By Stephen Ubanna
Ahead of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, AfTA, which had been signed by President Muhammadu Buhari and due to take off next month, without any border restriction on the movement of goods and services between African Union, AU, member countries, appear to have encouraged the Katsina born Nigerian President to give the nod for the reopening of Seme and three other major land borders, out of the 76 legal borders across the country for now.
The Buhari led All Progressive Congress, APC, Administration , had closed the countries’ borders with the neighbouring three Countries and tightened up security to forestall the smuggling of Foreign rice, small and light weapons into the country but that was how far he could go.
. Given an insider information about the Presidential decision to reopen four land borders , spread across four geo-poliical regions in the country, preparatory for reopening the remaining closed borders between now and December 31, 2020, Hjia Zainab Ahmed, minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, who gave out the names of the reopened land borders : Seme border, south west Nigeria, Ilela and Maitagari, land borders north west, and Mfun, south-south geo-political region, had assured that the remaining legal borders still closed for free movement of goods and services between the four trading countries will be reopened also.
. Although the four land border Areas that had been reopened for normal trading activities to resume between the countries, Hajia Ahmed may have dampened the people’s enthusiasm when she said that ‘’the ban on the importation of foreign rice, poultry products and products contained in the country’s Fiscal policy would remain in force, fueling speculation making the rounds , that the Nigerian President merely wants to use the populist policy to win back the heart of the people who are not happy over the continuous rising prices of goods and services attributed to the 18 months border closure. He got it as he has continued to receive kudos from Nigerians both within and outside the country for decision and taking the advise of the hardliners in the his government to keep the border shut like the Asian country of China did with its neighbouring countries for 45 years.
The Nigeria President may have sent a message to the dare- devil smugglers not to take advantage of the reopening of the four land border routes and others that would follow soon to flout the government Fiscal policy , stating that ’’ the ban order on the itemised which had been made public ‘’will be implemented by the members of the border Patrol team’’. This is bad news for the smugglers.
Recall that there had been pressure from other West African countries Leaders, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, MAN and the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, for the reopening of the closed borders because of its negative effect on the Nigerian econmy and business Community .
More worrisome was the fact that the over 2,400 Nigerian Companies registered in the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, to participate in the Economic bloc Trade Liberalisation scheme, ETLS, which were already losing ground in the region were no longer finding it funny.
Note that out of the over 60% of the 6,900 products manufactured by Companies operating in the member countries of the regional economic bloc, for trade by the participating countries, according to a ministry of Foreign Affairs source are produced by Nigerian Companies.
One of such Companies , was Dangote Cement, a Company under the Dangote Industries, which has Aliko Dangote , a multi-billionaire as its President. Another of such Nigerian ETL Companies was the BUA Group, which a has Abdul Samad Rabiu, a multi-billionaire as its Chairman.
The two Nigerian registered ETLS Companies which are into Cement production that are in high demand in other West and Central African countries had had their warehouses filled with unsold export cement over the last one year begging for a way out. The Nigerian government may have discovered that the Nigerian Cement Companies may lose out in the regional cement market to Foreigners who have flooded the neighboring markets with Cement to force the Nigerian Companies out of the market that the katsina state born Nigerian President hastily gave approval to Dangote Industries and the BUA Group, last November to resume cement exportation to Niger and Togo through the Seme land border as a first towars the reopening of the closed land borders across the country.
Recall that Babagana Munguno, a retired Major General and National Security Adviser , NSA, who has the ears of the Nigerian President on November 13, 2020, had sent a letter to Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel, to release the over N314 million dutiable truck laden goods, which Tony nwabunike, President ANLCA said had a market value of N130 billion trapped at the Seme land order between August 2019 and now to the owners.
The letter was said to have been signed by E.A. Ndagi, an Army Major General in the NSA’S office. Many had xpected Ali, the Customs Comptroller General to act on the NSA’s letter but he never did. He has his reason.The Authority of Heads of States and Government of ECOWAS , had set up a tripartite Committee, headed by Mac Christian Kabore, President of Burkina Fasso to look into the Nigeria border closure which was said to be at the instance of the AU, leadership and report back to the Economic bloc highest decision making body for consideration to facilitate the reopening of the closed land borders across the country.
The Nigerian government, on its own part in order to expedite action on the reopening of the closed land borders had set up a Committee Chaired by Niyi Adebayo, a former governor of Ekiti state and now minister of Industries, Trade and Investment ‘’to review and advise the government on the reopening of the closed land borders’’.
Other members of the Adebayo led Committee were Hajia Ahmed, the minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Munguno, the NSA , and Chairman, Operation Swift Response, popular, Border Drills, overseeing the border closure, Ali, the customs Comptroller General and Vice Chairman of the Border Drills .
The setting up of the Presidential Committee on the country’s border closure may have informed why Ali, the Customs Comptroller was not in a hurry to order Bello Jibo, the Seme Command Area Comptroller, to release the trapped trucks laden goods at the Seme border Community to their owners to avoid jumping the gun. He may have waited for the Committee to submit its report which contained its recommendations to the President and get his response before doing so. He had his way.
