Border Closure: How Nigeria Escaped AU, Sanctions, As The Fifth Columnist At The FOU, Zone A, Sabotage Acting Comptroller Yahaya,Anti-smuggling Efforts

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.

The Situation Of Seme Border before The Reopening By The FG,.

.  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.

Hajia Ahmed: Minister of Finance, Broke The Cheery News Of Reopening Of Four Land Borders

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.

Ali: CG, Customs, Served In Adebayo Led CommitteeThat Facilitated Reopening Of Closed Borders

  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.

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