END SARS Protests Disrupts A Presidential Team Visit To Seme Border As Smugglers Shift To The Seaports

 Stephen Ubanna

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.

Ali: CG Of Customs

 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 .  

Olusemire: Comptroller, FOU, Zone C

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.

Seme Border: A Shadow of Itself

 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.   

Acting Compt. Wada Handing Over To Compt.ibo, At Seme Command

     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.  

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