By Stephen Ubanna
John Ukachukwu, not real name, a Freight Forwarder at Seme, a joint order Community, between Nigeria and Benin Republic, is not a happy man. Ukachukwu’s source of unhappiness was that, Seme, the one -time busiest joint border Community in the African Continent because of the volume of Transit cargoes handled annually has become a shadow of itself.
This is because many Customs brokers who were affected by the Federal government closure of the Land borders across the country with the neighbouring West African countries of Benin, Niger and the Central African countryhad lost their importers who were forced to relocate to the Lagos ports of Apapa, Tin Can Island, Port Multi-services Terminal Limited and Kirikiri Lighter Terminal Phases I and II to take delivery of their cargoes and vehicle imports.
. Note that the Lagos Port Of Tincan Island and PTML, have RORO Terminals, where thousands of vehicles are imported into the country from the North American country of the United States, Asian country of Japan and Dubai, in United Arab Emirate, UAE .
Already, Comptroller Adekunle Oloyede, Area Comptroller, Tincan Island Command , where Five Star Logistics Terminal controls the port RORO Facilities has asked the Leadership of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders , National Council Of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents to provid it with the list of vehicles being imported from the UAE , to be captured in the Customs 11, Plaform, as Mercedez Benz , had been captured fore easy valuation showing the booming vehicle imports through the Terminals. Ukachukwu and several other agents were also into vehicle import clearing at the Seme Land border which was giving the Seme Command much revenue before the closure in August 2019.
The Seme based Freight Forwarder was optimistic that the Seme Land border station will bounce back to life when President Muhammadu Buhari reopened it , alongside Mfun, in Cross river state, illela, and Maigatari in the phased reopening of the border stations in December 16, 2020.
Recall that all the Land borders with the neighbouring countries were closed in August 2019, over alleged smuggling of Contraband , particular, foreign parboiled and Agricultural rice from the Asian countries of Thailand and India, respectively, and vehicles, imported through the Autonomous port of Benin, Conou, Benin Republic , in the Nigerian market. Note that the government had banned the importtaion of Foreign rice and vehicles through the Land border stations on January 1, 2017. That was the first major source of revenue loss to Seme Command and Land border stations across the country.
the Beninois government, may have worsened matter , particular, for Seme Command, when it imposed a new import duty payment of about CFA9 million, equivalent of N6.5 million, and tax on Transit cargoes , which ordinarily are exempted from all forms of duty under the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, Protocols on Transit cargoes.
The situation was so worrisome as the most of the importers who were still patronizing the Autonomous port of Benin, pay double taxation as they pay to the Benin Republic government and the Nigerian government as well at the Land border to take delivery of their cargoes. The double Taxation may have been frustrating to the importers with the few agents still working that they are were no longer finding it funny to to import through the Land border or take delivery of the the already imported Transit cargoes because of the high imported duty slammed by the Beninois government which is religious being implement by the Beninois Customs Authorities. Efoorts to speak to Onyedikachi Ojinmah, President , ANLC, Seme Chapter, on the double taxation being paid by agents to take delivery of their cargoes at the Seme Land border and other Land border stations across the country did not materialise. There is no gain saying the fact that the double taxation may have forced the few importers still patronising the Autonomous port of Benin, Cononou, to have a rethink , which had turned out to be another major loss of revenue to the Lnad border stations.
The low volume of Containerised cargoes handled at the Customs International Terminal operated by Only God Is Wise Agency Limited owned by one of the high profile Agents, one Wasiu, popular, Alhaji Moba, bear testimony to the situation at the Seme Land border of the drop of the volume of cargo handled since the Terminal was opened in 2020. The implication was that the Seme Command is not making the desired daily revenue as set by the Customs Authorities.
An insider told The Value News online Platform that the first quarter revenue collection of the Seme Command and other Land border stations that had been reopened have not been encouraging which may sent have sent a signal to Ali, the Customs Comptroller that all is not well .
Thismay have informed why he had sent an Assistant Comptroller General, ACG, whose identity remained a closely secret, to the Land border Stations to meet their respective Area Controllers and have a one-On- one talks with them to know their challenges and what needed to be done to improve on their daily and monthly revenue collection .
