By Stephen Ubanna
Those who think that the rucks load of pineapple, coconut and biscuit coming into the country from the West African countries, Ghana, Togo , Cotted’Ivoire and Benin Republic, into the Nigerian market , are being smuggled, may have to do a rethink.
The cross-border traders are said to have been making correct declaration of the contents of their trucks at the baggage and the duty slammed on their goods duly paid before being allowed to enter into the country. That much was confirmed Mohammed Jibo, Comptroller, Seme Command.
The Magazine findings shows that the cross-border traders who were initially hesitant to resume their business because of the fear that President Muhammadu Buhari, a retired army General, may decide to change his mind at the last minute to close the land border routes with the Benin republic, Niger and the central African country of Cameroon, which may affect their business. It was therefore, not very surprising why they adopted a wait and see attitude to watch the situation before resuming their Cross-border importation.
This may have informedwhy there was low volume of Economic Community of West African, ECOWAS, Trade Liberalisation Scheme. TLS, goods that had entered the country,in the month of January. The Value News findings shows that the Command generated three million naira, from the few trucks load of coconut, pineapple and cartons of biscuit that had entered the country through the Seme Command baggage.
The cross-border traders , who may have become convinced that the Katsina state born Nigerian President , may not go back on his words of reopening the 18 month-old closed borders with the neighbouring countries, that they had resumed full scale buying of the local agricultural products, particular, coconut, pineapple and manufactured Biscuits within the sub-region. This may have informed why the revenue generated from the items went up to about N50million in the month of February, 2021.
This is an indications that in two months, the Command, generated about N53million, from Baggage alone. This is an amount that could have entered into private pockets if the land border routes had remained closed till now. This is an indications that for the 18 months, that the country’s borders with the neighbouring countries of Benin, Niger and Cameroon were closed and these ETLS, agricultural products: coconut and pineapple including some ETL, manufactured products, particular, biscuits, from these countries are sold in Nigeria, the country was losing millions of naira monthly.
An informed source told the Magazine that the revenue that will enter into the government coffers from the Seme Command bagge, in the month of March, 2021, may double the amount realised in the months of January and February as the traders have come embrace the new rules. Comptroller Jibo, was said to have also succeed in blocking areas revenue leakage at the Command that it will be very difficult for any cross-border trader or import to make underpayment because of the close monitoring from his closed Circuit Television, CCTV.
Many had expected the revenue from the Command to have increased phenomenally with the approval that had been given to the transit cargo importers by the Nigerian government to still make use of the Benin Autonomous port of Bnin, Cotonou and Bollore port to take delivery of their cargoes based on the request of Patrice Talon, the Benin President.
. Although,the transit cargo importers may be willing to resume importation but the Benin Republic Customs Authorities with the acking of President Talon ,may not be making things easy for the transit cargoes importers which may have forced many of them who have had relocated to the Lagos port in the wake of the border closure to remain at the Lagos ports.
There are indications that since the transit cargo importers got the Presidential nod to import through the Seme border, described as the business border in the West African sub-region, only three Containers belonging to Nigerian transit importers had arrived the Autonomous port of Benin, awaiting to be cleared.
Many believe that once the transit cargoes importers resume importation and are ready to be Compliant in doing the right thing to avoid playing into the hands of the Seme Customs personnel, the monthly revenue generation of the Command would rise significantly.
In a related development , the Comptroller General of Customs, CGC, Strike Force, Team A, headed by Ahmadu Shuaibu, a Deputy Comptroller, appears to have hit the N1 billion , recovered as short payment of duties on imported cargoes from the Lagos ports of Apapa, Tin-can Island, Portulti-services Terminal Limited, PTML. Kirikiri Lighter Terminal, KLT, including the bonding the bonded terminals attached to the Commands.
The CGC Team A, Coordinator and his Team members were said to have initially recovered about N800 million from the short fall payment of duties , on cargoes released from the Lagos ports in the months of January and February. The recovery of the amount which had entered into private accounts may have encouraged the Team members to step up their operations in order to achieve the N1 billion target set for itself between January and March 2021.
From the onset, CGC Strike Force , Coordinator, Team A, and Sarumi, an Assistant Comptroller and his second in Command, were optimistic that the NI billion was achievable by blocking all areas of revenue leakages at the Lagos ports.
The ovr N3370 million that was said to have been recovered by the Team A, in the month of March , 2021, may have pushed up the recovered lost revenue by the Team , for the government in three months to N1billion., without mounting road blocks to scrutinise import documents of Containeised cargoes s or vehicles released from the Lagos ports.
Maritime analysts believe that not even the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, under the close watch of acting Comptroller Yahaya, or the Border rills, Coordinator, in Lagos, could boast of the recovery of such huge amount of lost revenue for the government in three months with the large number of officers in their Patrol Teams on the road both within the Lagos ports environment and outside the seaports.
An informed source told The Magazine both not for the headway being made by the CGC Strike Force Team A, in the south west to compete with the established FOU, Zone A and the Border Drills, which have officers drawn from the various security agencies in the country to make spectacular Contraband seizures and recover millions of lost revenue for the government which could have entered into private pockets, Hameed Ali, a retired army Colonel and the Customs Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Services, NCS,could have dissolved the ad-hoc Teams which have operational bases in Lagos, Kaduna, Owerri and Bauchi, for non-performance.
The source disclosed that the CGC ad-hoc Team – Coordinators in Kaduna, and PortHarcourt, and may not have given a good account of themselves despite the Headquarters’ support , thus giving the FOUs and Border drills personnel in their various regions of Operations to have the upper hands in the anti-smuggling war.
The Customs Comptroller General, may have put Deputy Comptrollers Olorukobo , Coordinator, Team B, Kaduna, M. A. Yusus, Team C, Port Harcourt and the Strike Force Headquarters Team Headed by H.K. Ejibunu, an Assistant Comptroller and their Team members , who came into office, last October time to sit up or be ready to be disbanded for fresh hands to be introduced to complement the efforts of the FOUs personnel to battle smuggling activities in their respective areas of jurisdiction.