Customs: Seme Command Scorecard

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By Stephen Ubanna

 Not many people had  expected  Muhammed Uba Garba, Comptroller , Nigerian Customs Service, NCS,  Seme Command and his officers,  to make any  appreciable impact in  revenue collection for the government this year , let alone, intercept or make remarkable  seizure of Contraband goods .

Muhammed: Comptroller, Seme Command

 This is  because  of the various public holidays  that had  declared by the overnment and observed   in order for the Professor Mahmud Yakubu, led Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC,  to conduct the  last  general election , which fell between between February and March , 2019.

 The general election  led to the closure  of the  Borders   with the neighbouring  West African countries of Benin Republic , Niger and the Central African country of Cameroon across the country, thus taking a toll on  transit cargoes delivery to their importers with their agents.

 The situation at  the Seme Border , which, analyst believe  handles transit cargoes import, may have been worsened   by the 4- Month old  Border Drills across the country as scores of trucks –laden goods  running into millions of naira  in unpaid duty are still  being trapped at the Seme-Krake  joint Border between Nigerian and Republic of Benin.

Note that  if President Muammadu Buhari, had allowed  the transit cargo importers to take delivery of their cargoes before  giving the nod for the closure of the Borders  with  the neighbouring  Benin Republic , Niger and Cameroon, the revenue  collection of the Command  may not have been too bad.

As a prelude to getting it right, particular, in the area of ant-smuggling operations, Muhammed was said to have developed  new strategic policy measures  to tackle  the menace of  smuggling activities at the Border Area, irregular  migrations  and other  trans-border Crimes with the support of the Management staff.

He was  said  to have also stepped up the Command  Community and public enlightenment  on the dangers of smuggling  and its adverse effect on the economy .  This may have  informed  why   he urged the economic saboteurs  to take advantage   of the  various  government empowerment programmes  on Agriculture  such as  the anchored borrowing on rice farming,   Growth Enhancement Support Scheme, GESS, Government Enterprises Enhancement Programme,GEEP and several other  programmes to   key into  legitimate  earning to avoid running into troubles with Customs personnel on the road.

Recall that prior to the closure of the Borders with the neighbouring countries across the country, most of the transit cargo importers were said to have  processed their import documents , which facilitated payment of their duties but  could  not take delivery of  their goods  because it was   caught up by the government  policy.

  That  much  was  confirmed  by  Muhammed, the Area Comptroller, on enquiry  Geofry  Onyeama, minister of External Affairs.who was  to have   led a ministerial  team on the orders of the Katsina state born Nigerian President to the land Border  recently to evaluate  the impact of the Border Drills.

A Statement by Abdullahi Onowa, an Superintendent of Customs and  the Command spokesperson,  confirmed   that in the last  11 months,  the Command  had had  collected  duty of   About N5 billion  for the government or 76 % of the 6 billion target set for the Command  by the Customs Headquarters, under the close watch of Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General, NCS.

One area  in which the Command was said to have made appreciable impact was in anti-smuggling operations as it refused to be  stamped   out  by the Border Drills personnel.  Given an insider information, Onowa, the Command spokesperson,  disclosed  that   the Command  intercepted and made 1,302 seizure of Contraband goods  with a Duty Paid Value of about N2 billion.

Given a breakdown, he said  the Command  made a seizure  of 28,180 ‘’50’’ bags of the Asian country of Thailand parboiled  rice, equivalent of 47 trailers  load , with  a DPV and levy of about N778 million.  These are   foreign bags of rice  that could have been pushed into the Nigerian  market through the creeks  within the Badagry   and Badary west  local government areas and its environs but were  impounded   by  Muhammed’s  boys. Indeed, if  the  Thai rice had  been pushed into the Nigerian  market it  could have  distalised the  local  rice production  which is already gaining  ground . 

Going by the World Bank report, Benin’s economy  is heavily reliant  on the informal re-export  of foreign rice and  transit cargo  trade  with Nigeria, which maritime analysts believe  account  for about 20 % of its GDP or national income.  Until the closure  of the land borders across the country last August,  the Bank says, about  80 percent  of the  Thai   par boiled rice and other   imported transit cargoes  are destined for Nigeria.   

 Recall that  the President  had banned the importation of rice through the land Borders into the country on January1,  2017, which  was extended to the seaports in June 1018, as no letter of Credit, LC, had been issued to any rice  importer  between June  2018 and now by the Central Bank of Nigerian, CBN. This because the  ministry of Finance, batptised ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning, has not given   any  approval  for theissuance of the such an LC.

But  this  appear  not to have  stopped  the informal trade , forcing the government  to formally  close the borders across the country  with the neighbouring  West African countries  on August 26, 2019. The World Bank reports shows that  Benin  has recorded  an astronomical  rise  in imports of par boiled rice from Thailand, described as  the world’s second largest producer.  In 2018, alone, the country was said to have imported  close to 2 million metric tonnes  of Thai par boiled rice  but the cargo   was said to have  been re-exported to Nigeria  through unapproved routes. 

At present , virtually all the rice warehouses  in Benin, including the ones  close to the  Seme/Krake joint Border  were said to have been  filled to the brim as several other ships loaded with the cargo are still  on the high sea  awaiting signal  from the  Harbour Masters to sail to Cotonou Terminal, Benin or Bollore port, the two  major ports in the country   in order to discharge  and sail back to port of  origin.

More worrisome was the smuggling of petroleum products from Nigeria to these countries  through  the Creeks or by land. Muhammed,  the Seme Customs Comptroller,  may not have  given the smugglers a breather as he was said to have  led the Team that raided Owode and its environs in Badagry West local  government area recently. It was a major  breakthrough  for the Customs Comptroller who discovered that  virtually all the  110 filling stations  and 12 surface Tanks  spread  in the  bush in the area  are not really  serving the  people needs  but ostensibly established for bunkering and smuggling purposes.

 The Command was said to have  impounded 2,109 , jerry Cans of 25  litres  each  of petrol between January and Novemeber , 2019. Much of the  Premium Motor Spirit, popular , petrol, were said  to have been intercepted  during  the recent operation at the Owode axis  led by the Customs Comptroller. The value of the seized Jerry Cans  of petrol was put at about N N7.7 million.

The  petro l smugglers, may have  gone underground  as Muhammed appears to have beamed his search light on  them  as they could no longer practice their trade as the Creeks have  become a  no go area because of the presence of   Seme Customs Personnel, Border Drills  and other security operatives.

An Abandoned Filling Station At Owode Axis

Other Contraband goods  that were said to have been impounded  by the Command within the 11 months under review include  1,100 Bales of second hand clothing worth about N 70.17 million, Sugar, 40 x50kg, valued at about  N0. 600 million.00, 185 sacks  of  shoes, belt,, slippers both  new and used valued at about  N27.6 million. This is in addition to textile materials, wrappers, poultry products , vegetable oil, merchandise and narcotics.

Given the inter-agency elationship, the Command was said to have handed over  a total of 1,992  parcels of  the hard drugs and narcotics  to the Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement  Agency, NDLEA, for further investigation and destruction.

  An  elated Muhammed  who could not hide his feelings believe that without the  support of Ali, the Customs Comptroller General, the Command  could not have  achieved  such a laudable feat within the period. He described the Customs boss as a’’ great motivator’’.

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