…Two of the suspects insist they were innocent Ondo State indigenes, coming to Nigeria***
The Nigerian Navy Forward Operating Base (FOB) located at Ibaka, Mbo Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom indicated on Sunday that it intercepted 483 bags of smuggled rice in two wooden boats, alongside 11 suspects conveying, from Cameroon.
The Commanding Officer, Navy Cpt. Toritseju Vincent, while handling over the suspects and bags of rice to the Nigeria Customs Service in Ibaka, also said the arrest was made in two separate operations on July 10.
Vincent said the navy patrol team arrested five suspects with 319 bags of 50kg rice and six others with 164 bags of 50kg rice in wooden boats coming from neighbouring Cameroon.
According to him, the intense patrol of the waterways has drastically helped to reduce smuggling in that axis for some months now.
“Like we have always been doing, we will continue to secure your assistance and cooperation in our fight against illegalities.
“In the past months, there has been a drastic reduction in rice smuggling between Cameroon and Akwa Ibom.
“This is largely due to our efforts on the water. We will continue to intensify our patrols to nip this completely in the bud.
“So, on behalf of the Officer Commanding Eastern Naval Command, I hereby hand over these 5 suspects, 319 bags of rice and a wooden boat, as well as 6 suspects, 164 bags of rice and a wooden boat to the Nigeria customs service,” Vincent said.
The suspects and seized rice were handed over to Assistant Controller of Customs, Ali Garko.
“As part of the synergy that the Nigerian Navy has been having with the Nigeria customs, we wish to state that we are grateful for this kind gesture and wish it to continue so that we nip out smuggling,” Garko said.
Two of the suspects, a student and an artisan, however denied that they were smugglers.
They claimed that they were passengers who followed the boats due to circumstances beyond their control.
Elisha David, a student and indigene of Ilaje in Ondo State, said he left Cameroon for Nigeria to process his passport so he would participate in the National Youth Service Corps programme upon the completion of his studies there.
“I am a victim of circumstance. I was a passenger in one of the boats that was arrested and do not know anything about the smuggled rice. I came here to pursue my Nigerian passport in Uyo.
“I am a final year student in Higher Institute of Management Technology in Cameroon and the passport is one of the requirements for the NYSC programme. I had started the process and have the receipt of the passport with me. My coming to Nigeria was to check if the passport was ready,” he said.
The other suspect, Ezekiel Omogunle from Gbokoda in Ondo narrated that he was a fisherman in Cameroon and was returning to Nigeria to get treatment for an illness but was unfortunate to be arrested by the Navy in the boat carrying the suspected smuggled rice.