By Stphen Ubanna
When Dera Nnadi , a Customs Comptroller, was deployed to Seme Command, described as one of the busiest border routes in the west and central African sub-regions, last January by Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and former Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, nobody gave him opportunity to succeed.
S There were indications that some Freight Forwarders, had prepared their mind to sabotage his efforts in actualising his trade facilitation and anti-smuggling drive to showthe stuff that Seme/Krake joint border Community is made of. The agents were said to have also developed a mindset to collaborate with the desperate smugglers to frustrate his efforts to restore Seme as a ‘’strategic player inAfarica’’.
The Customs Comptroller has made it clear to those that cares to listen that the Economic Community of West African States Trade Liberalisation Scheme, ETLS, and the African Continental Trade Area, AfCTA, would be explored for the common good of Nigeria. His thinking may not be different from what President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos state had in mind to improve border trade, with neigbourig West and Central countries.
The Nigerian President had told Beninois Counterpart, Patrice Talon, in Paris, Capital of France , after the New Global Financing Pact Summit recently, that ‘’Nigeria is ready to work with the Benin Republic, ‘’towards their economic prosperity’’, stressing that both countries need each other and nobody should separate them.
Tinubu, was said to have told Talon that Nigerian and Benin republic are in a loop and no one should separate them. He has described’’ Nigeria’s relations with Benin Republic as that of Siamese twins, joined at the hips and supported by other friendly countries like Togo, Ghana, Coted’Ivore and Niger’’. He may have alluded to Buhari who had attempted to separate the two countries, in August, 2019, by banning all goods from being exported and imported through the nation’s borders with the neighbouring countries, in the West and Central African sub-regions to end rampant smuggling across the porous frontiers.
The Nigerian President may have gladdened the heart of Patrice Talon,his Benin Republic Counterpart, whose country has been a key exporter of foodstuffs to the Africa’s most populous nation when he said that ‘’beyond being a major player in the Sub-region, Nigeria will do everything within its powers to sustain its spotlight on African countries as the fulcrum of its policies on the economy and Foreign policy’’ , noting that ‘’ trade issuses, security and border controls ‘’ his Administration will always be open and accessible to all the neighbouring countries’’.
The former Lagos state governor may have given an insight to the Beninois President why he has appointed Bashir Wale Adeniyi, a Deputy Comptroller General as the Acting Customs Comptroller General, in order to work with the neighbouring Countries Customs, stating that the Customs new helmsman will be available for all the neighbouring countries for their ‘’common interest’’.
An elated Talon, who could not his feelings over the renewed hope for the West African sub-region was said to have promised ‘’to provide support on trade and security policy at the borders between Nigeian and his home country, Benin . He was said to have told his Nigerian Counterpart, that they are prepared ‘’to work with the Nigerian government in implementing policies that will protect the two economies at land and sea entries’’, assuring Tinubu,that , ‘’whatever is banned in Nigeria will also be prohibited in Benin Republic’’. The Nigerian government has banned the importation of foreign parboiled rice and Vehicles from coming into the country through the land border on January I, 2017.
Although , Comptroller Nnadi, has been deployed to the Seme Command at a time of low economic activities necessitated by the border closure in 2019, he was said to have called on’’ the officers and other government agencies personnel at the Seme/Krake joint border Community ‘’ to try and embrace the challenges being encountered in border trade and comply with the international procedures as far as International trade is concerned’’.
The Customs Comptroller was said to have promised to deploy his experience at Ogun I, in dealing ruthlessly with smugglers and their Collaborators and sponsors and his academic exposures in border Administration at NIPSS, to rumn Seme Command that would put smiles on the faces of stakeholders.
True to his words, he has kept to his promise. Aware that there is no way Seme Command could bounce back to life, let alone enhance its monthly revenue generation with only three clearing agencies operating at the Seme/Krake joint border Community.
He may have continued from where Mohammed Bello Jibo, the Command former Area Comptroller and now , an Assistant Comptroller General, ACG, Customs Headquarters was said to have stopped to sustain the tempo of generating its monthly revenue target from the N2 billion total revenue target set the Command by the Customs Headquarters.
Given his promise on assumption of duties to explore the ETLS and AfCTA market to improve on the Command N2 billion 2023, f revenue target, he was said to have called for a stakeholders meetings Stohear from. The meeting may have provided him an ample opportunity to know that there is no way the Command could improve on its monthly revenue generation, let alone meet the 2023, Fiscal year target of N2 billion without ‘’ restoring importers with their agents confidence to the Seme-Krake joint border trade route in taking delivery of their transit cargoes.
Having Known that the major problem of the Command, was the too many Freight Forwarding agencies that are idle due to non-renewal of their operating license, the Seme Customs Comptroller was said to have moved into action to help them out. He was said to have turned the Customs Headquarters to his second home.
