Nigeria Land Borders Reopened For Business Within Hours Of Postponement of Elections

By Stephen Ubanna

Barely twenty hours after the postponement of the February 16, 2019, Presidential election, to February 23, 2019, by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Hamid Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, has given the nod to the Land  Border Customs Commands to re-open the Borders for business.  

 The reopening of the Borders , according to Mohammd Babandede , Comptroller General, Nigeria Immigration Service, NIC, was at the instance of Abdulrahman Dambazau, a retired Army Lt .General and former Chief of Army Staff, CAS, and now minister of Interior since the basis for the closure has been removed. The initial plan of the minister to reopen the land Borders if the Presidential election had been held as scheduled  on Saturday, February 16, 2019,  was on Sunday, February 17, 2019.

From Seme-Krake, Idiroko, Shaki, Iseyin  Jibiya to other land Border areas across the country the story was the same. it was reopened again for business within hours on Saturday, February 16, 2019 for business. It would however be closed again, according to ministry of Interior source  on Friday, February 22 and March 8, 2019,  to forestall Cross -Border movements until the elections was over.

The bad news was that the importation of foreign rice and vehicles through the land borders are still prohibited. Recall that the importation of foreign rice and vehicles through the land border was banned by President Muhammadu Buhari on January1, 2017, on the advice of the National Economic Council, NEC, to save the country from being turned into a dumping ground by foreigners.

Note that some Economic Community of West African  States, ECOWAS, particular  Republic of Benin and Togo, have liberal economic policies that allows the importation of foreign rice, processed Vegetable Oil, vehicles, second hand clothing, shoes and bags, into their country which are smuggled into the Nigeria through unapproved routes in the north, south west and the south- south geo-political regions.

When  The Value News visited Seme-Krake Joint Border and Idiroko, Land on  Sunday,  February 17, 2019, it was business as usual . A driver at Mile 2, who shuttles between Lagos and Togo, who could not his joy at the reopening of the Borders said it would help him to make money from his Cross -Border transport business to pay his debts.  He noted that within the hours the Seme-Krake  and Idiroko Borders were closed for vehicular traffic, he had lost thousands of naira.  

Traders who had thought that the re-opening of the land Borders after 24-hour closure was an excuse to test the will of the Customs anti-smuggling officers on patrol at Seme-Krake Joint Border were disappointed. They would never forget their experience in a hurry as they lost their smuggled foreign rice to Muhammed Uba Garba’s men  on the road.

Dom Asogwa: Comtroller NIS. Seme-Krake Joint Border

  Garba, the Customs Comptroller had reportedly confirmed  that some Cross-Border traders  had mistaken the re-opening of the Borders after the closure on Friday for the election as an indication  that the government  has given the nod for importation of foreign rice, vehicles and other prohibited items  into the country through the land  Border. He insists that the importation of ”foreign rice, vehicles and other prohibited items through the Borders  are still  banned”.

Appealing to Nigerian to traders and travellers to put that  at the back of their mind,  he disclosed that the Command patrol officers  will not hesitate  to seize any prohibited item that contravenes the country’s fiscal  policy. According to him, the clarification has become necessary to void people being taking unawres inlosing their goods to government.   

While  the Seme-Krake Command Customs boss could be said to be in total control of his area of jurisdiction which has only one official route to enter the Lagos market, this could not be said of his counterpart , Michael Agbara, of Ogun Command , who is  still struggling  on how to control the several illegal routes in the state.

Going by the Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS, records, there are about 84 unofficial routes in Ogun state excluding the official Idiroko -Sango Ota road. The presence of Comptroller Mohammed Aliyu of Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A and Deputy Comptroller  Abdullahi Kirawa, who Coordinates the Headquarters’  Strike Force patrol teams on the road may have brought some relief to  Agbara to  sit up and be making Contraband seizures.

In spite of the fact that Comptroller Garba and his officers  are in effective control of Seme, owode and Badagry axis, to checkmate dare-devil  smugglers  and bandits,  Dom Asogwa, Resident Comptroller , NIS, Seme Command,  would not want his officers to take the back Seat. Asogwa  confirmed that since the directive to reopen the Land Borders was given  by Babandede, the NIS, Comptroller General, on the orders of the minister,  Immigration officers at Seme-Krake have resumed work    and have been attending to Immigrants to Immigrants from  the ECOWAS, and Central African  sub-region including other foreigners.

The Immigration Comptroller confirmed that travellers who were caught up by the initial ministerial closure order on Friday, February 15, 2019,   have been  cleared and are happy with the services received from the Nigerian and their Beninioise counterparts to facilitate their movement

The major problem of the  NIS Command, according a source was poor funding. The source would want Dambazau, the minister of Interior to increase the budgetary allocations to the Commands to be able to meet their  immediate needs  and provision of working tools to do their work. .

 Despite the financial constraint faced by the NIS  Seme-Krake Command, Asogwa, the NIS ,  has every reason  to be happy because of the control of crime at the Border Community  and its environs by his officers.  Prior to his deployment to the Command,  the Seme-Krake Border was known for all kinds of crime in, particular human trafficking. This may not be unconnected to the good working relationship between the NIS, NCS, Department of State Security, DSS, Police, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration, NDLEA and Port Health officials with their  Beninoises counterparts at the Land Border.

The job of the resident NIS and Border Patrol officials may have  been helped by Garba, the Seme Customs boss and Chairman , of the Inter-Agencies Security Committee  at the Joint Border, who was said to have carried all security agencies personnel at the Border along  to ensure good working relationship.

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