Many believe that one major problem which the Nigerian government has to tackle is to address the problem of the control of the Land border stations between the ministry of Transportation , which knows little or nothing about trans-border trade and the ministry of Finance. The Seme Land border station and the other Land border Commands from the onset were said to have been placed under the ministry of Transportation . They noted that if the control of the Land border stations had been placed under the ministry of Industry, Trade and Commerce which knows a bit trading activities, the current face off with the Benin Republic over the imposition of high import duties, taxes and fees on Nigerian -bound Transit cargoes would have been resolved long able to ensure free flow of cargoes at the Seme Land border, particular.
Hajia Zainab Ahmed, minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning and Customs Comptroller General, may not have been able to resolve the problem because the Benin Republic Customs Authorities prefer discussing with the officials of the Nigeria ministry of Transportation who are not forth coming.
A Statement by Rotimi Amaechi, a former governor of Rivers state and immediate past minister of Transportation who had contested the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC, Presidential primaries but lost to Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, on the African Continental Free Trade Area, AfCTA, speaks volume. He had said that ‘’harnessing the immense potential of the AfCTA, treaty can only be realised through a detailed regulatory Transport policy document which if complied with is capable of giving Nigeria the most prominent position in AfCTA.
The former Nigerian minister of Transportation may not have known that the major problem why the Land border stations daily and monthly revenue, may not have been growing as expected was also because of the ” inter-connectivity gap between Nigerian and Benin republic, which is limiting Trade facilitation in the ECOWAS, sub-region”.
Comptroller Bello Mohmammed Jibo, the Seme Command , Area Controller Who had succeeded in blocking all Areas of revenue Leakage at the land border station and his Team of dedicated officers may have continued to their best to generate appreciable revenue for the government.
Ali, the Customs boss had expected with the implementation of 2022, Fiscal policy Measures and Amendments, that had been approved by the Nigerian President with effect from April 1, 2022, which is made up ofa Supplementary Protection Measure, SPM, for implementation of the ECOWAS Common External Tariff, CET, 2022-2026,and , and the introduced Import Adjustment Tax, IAT, list with additional taxes and levy on 172 Tariff Line of the extant ECOWAS Common External Tariff, the Seme Command and the other Land border stations will improve on the daily and monthly revenue collection.
This may have informed why the monthly revenue collection of the Land border stations , particular, Seme Command , in the second quarter of 2022, has increased tremendously giving the Valuation, Import, Export and ECOWAS, Trade Liberalisation officers hope f that the Comm will its 2022, revenue target and even surpass it, with all the measures put in place by the Area Controller, to checkmate fraud.
But for that to be achieved , Hajia Ahmed, the minister of Finance and Ali, the Customs helmsman, have to stamp their foot down to ensure that the digital equipment provided by the ECOWAS, which is still lying fallow at the border station were installed without further delay as Muazu Sambo, minister of Transportation will not do it.
While the Ali led Customs Management, may be on the neck of the Land border stations Area Controllers to improve on their monthly revenue collections, the Seme Command Enforcement and Operation officers are, according to informed sources are doing everything within their powers to make Contraband smugglers uncomfortable.
A visitor to the Command’s Operations, under the close watch of by Dankigari Abubakar, an Assistant Comptroller, would be surprised at the number of vehicles that litter the premises and around the Area Comptroller’s residence.Some of the impounded vehicles were said to have also been kept at the Government Warehouse premises where thousands of other intercepted 50Kg bags of foreign rice, scores of 25 KgVegetable oil, second handing clothing and other prohibited items seized boyth on Land, Creeks were stored.
. The Magazine sighted some of the Labourers engaged by the Command transferring the intercepted 50Kg bags of rice and other prohibited items from one of the Patrol Team Vehicles into the warehouse , which are always begging for evacuation.
A Patrol Team leader who spoke to the Value News online Magazine had said that since ‘’the smugglers are not ready engage in Legitimate business but prefer to continue in the smuggling Contraband into the country, they will not rest in their oars until they were forced out of the illegal business”.
He drew the online Magazine’s attention to the popular adage that says that ‘’if a child will not let the mother sleep, the child will not also sleep’’. Indeed, this is exactly what is happening to the smugglers as they have continued to lose both money and goods to the government in the recent time.