Hopes of president Muhammadu Buhari, a retired Army General. Reopening the land borders across the country with the neighbouring countries of Benin Republic, Niger and the Central African country of Cameroon, which gold post had been shifted several times may be dashed.
This is because the END SARS protest which had dragged on for over a week . The protest was said to have disrupted a planned visit of a presidential Team Comprising of Lawmakers and some selected officials from the Presidency to the south west land borders of Seme and iIdiroko, border Communities between Nigeria and Benin republic, on Wednesday, October 14, 2020.
Mohammed Jibo, the Area Comptroller of Seme command, was said to have made adequate arrangement to receive the Abuja visitors but that was how far he could go. The Team members, particular, the Lawmakers, may have been forced to cancel the visit to join other members of the National Assembly in the plenary session over The ongoing protests regarding the dissolution of SARS.
Given the Katsina state born Nigerian President resole to end the Protest and restore economic and social activities in the country which had developed k-leg since the anti-SARS –protest which had entered its second week, had met with Ahmad Lawan, the Senate President and Femi Gbajabiamila, Speaker , House of Representatives on Friday, October 16, 2020, at the Presidential Villa. The essence of the meeting to Presidency sources was to find a lasting solution to the lingering crisis which is getting worse by the day as it spreads from one city to another.
The Leadership of the National Assembly may have taken advantage of the meeting with the President to call for an end to the protest marches across the country, stating that the list of the demands of the aggrieved Nigerian Youths , particular, the dissolution of SARS , have been met. The duo were said to have urged the protesters ‘’to give the Buhari led All Progressive Congress, APC, government time to meet other demands’’. He noted that the protests that now ‘’involve blocking of access roads will have enormous economic impact on the country if not stopped’’.
Gbajabiamila, the House Speaker, who could not hide his feelings was to have told the protesters to be patient with the government because ‘’policy matters cannot be met overnight’’. He may have stake his reputation when he stated that the protesters could continue with the protest if after two weeks, their demands were not met. But Tolu Ogunlesi, Special Adviser to the president on Digital Media had said that that’’ the Administration had made tremendous progress to meet the demands of the Youths on the street protesting against SARS brutality in the country.
Recall when information leaked out that the Team from the National Assembly and the Presidency were coming on a working visit to Seme Land borders on Wednesday, October 14, 2020, Importers with their Clearing Agents were said to have prepared to take advantage of the visit to present the list of their demands to the government.
Many of them whose tucks laden goods were trapped at the border Community were said to be under pressure from the Banks to repay their loans. The importers may not have had any problem in re-settling the loans if they had taken delivery of their goods between August 2018 and now in order to supply it to their distributors for sale at the Nigerian market.
This may have informed why the aggrieved importers with their agents are opposed to the protest as it would further prolong the border closure. This is because it would give the Presidency the ammunition to stop collapse every measure put in place to reopen the closed land borders. For now they want the ongoing END SARS protest across the major cities in the country to end to enable the Presidential team which ought to have been at Seme on October 17, 2020, to revisit the land report in order to prepare its report for the Presidency. There are indications that the report would determine whether closed Land borders across the country would be reopened or not.
Critics fear that even the visits had materialized, it may have any impact because some two years ago, Lai Mohammed, minister of Information and three other ministers including Austin Chi, a former Deputy Comptroller General of Customs overseeing Enforcement, Inspection and Investigation, EI&I, now retired were at the Seme Land border.
Mohammed Uba Garba, the then then Area, now, Acting Assistant Comptroller General, EI&I, had given the Presidntial team a low down about the situation at the land border and the trapped trucks laden gods but nothing came out of it. The situation may be different this time around because of pressure from quarters on the President .
A visitor to the Seme border Community would be surprised at the hundreds of trucks laden cargoes that are trapped at the premises of the Joint border. Scores of such uncleared trucks laden cargoes could still be found at the Benin truck park.
Insiders told The Magazine that some of the transit cargo importers had already paid the duty for their Consignments to the Seme Command which had entered into government coffers and declared as part of the N1.20 trillion that was generated by the service in 2018.
The transit cargo importers who were said to have succeeded in taking delivery of their Consignment but had taken it to the Customs controlled Truck park at the border Community could not take it to the importer’s warehouse or the importing firm’s premises as it was caught up by the border closure. Efforts by the Importers with their agents to make Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General , Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, to allow such importers to take delivery of their cargoes failed.
Recall that the Nigerian President had told Marc Christian Kabore, the President of Burkina Faso and the Chairman of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, Committee on the Closure of the of the Nigerian land borders that the failure of the neighbouring countries ‘’ to respect the agreement and the Sub-regional protocols, entered into with Nigeria transit cargoes had necessitated the closure of the Land Borders across the country.
He was to have assured the Burkinaso President who had visited sometimes ago that the borders with the neighbouring West African and Central African country of Cameroon could only be opened once he receives a ’’ firm Commitment from the countries that they would adhere to the ECOWAS Protocol’’. There have been pressure on Issofou Mohammadou, President Of Niger and Chairman of ECOWAS, who incidentally is one of the Nigerian President closest friend to take advantage of the relationship to influence him to reopen the closed Nigeria Land borders.
