of his car and still confiscated the goods. 

Another time, I was following another driver whose tyre burst while at high speed. He lost control and entered into the bush. Thank God we were able to rescue the person. All these even happened when things were still “normal.” Unlike now where everywhere is strict. 

These days, imported rice is now as restricted as drugs, so we can’t even afford any delay in transit. As the rice is getting to us from the border, we are loading it into vehicles that are taking it straight for sale. In the past, we’d store them at home and load at our own pace, but we don’t have that grace anymore. 

You can’t even keep a bag of rice at home because customs are now bursting into houses. I know of someone that they broke into his house to seize two bags of rice. 

All this has made we business owners instruct our drivers to move fast. Like today, one of my antennas told me that one strange Hilux was headed my way. So, I instructed my drivers that they had only one hour to move my goods from point of collection to point of sale. They have only one job: don’t get caught. 

I know that this can increase the chances of an accident, but it is what it is.

FRIDAY:

Today, I can’t stop thinking about how easy it is for this business to cease. There are three things the government can do to end us totally: they can impose free duty on these imported goods so that it’s accessible to everyone. This eliminates the need for smuggling and bribes that increase the price of these goods. If there’s competition, the prices will become so cheap for everyone.

They can also subsidise the cost of buying the goods. That way, the government can even regulate the price across board. If it’s government-approved, there will be no hiding and there’ll be no need for smugglers. 

They can also do proper enforcement. This way, even if you bring in half plastic of rice, they’ll come for you. This one will require a combination of army and customs officer. Customs guys can’t shoot like that but if you try to do anyhow, army will show you pepper. 

Anyhow sha, banning without proper enforcement is where we see our own money because of scarcity. The government is just wasting their time with border closure and enriching people. During border closure, rice went from ₦11,500 per bag to ₦27,500. Some people move as many as 500 bags every week. Imagine the gain per week. There’s no price regulation, so you can sell at any price you want. Even the customs officers and the military men have joined the business because of how profitable it is.

 I’m going to spend my day thinking about other sources of income. I know that this will not last forever. This is the kind of business that you use to raise capital for another business. It’s not something to do for long. Even though I can’t stop wondering: what business can someone do in this Nigeria that will even fetch good money?


Editor’s note: Name and details changed to protect the identity of the subject. Mr M is a graduate and he says unemployment led him to this job.

Check back every Tuesday by 9 am for more “A Week In The Life ” goodness, and if you would like to be featured or you know anyone who fits the profile, fill this form.

Hassan Yahaya

Join The Conversation

Bring a friend.

You'll like this

Watch

Now on Zikoko

Recommended Quizzes

November 19, 2019

Regardless of what society has tried to tell us, enjoying sex is not something to be ashamed of. So, in a bid to celebrate our generation’s sexual agency, we’ve created a quiz that will accurately (again, keep your complaints to yourself) infer how many people you’ve spelt with. Try it out: 11 Quizzes For The […]

December 11, 2019

In the past month, we’ve made quizzes that guessed the last time you had sex, how many people you’ve slept with, and just how good you are in bed. For our latest attempt, we will use your taste in Nigerian music from the 2010s to ascertain what you’re like in bed. Take to find out:

November 28, 2019

There are so many talented and stunning Nollywood actors that make it hard not to fall in love with them. So, while we all know the likelihood of us ending up with any of them is super low, it’s still fun to imagine a world where we actually stood a chance, and that’s why this […]

November 27, 2019

Do you have a face that could make angels jealous, or should you really be walking around with a nylon bag over your head so you don’t scare children? Well, this quiz is here to answer that by telling you exactly how good-looking you are. Take and find out: 11 Quizzes For People Who Aren’t […]

November 14, 2019

The fourth season of Big Brother Naija came to an end over a month ago, but the conversation surrounding the housemates is far from over. So, in a bid to keep the fire burning, we decided to create a quiz that tells you which famous member of the ‘Pepper Dem’ gang is your soulmate. Take […]

November 11, 2019

Everyone has something to say about what kind of person they are. But how well do we truthfully evaluate these things? Not that much, I can assure you. The average person is always lying to themselves to make sure they look good. But you know what and who doesn’t lie? Zikoko quizzes that’s what. Take […]

More from Hustle

Black boy using laptop on a chair
August 21, 2021

Nigeria is hard and everybody is looking for how to make money to ease things, including students. Here’s a list of online jobs for Nigerian students.  1. Digital Marketing  Digital Marketing is one of the jobs with a low barrier to entry. All you have to do is take a course online. It’s flexible too, […]

August 17, 2021

A Week In The Life” is a weekly Zikoko series that explores the working-class struggles of Nigerians. It captures the very spirit of what it means to hustle in Nigeria and puts you in the shoes of the subject for a week. The subject of today’s “A Week In The Life” is a club hostess and […]

August 16, 2021

Have you ever bought anything online before? Many people have. Some of us have had amazing experiences but many more people have had really bad experiences. I have worked as an online marketing expert for over 10 years and yet, I have been scammed by an online business. I haven’t been scammed in a long […]

August 10, 2021

A Week In The Life” is a weekly Zikoko series that explores the working-class struggles of Nigerians. It captures the very spirit of what it means to hustle in Nigeria and puts you in the shoes of the subject for a week. The subject of today’s “A Week In The Life” is Enoch Adegoke. He’s a […]

Watch

Trending Videos

Zikoko Originals

December 14, 2020
What happens when a group of chatty young Nigerians talk about things they're passionate about? You get Nigerians talk. A show that discusses very familiar struggles for the average Nigerian. From relationship deal breakers to sex education with Nigerian parents to leaving Nigeria, be prepared for a ride.
November 2, 2020
'The Couch' is a Zikoko series featuring real life stories from anonymous people.
October 26, 2020
A collection of videos documenting some of the events of the EndSARS protests.
June 22, 2020
'The Couch' is a Zikoko series featuring real life stories from anonymous people.
June 22, 2020
Hacked is an interesting new series by Zikoko made up of fictional but hilarious chat conversations.
June 4, 2020
What happens when a group of chatty young Nigerians talk about things they're passionate about? You get Nigerians talk. A show that discusses very familiar struggles for the average Nigerian. From relationship deal breakers to sex education with Nigerian parents to leaving Nigeria, be prepared for a ride.
June 2, 2020
Quickie is a video series where everyone featured gets only one minute to rant, review or do absolutely anything.
May 14, 2020
Isolation Diary is a Zikoko series that showcases what isolation is like for one young Nigerian working from home due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
March 12, 2020
Life is already hard. Deciding where to eat and get the best lifestyle experiences, isn't something you should stress about. Let VRSUS do that for you.

Z! Stacks

Here's a rabbit hole of stories to lose yourself in:

Zikoko amplifies African youth culture by curating and creating smart and joyful content for young Africans and the world.
X