But Nigerians appear to be in a hurry to push for all the land borders still closed across the country to be reopened for return of normal economic and social activities in their various border Communities
The Presidential directive reopening the four land borders across the country on Wednesday, December 16, 2020, may have given the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone , A, Operations and Lagos Roving Unit, headed by Jack Okpabi, an Assistant Comptroller of Customs, to step up their anti-smuggling operations by embarking on surveillance Operations IN Ogun and Oyo, described as home state of smugglers to checkmate their activities. Informed sources told The Value News that the team has the backing of Usman Yahaya, the Command acting Comptroller, to do so.
Unfortunately information about the team movement may have leaked out as the Patrol Team members were said to have worked throughout the night of Wednesday, December 16, 2020, in the flashpoint border Communities to smoke out the smugglers who may have taken advantage of the Presidential border to do the unexpected by flooding the Nigerian market with Foreign parboiled rice for their sponsors. The smugglers may have gone underground for the night to avoid losing their goods to the Yahaya’s men and escape arrest. But the dare devil smugglers may not have escaped yet from the Yahaya’s men.This is because the FOU, Zone A, Operations and Lagos Roving officers will still come after them at a unexpected time.
The Value News findings shows that in the Command there are are many vested interests who are may not working at the same page with the Command acting Comptroller’s anti-smuggling policy and the officers being used for the Operations.
This may have informed why the officers , who are mostly of the ranks of Chief Superintendent of Customs and above have decided to play the spoiler’s role by giving out information on the movement of the Command Patrol Teams o . operation . It is not surprising why the Command has not been making spectacular seizures in the recent time.
Indeed, Yahaya, the FOU, Zone A, boss, may have to look inwards to know what is actually happening in the Command to prevent the fifth Columnists who are determined to sabotage his efforts. It is instructive to note that smugglers are not super human beings and that there is no way they could take the risk to carry an importer’s Consignment into the country through the bush without getting the support of Customs personnel, particular, FOU, Zone A, personnel or other security agencies personnel at the land borders in the south west.
Notwithstanding the activities of the fifth Columnists in the Command, a retired senior Customs officer told The Magazine, that Yahaya, from what he has known of him at the FOU, Zone A, anti-smuggling operations, until his subsequent appointment as the Command acting Comptroller about a year ago is not an officer to toy with as he could fight back.
According to him, Yahaya may beslow in talking but big in action. He has a word of advice to the senior officers working against the anti-smuggling efforts of the Patrol teams, particular, the no noNsense Operations and Lagos Roving Team, to turn a leaf and stop sabotaging their efforts.
For now,one major achievement of the Command and the Comptroller General of Customs Strike Force, Team A, under the close watch of Ahmadu Shuaibu, a Deputy Comptroller, which could be attested to by importers with their agents is the sanity that has been returned to Lagos ports, of Apapa,Tin can Island, Port Multi-services Limited, PTML, Kiikiri Lighter Terminal, phases I&II.
An agent told The Magazine that the Combination of the interventionist efforts of the FOU, Zone A, and the CGC Strike Force Team A, have forced importers to be trade Compliant by making correct declarations to avoid forfeiting their goods to government over alleged under payment due to false declarations. This is evident going by the number of truck laden goods released from the ports that are are intercepted by the Command and the CGC Strike Force Team in the recent time. ”It has reduced considerably ”, an officer told the Magazine. The officer had drawn the attentionof The Magazine to the fact that in the first three quarters of this 2020, agents whose importers’ Containers had fallen into the waiting hands of the Command Operations and Lagos Roving Team officers had turned their Command to their next office to sort out their documentation and underpayment problem but the situation appeared to have changed as only few agents do so. This is good news to Yahaya and his Operation and Lagos Roving Team officers who have forced the importers with their agents to do the right thing.
The few Importers with their agents who have continued to playa smart game at the ports by Compromising some of the releasing officers and the APMs including head of the Command Compliant Teams and officers in-charge of the exit gates would not forget their experience in a hurry.
Yahaya’s Operation and Lagos Roving Team officers with the support of the CGC Strike Force Team A, Operations officers have not spared them. The Fraudulent importers with their agents have had their Containers, which mostly ”40”, transferred to Government Warehouse , Ikeja, controlled by the FOU, Zone A, or Ikorodu Lighter Terminal, ILT, used by the CGC Strike Force Team A.
The recovery of over N2.4 billion by the CGC Strike Force Team A, through the issuance of Demand Notice, DN, to such guilty importers, taking delivery of their cargoes at the Lagos ports between January and December 15, 2020, speaks volume. The FOU, Zone A, Command was said to have also recovered millions of naira for the goverment from such underpayment by fradulent importers for the government.
Maritime analysts are optimistic that the level of intervention by the Yahaya’s men and Shuabaiby, Coordinator of the CGC Strike Force team A, would reduce to the barest minimum next year as the importer’s have learnt the hard way from the duo and are now ready to be Compliant to the government Fiscal policy to avoid losing their goods.