By Elizabeth Chukwuma
Between last August and now, Scores of Importers with their Agents whose truck laden goods are trapped at the Seme/Krake joint border, regarded as the busiest in the African Continent are said to have either died or suffering from High Blood Pressure, HBP.
At the last count , there are about 2000 trucks laden goods trapped on both sides of the border worth billions of naira due to the border closure which had entered its sixth -month awaiting to be cleared. The worst part of it was that most of the trucks which are carrying the transit goods ranging from two to three Containers loads transferred into one truck have started producing maggots due to several months of being at one location, an indication that the Consignments had spoilt.
The situation at the Seme Border is so bad that Tony Nwabunike, President , Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, who was at the land Border last December to see thing for himself was said to have made another visit to the border Community last January.
The ANLCA members who may have run out of patience were said to have taken their case to Nwabunike at the Association secretariat pleading with him to do everything within his powers to draw government attention to their plight. Eyewitness account said the aggrieved agents who could not hide feelings were almost in tears as their million naira worth of goods had suddenly became a waste.
Most of the transit good importers were said to have paid the duties and other agencies fee on the trapped goods to the Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, which formed over the N1.3 tr. That was collected by the service in 2019. Investigation by The Value News shows that many of the transit cargo importers who could no longer bear it were said to have engaged the services of smugglers to bring Consignments into the country through unapproved routes.
Some of them may have moved from fire to frying pan as their smuggled Consignments which are I piecemeal had fallen into the waiting hands of the C. D. Wada. A Deputy Comptroller led Seme Command Patrol Teams who are everywhere at the Border Community and its environs in the last six moths.. The Seme resident officers who are supported by the Border Drills and the Comptroller General of Customs, CGC, Strike Force, personnel, appear to have made their case worse.
Worried at the plight of importers with their Agents at the land borders across the country and the Operational Challenges of those at the seaports Nwabunike, the ANLCA, President, had mobilised his National Executive Committee , NECOM, members, to Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, where they had the Opportunity of meeting of Boss Mustapha, Secretatry to the Government of the Federation, SGF, on Monday, February 28, 2020.
Given an insider information on why the Association leadership took the initiative to see the SGF, believed to have the ear of President Muhammadu Buahari, an aggrieved Nwabunike said , ‘’ it is to draw the attention of the Presidency to the pains and agonies of maritime operators, particular the importers with their Agents at the seaports and those at the land border Areas j whose cargoes are trapped due the border closure.
He cited the infrastructural decays, the Apapa pprotracted traffic gridlocks caused by poor access road to the two makor Lagos ports: AApapa and Tin Can Island the poor state of the south eastern ports of Calabar, Cross River state and Warri, Delta state. Appealing to the SGF, who was a one-time Managing Director of Nigerian Inland Water ways Authority, NIWA, to use his good offices to ensure the dredging the south eastern ports, stressing that it the only way to attract big ocean- going vessels to the ports. For now the Calabar ports too shallow to accommodate big vessels but flat bottom ones could sail to the port with encountering any problem.
This is where Hajia Hadiza Bala Usman, Mnaging Director, Nigerian Ports Authority may have to take it up with Rotimi Amaechi, the minister of Transportation in order to address the port Challenges. The News making the rounds that the Warri port has been Concessioned to SIFAX, which has make a mark at its ports and Cargo Terminal, at Tin Can Island port , may make the difference.
Nwabunike is optimistic that the pains currently being witnessed by Agents in moving their Containers in and out of the Lagos port could be a thing of the past if the Chinese Civil Engineering and Construction Company CECC, handling the Rehabilitation of the railway project across the country could expedite action it to facilitate the movement of cargoes from the Lagos ports to the hinterland.
He may have alluded to good works of Hajia Usman led NPA, for engaging the services of some barge Operators to evacuate Containers from the Lagos ports to the Inland Container Terminals at ikorodu, Epe , Mile 2 and other parts of the state using tug propelled barges. He confirmed that that it has reduced the pressure on the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway as over 2000 Containers were said to have been moved by the barges, within the lagos axis Lagos axis in the last three years.
The ANLCA President was said to have brought to attention of the SGF, the non – availability of functional scanner equipment at the ports to expedite action in the examination of cargoes at the ports. The ANLCA boss who could not hide his feelings noted the resort by Customs and other security agencies personnel involved in cargo examination to physical examination makes the process very ‘’cumbersome and time consuming with undue turnaround time delays.
Given the government reluctance to embark on provision of scanner machines at the port now because of other competing demands, The Association was said to have suggested that companies with good track records of involvement in the scanning processes and procedures , both within and outside the country be contacted to supply the scanners at no cost to the government as they could easily recover their cost from the fee that would be paid by a Agents to use their facilities.
They were said also suggested that Companies should be mandated to train Customs personnel on how to operate the scanner machines to avoid a repeat of what happened in the past when COTECNA, and other service providers left the scene p, thus paving the way for Customs personnel to take over. The fallout , was the breakdown of the Containers which litter the port premises. From the Lagos ports to the south east ports , the story is the same: broken down scanners. He insists that engaging a private firm to procure the scanning machines will favour the country that asking the Hameed led Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, to contract the firm that would supply the scanners and only be involved in the operations of the scanners.
ANLCA officials may have taken advantage of the visit to Mustapha, the SGF, to canvass for the Katsina state born Nigerian President to appoint a Special Assistant on Maritime matters in order keep him abreast on the happenings in the all- important sector, which is next to the oil sector, in revenue generation for the government.
This year, alone, the government has set a target of N2 tr for the service. It is not surprising why Nwabunike could boldly say that ‘’ Importers with their Agents hold the face for International Trade between Nigerian and the rest of the world’’. He noted that without maritime , ‘’oil business will be grounded as ships are the only source of moving cargoes across the globe, which accounts for about 90 percent of International Trade while the Airports and Land borders account for the remaining 10 percent.
Prior to the ANLCA officials visit to the SGF, they had met with Gbemisola Saraki, a former Senator of Federal Republic of Nigeria, and now minister of State, Transportation, to acquaint her of the problems of the nation’s maritime and the practioners, particular the A the imports with the Agents. The minister was said to have promised to meet the Agents if they could speak as a group. There are indications that Nwabunike has begun underground moves to reach out to Boniface Anniebonam , the Founder of National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, NAGAFF, and the leadership of other Associations in order to burry their difference and speak as a group whenever they have Opportunity of meeting Saraki, the minister of State, Transportation , overseeing the Maritime sector. . He described the ALCA NECOM visit to the two top government functionaries of the All Progressive Congress, APC, government as being very rewarding.