Investigations by The Magazine shows that over 80% of the transit cargo imports into the country from neighbouring Benin Republic, are meant for the Nigerian market. It is instructive to note that most of the transit cargoes that are meant for the land locked Niger market , also find their way into the Nigerian market through unapproved routes, particular, Foreign par boiled rice.
The fallout was that the Nigerian government had been losing billions of naira in unpaid duties over the years. Jibo, who had fully taken over from cahdi Dalha Wada, a Deputy Comptroller and former Acting Comptroller of the Seme Command had tightened up security at the border Community, to ensure’’ no cargo enters or leaves the country particular the Premium Motor Spirit, PMS, popular, Petrol, which had forced the smugglers to go underground.
The Magazine , gathered that only one Tanker of Petrol is allowed at the approved filling station at the Seme border Community in a week. The situation is the same at the Owode axis. The Petrol tanker, it was further gathered, could only be allowed to discharge at the approved filling station in the presence of the various security agencies personnel including officials of the Border Drills, and Comptroller of Customs, CGC, Strike Force, Zone A, to ensure that the right is done. This may have reduced the level of petrol smuggling at the Seme border Jurisdiction and Owode axis in the recent time.
Jibo, the Seme Customs Comptroller was said to have also improved on the security situation met on ground at the Customs waterside embarkation which had been closed by Wada, a former acting Comptroller by raising a wall and the notorious Baba Cupa axis which is behind First Bank and other Bank branches at the border community.
He was said to have overhauled l the Command anti-smuggling officers at the Agbara and Gbaji checkpoints. Unconfirmed reports said the Patrol Teams and the officers deployed to the Customs Baba Cupa axis were not left out going by the new Roaster that was said to have been released by him.
Indeed, Foreign rice and petrol smugglers operating around the Baba Cupa, Badagry Owode axis may have known that they are in trouble. This is because the officers have shown their Complete loyalty as he was said to have found a way of motivating the officers to do their work without Compromise which had thrown the camp of the smugglers into Confusion. He may have been encouraged to do so because of the experience in Bauchi/Gombe Command , when he was there as the Area Comptroller.
In spite of the fact that there had been pressure on Muhammadou, President of Niger and Chairman of ECOWAS, to exploit his closeness with Buhari to facilitate the reopening of the closed Nigerian Land borders but fillers from Apapa port under the lose watch of Fumilayo Olotu, indicates that there had been an increased volume of cargoes traffic that had entered the premier port , including other Lagos ports of Tin-can Island and Port Multiservices Terminal Limited, PTL, as well as the neglected south eastern ports of Port Harcourt Area 1, Onne, Rivers port, Delta port and Calabar port.
The increase in the volume of cargoes to the Lagos and south east ports may have translated into increased revenue generation for the government at the seaports by the various Customs Commands. Take for instance, the Apapa Customs Area Command was said to have generated the sum of N367.6 billion for the government between January and September this year. That much was confirmed by Mohamme Abba –Kura, the Area Comptroller.
Between August 2018 and December 31, 2019, the Command and othe Customs Commands in Lagos and the south east had made spectacular revenue generation for the government due to the border closure. That
Even the Nigerian Ports Authority , NPA, which had never made any reasonable revenue generation from cargo traffic at the Lagos and south east ports over the years, was said to have generated N270.56 billion in 2018 and over N300 billion in 2019 due to the border closure as many of the Nigerian transit cargo importers had relocated to the Lagos ports, particular, over the last three years.
Awaee that the border closure would force the smugglers to devise new startegies of beating the Customs anti-smuggling officers to it the border axis, the Customs Patrol teams from the Federal Operations Units, FOUS, Zone A, under Acting Comptroller Usman Yahaya, and Zone C, Owerri , Imo state, under Compt. Kayode Olusemiere , the Border Drills and CGC Strike Force, Lagos Zonal offices, personnel, were said to have restrategised to make things difficult for the smugglers.
The thousands of ‘’50’’ bags of Foreign par boiled which had been seized from smugglers in different parts of the country and deposited in Government warehouses speaks volume. This may have informed why the government is not in a hurry to reopen the Land borders. The economic Saboteurs may g have that the border routes are becoming too difficult to carry out their nefarious trade that they had shifted their operations to the seaports.
A senior Customs officer who spoke to the Magazine on condition of anonymity disclosed that there is nothing like 100 % Examination at the ports. The officer disclosed that what happens at the Examination bays was a Conspiracy of the highest order between the officers, both Customs personnel and other security agencies personnel with the importers and their Agents as some of the Consignment in the Container are usually removed in advance before the Examination could commence.
It is not surprising why some of the Containers which had exited the ports after Examination still fall into the waiting hands of FOU, Zone A or Zone C patrol teams, and CGC Strike Force Personnel, Lagos Zonal office personnel. The number of Containers found at the warehouse road, Apapa, the Operational base of the CGC Strike Force under the close watch of Ahmadu Shaibu, awaiting for re-Examination, on a daily basis bear eloquent testimony to the rot at the Lagos ports.