By Stephen Ubanna
Barely one year after the reopening of the eighteen months-old shut borders between the Nigeria and the neighbouring West African countries Republic of Benin, Niger and the Central African country of Cameroon, over abuse of Trade Protocols, by President Muhammadu Buhari, a retired army General, noting appears to have changed at the Seme border Community between Nigeria and Benin. It is still a ghost border town.
This is because President Patrice Talon of Benin, who is not happy with his Nigerian Counterpart for subjecting his country’s men and women, to untoward economic hardship appears determined to recover from the importers from Nigeria the Transit cargoes fees they ought to have paid into the government coffers or using the Autonomous Port of Benin, Cotonou, but relocated to other port in the West African sub region to take delivery of their Transit cargoes.
This may have informed why he had jerked up the country’s Transit cargoes charges from N680,000.00 to N11 million per Container. The decision to jerk up the Nigerian-bound Transit cargo imports charges, an insider said was based on the country’s economic reform bill which he was said to have sent to the Country’s Assembly for approval. The Law makers were said to have approved the bill which Talon did not hesitate in signing into Law.
Note that he had jerked up the transit cargo charges from N680,000, to N11 million, claiming that Benin was a poor country and therefore, needed money to provide the basic infrastructural facilities of good roads, health and educational facilities to the people including uninterrupted electricity supply. It is instructive to note that the harsh economic policy had forced many Nigerian importers to relocate to ther neighbouring West African countries of Coted’Ivore, Ghana and Togo, to take delivery of their transit cargoes. They got it wrong.
It was therefore not very surprising that despite all the efforts that was said to have been made by the Leadership of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, Seme Chapter, with the Collaboration of their Cotonou Colleagues to force the Talon government to have a rethink on the exorbitant Transit cargo charges, which had affected mostly the Nigerian bound cargoes , there was no head way.
The Leadership of ANLCA, were said to have agreed to pay the usual charges of N1.4 million for a ‘‘20’’ Container and N1.8 million,for a ‘’40’’Container, but it was like begging the question. Some members of the country’s economic Management Team who were said to have master- minded the introduction of the N11 million Transit cargo charges on the Nigerian bound cargoes , were said to have impressed on the Beninois President not to reverse the decision , insisting that ‘‘Nigerian importers can pay the N11million Transit cargo charges without blinking. This development was said to have left over 3,7000 Nigeria bound trucks laden transit goods worth several billions of naira from Coted’Ivoire, Ghana and Togo which have been trapped at Ilakoji, a border town Ghana, Togo and Benin.
Given that the country had been dependent on Nigeria economically and for its electricity supply may have encouraged Talon to Take advantage of the 18 months border closure to invest on electricity supply in the country as the citizens and the Corporate Organisations now source their electricity supply locally at reasonable cost from the foreign suppliers who had invested in the power sector in the country.
Unknown to many, he had instructed the Rouald Wadagni, minister of Finance and Economy, and the Officials of the country’s Customs Administrations to ensure that the N11 million Transit cargo charges were paid on the Nigeria bound cargoes.
Tukur Yusuf Buratai, a retired Lt. General and former Chief of Army Staff, CoAS, and now, Nigerian Ambassador to Benin, who has been on top of the case to get the Beniniois government to reverse the decision on the exorbitant Transit cargoes at the instance of Buhari may have been forced to back out as the Beninois President has made up his mind not to bow to pressure from the Nigerian government.
For those who thinks that the retired army General do not know what Talon, his Counterpart in Benin is doing, they will be disappointed. A Presidency source told The Value News that he knows everything happening at the Seme border and the discussions between the government Representatives and the Embassy officials but has refused to lend his voice to it.
Many believe that the Beniniois President is doing all that to force the Nigerian President to fly down to Cotonou, the country’s Capital ‘‘to beg for the relaxation of the economic policy in order to give a soft landing to the Nigerian Transit importers,
Indeed, he may have looked at his visit to Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT,in 2019, to discuss security, bilateral and sub-regional issues’’, with the Nigerian President during the 18 months border closure.Talon had encouraged Buhari to reopen the closed borders with the neighbouring countries, particular, the borders between Nigeria and Benin, by given approval for Nigerian Customs Authorities and NPF, to open offices at the Autonomous port of Benin, to monitor and control the goods being conveyed into the Nigerian market from the port.
Recall that during the Benin President recent visit to Buhari, he may have gladdened his mind when he said that he is not ‘‘opposed to the importation of transit of goods’’, stressing that ‘‘‘it will be possible again’’.