Being a former Headquarters Staff, who knows how the system works, he was able to press the right buttons and an additional 15, Freight Forwarders operating Licensed Licenses was recovered, bringing the number of freight Forwarding agencies allowed to take delivery of their clients’ cargoes at the See/Krake joint border Community to 18.
It was learnt that as at Wednesday, June 21, 2023, the number of clearing agencies lincensed to run entries and take delivery of their importers’ cargoes at the Land border have increased to 27 and more are also at the verge of getting their operating Licenses renewed, an indications that business at the Seme/Krake joint border Community soon would certainly bounce back to life.
Indeed, the agents, who are happy with Comptroller Nnadi, are said to be working on their importers who had relocated to the Lagos ports of Apapa, Tincan Island, Port Terminal Multi-services Limited, PTML, and Kirikiri Lighter Terminlal, KLT, phases I and II, and the south eastern port of Onne, in River state, particular, to take delivery of their cargoes to import through the Autonomous Port Of Benin, Cotonou, given the good works that Compt. Nnadi, the Area Controller has done over the last five months to promote trade within West African sub-region.
The Seme Command Area Comptroller who has a passion to promote Made in Nigeria goods within the West Coast market was said to have also moved to get the Final approved operating License of the Seme Bonded Terminal operator.
As a prelude to getting the final Operating License for the Bonded Terminal operator, the Customs Authorities were said to have sent a team who were said to have visited the terminal located at Seme border Community on a Sunday to see things for themselves.
They may have been convinced that the Bonded terminal operator knew what he was doing with the offices provided for the Customs personnel and the size off the premises which can accommodate hundreds of Containers at a go including its world cargoes equipment.
In spite of the huge amount that the terminal operator was said to have spent between 2022 and now, to maintain the infrastructure and procure the necessary equipment, to discharge Containers from trucks released by the Benin Customs Authorities they may not have been helping matters for the investor recoup his capital. This is because the Nigerian bound cargoes are being released in trickles from the Autonomous Ports ofBenin, thus giving the officers and the Crane operators little or no job to do.
Take for instance, between Monday, June 2023, andFriday , Friday, June 24 ,2023, only two Nigerian bound trucks laden with cargoes were said to have been releasd by the Beninois Customs to the Seme Command at the border Community.
There is no gain saying the fact that despite the low volume of cargo traffic within the Seme land border Community between January, 2023, and now, Comptroller, Nanidi, may not have allowed it to dampen his enthusiasms to deliver on his mandate : improve trade in the West African sub-region and the Command monthly revenue generation. The Seme Command under Nnadi’s Leadership was said to have generated and paid into the Federation Account about N708,907,321. 99 between January, and May, 2023 .
Maritiime analysts believe that both not for the February 25, Presidential and National Assembly elections as well as the March 1, 2023, governorship and State Assembly elections, which forced many transit cargoes importers to adopt a wait and see attitude which was said to have reduced their volume of importation through the Land border, the Command’s revenue generation within the last five months of operation could have been much higher.
N The Command, was said to have generated N130,380,476.91 in the month of January 2023 and a little above N211 million in the month of May. It was said to have generated about N64.22 million in February, 2023, being the month of the Presidential and National Assembly elections in Nigeria. Cumulatively, the Command was said To have generated N1,571,289,906.69,for both the service and other agencies., including the Federal Inland Revenue Services, FIRS, within the five months that Compt. Nnadi has been in-charge of the operations of Seme Command operations.
The Seme Command Area Controller, may not have concentrated all his efforts in improving the volume of trade within the West African sub-region to shore up its revenue collections, but was said to have also maintained the ECOWAS, building at the Seme/Krake Joint border.
He was said to have repainted the building and the various offices. He was said to have also engaged another contractor who was said to have removed all the leaking roofs against the initial advice from some senior officers who never think it would be possible without getting the original Contractor who handled the roofing because of his expertise.
He was said to have also maintained the Lawns in the ECOWAS premises by engaging Labourers who are constantly cutting the grass to make the environment look nice as an entry point into the country. The Customs Comptroller, described as an innovator in Customs circles was said to have also planted cocoanut trees within the ECOWAS premises to futher beatify the area.
. He could do that because as at the ECOWAS building was handed over to former President Buhari and his Beninois Counterpart, Talon in 2021, by the European Union,, EU, the Beninois government has a mandate to supply the electricity and water to be used by the two countries security agencies personnel and other government workers sharing the building while the Nigerian government was saddled with the responsibility of maintaining the infrastructural facilities. The two countries were said to have kept to the terms of the agreement without defaulting. It was not surprising why there is constant powerly supply and water running regularly , non- stop and the ECOWAS, building and premises , looking neat at all times.