By Stphen Ubanna
Economic and social activities at Seme-Krake Community, the busiest international joint border, between the two West African countries of Nigeria and Benin Republic, remain on the low-side, barely two weeks after President Muhammadu Buhari, a retired army General, reopened all the borders across the country with the neighbouring countries of Benin, Niger and the Central African country of Cameroon for return of normal businesses transactions and trading activities.
Many had expected the importers with their clearing agents at the land borders, particular, the Seme/Krake joint border to take advantage of the reopened land borders, particular, Seme/Krake joint border, to resume work but this is not to be.
The Value News in its undercover reporting was at the border Community on Wednesday, January 13, 2021, to see things for himself based on the rumours making the rounds that the Nigerian Immigration Services, NIS, personnel at the entry point to the Economic Community of West African States , ECOWAS, building where the Immigration and Customs personnel from both Nigeria and Benin , have their offices, are making things difficult for people.
The Magazine had stopped at the ECOWAS entry point to go through the immigration formalities but was shocked at what is going on at the gate. Despite identifying himself and the mission at the land border, as the Customs personnel at the gate were listening to the discussions. The questions were coming in torrents: Are you an importer or a clearing agent and the Magazine response was the affirmative no.
While the Immigration officials had given other visitors access to pass through the main entrance, they had unanimously ordered the Magazine to go through the Pedestrian footpath to show that they are doing their job.
. Unknown to them, they have given the opportunity to the Magazine to have insight an insight into what is happening at the second entrance where the scanner was installed . It was an interesting scene, as the NIS , personnel, overseeing the coming in of Foreigners into the country openly demand for N200.00 from each of the visors without shame. They had made the vistors understand that the N200.00 payment before being allowed to access Nigeria was mandatory.
This is where Mohammad Babandede, the Comptroller General, ,NIS, to may have to intervene to give a matching order to the Immigration Comptroller at the Border Community to call his men at the gates to rder to avoid the situation from getting worse.
The Magazine took time out of the visit to the joint to find out why the Importers with their agents are coming forward to process their documents to take delivery of their transit cargo imports but found that it was due to the new government policy that all transit cargoes must handed over by the Benin Customs Authorities to the Seme Customs Command in their Containerised form to give the Nigerian Customs personnel an insight into what is loaded in the Container that would be transferred to the trucks after examination.
Muhammed Bello Jibo, the Seme Command Comptroller and his men, according to insider sources are on ground to do their job but the importers with their agents are not showing up to process their documents take delivery of their transit cargoes. They have their reason. Before now the transit cargo importers and their Nigerian and Beninese agents had been shortchanging the government.
This is because two to three Container loads of goods after examination at the Benin Port, Cottonou, or Bollore port, by the Benin Customs and other security agencies personnel , the Consignment is released to the Benin agent who takes it to a Convenient location where the Container are unstuffed depending on the deal with the importers and their agents as the loaders are invited to load the goods into the trucks
.The over loaded trucks are escorted to the joint border and handed over to Nigerian Customs personnel to carry out their own Customs examination and subsequently release the transit cargo to the importe’s agent. The government may have taken advantage of the 18 months border closure to devise strategies of blocking all the areas of revenue leakages at the land borders.
Given the poor response of the transit carcargo importers and exporters with their agents at the Seme joint land border to process their import /export documents, Jibo, the Seme Area Comptroller, who had mobilised his men to be on the red alert to attend to the Importers and exporters with their agents whenever they found it convenient to show up was said to have organised a meeting which was attended by the Benin Customs personnel, Importers, ETLs participants, and Agents , from both Nigeria and Benin, to acquaint them on the dos and don’ts in the new importing , exporting and clearing procedure.
The meeting was said to have been well attended by the stakeholders who were very happy to hear from the Customs Comptroller, with a promise to keep to the rules. Perhaps, the changes in the rules of the transit cargo importation and clearing process , may have informed why the industry stakeholders are still taking their time to study the situation before resuming importation or exportation and engage the services of agents.
In a related development, Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigerian customs Service, NCS, was said to have set up a Committee to reexamine the unknown quantities of trapped transit dutiable trucks laden cargoes at the border preparatory for release to their owners. The Committee members who were said to have arrived Seme are expected to work with the Command to set the rules for the clearing of the old trucks laden goods.
As a prelude to the clearing of the old trapped trucks laden cargoes to pave way for arrival of new trucks at the joint border Community,, the Magazine found that the trucks that were originally parked at the ECOWAS Secretariat premises had been removed to a new location.
It could not be ascertained whether the trucks had been relocated to the truck park provided by the Seme Command, and which had been expanded in the recent time to accommodate more trucks or taken to a Completely new location. An agent who boarded the same taxi Cab with The Magazine to Badagry round about, is optimistic that the border Community would bubble again with the arrangement put on ground by the Bello led Seme Command Management team to facilitate the clearing process.
Many believe that if the Customs Comptroller General had cue into the November 13, 2020, directive by by Babaga Munguno, a retired Major General and National Security Adviser, NSA, who incidentally is the Chairman of the Operation Swift Response, popular, Border Drills, oversing the Border Drills, the situation at Seme Community, might not have gotten to the level of a Committee being set up to handle the reexamination of the trapped transit cargoes and subsequent release.
They noted that if the Customs boss had played along with the NSA,’’ what the agents on both sides of the border divide, could have been talking about now would be to take delivery of the new transit cargo imports of their Clients , which must comply with the new clearing rules.
Besides , putting the necessary arrangements on ground, to facilitate the clearing process at the Seme/Krake Joint border, Bello, the Command Area Comptroller and his anti-smuggling officers were said to have tightened up security at the Seme Jurisdiction, that smugglers cris- crossing the porous border Communities between Benin and Nigeria tae now finding it difficult to Foreign rice and vehicles into the Nigerian market through the Aradagun axis of Badagry.
Those who were said to have attempted to do so had fallen into the waiting hands of Bello’s men on theroad. Only recently, a source at the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, had said that the Command Operations and Lagos Roving Team headed by Jack Okpabi, an Assitant Comptroller, had intercepted 10 vehicles on January 1st, 2021, in one of their interventionist efforts at Seme.
The question was posed to A. Husani, an Assistant Superintendent and the Seme Command Spokesperson, who disclosed that’’ it was not possible because of the tight security that had been mounted at the Seme /Kake land border jurisdiction, and which is very difficult to penetrate by any smuggler’’. He had vowed to swear by the Quran that the information was not right.
A member of the Border Drill, Lagos Zonal office along the Lagos-Seme road had Corroaborated what ASC. Husani had said. The Lagos state Border Drill member had said that for the FOU, Operation and Lagos Roving Team, led by Jack, with the support of soldiers to make a seizure of six bus loads of Foreign rice, totaling about 800 bags of 50Kg each in Ogun state could not be said of smuggled vehicles also being intercepted by the group at the Seme Jurisdiction because of the tight security.
He appreciates the fact that The FOU, Zone A, Operations and Lagos Roving Team , personnel are ‘’doing their job and as they are not leaving anything to Chance’’.