It was not surprising that when the retired army General finally reopened the closed borders between Nigeria and Benin, including the two other neghbouring countries of Niger and Cameroon last December, Nigerian importers flooded the Autonomous port of Benin and other ports in the West African sub-region to take delivery of their goods.
Talon , who has been playing the role of good boy all along to encourage the Nigerian importers who had relocated to the Lagos ports to take delivery of their goods to return to his country’s Autonomous port of Benin, Cotonou, was a gimmick. He was waiting for an opportunity to have his pound of flesh on on Nigeria.
He may have given the retired army General of what will happen in 2021, to know that he has not come for peace Although he had said that he has come ‘‘to thank the Nigerian President for the robust Leadership he displays in Nigeria and Africa’’ but he has spoken his mind.
The Beninois president may had told his Nigerian Counterpart to know that though ‘’the challenges of 2020 were huge but that the same challenges will remain in 2021’’. The Nigerian President should have read the handwriting on the wall that he has already made up his mind what to do but was merely waiting for the opportunity to do it.
As a prelude to ensuring that the Nigerian Transit cargo importers will not experience any problem on where to discharge their Containers on arrival at the Seme border Community may have encouraged the Nigeria Customs Authorities to License an Internal Bonded Terminal, which has been opened for business by the Private operator as the Customs Terminal officials and other security Operatives are on ground to attend to the Transit cargo importers with their agents.
Talon has every reason to give the Nigerian Transit cargoes importer a close marking because he knew what they were doing at the country’s port before now: how two to three Containers Seal could be opened and the contents loaded in one Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, Trade Liberalisation Truck, heading to Nigeria at great loss to the Nigerian government.
This time around, the Nigerian President insistence that Transit cargoes coming into Nigeria from the third party countries must come in their original form may have blocked these areas of revenue Leakage used by the Transit cargo importers and their Beninois Collaborators and government officials.
The agents who had abandoned their Containerised cargoes at Illakoji border Community between Ghana, Togo and Benin, who were optimistic that the retired army General will intervene to force Talon to change his mind on the exorbitant Transit charges, but are no longer finding it funny have considered it necessary to pay the N11 billion to take their t delivery of their Transit cargoes.
A close source told The Value News that some of them who had reached out to Mohammed Jibo, the Seme Command Customs Comptroller to give them a soft Landing when their goods Land at the border Community because of the huge amount they have spent to take delivery of it from the Benin Customs Administration. The Customs Comptroller was said to have made it to those that cares to listen that ‘’the right must must be done: Containers from the third party countries coming to Nigeria must come in their original form and the right duty paid.
Aware that there is no short caught any longer as the bubble has burst may have forced the desperate Transit cargo importers who are desirous to sell their market this December period to raise the N11 million Transit cargo charges and pay into the Beninois government coffers to take delivery of their cargoes which had been under rain and sunshine, since December 2020, at the Illakoji border.
An agent who spoke to the Magazine on Wednesday, November 3, 2021, disclosed that he was able to convince his importer to pay the N11 million transit cargo charges instead of allowing his goods to rot away at Illakoji border. A senior official of the Nigerian Agency for Food and Drug Administraton, NAFDAC, under the close watch informed Mojisola Christannah Adeyeye, a Professor, lamented that it has never been so bad at the border. The situation is so bad that the Seme Command, which was used to generating close to N5 billion on duties from transit cargoes imports in the past is now struggling to generate N300,000.00 daily.
The agent confirmed that the few Containers which had entered the International Bonded terminal at the Seme border Community had been cleared by with ease by the transit importer’s agent. A source confirmed that the transit Container importers’ agent had cleared their Consignment in less than 48 hours.
Recall that notable individual and Corporate Nigerian importers with their agents who could not stand President Talon economic reform policy on Transit cargo imports had relocated to the Lagos port of Apapa and Tin- can Island port.
The Magazine cited Ekene Onyebuchi, Bamanga and Triumph, all former big-time clearing agents and importers at the Seme Land border at the Headquarters Strike Force, Team A, under the close watch of Adhmadu Shuaibu, a Deputy Comptroller, processing their importer’s documents to take delivery of their cargoes. The trio , appear to have become acclimatized themselves to the Lagos port environment that they are no longer thinking of relocating to the Autonomous port of Benin for now.
It is not surprising why the smuggling of foreign rice, vehicles,Vegetable oil and foreign tomato into the Nigerian market from Benin has continued to be on the increase from the border states of Ogun, where there are about 145 porous border routes and Oyo states as President Talon is doing nothing to control the activities of the smugglers.