By Stephen Ubanna
More facts have emerged why the Benininois government increased the Administrative Charges on Nigerian- bound Transit cargoes from member countries of the Economic Community of West African countries,ECOWAS, Trade Liberalisation Scheme, ETLS, and third party goods from other parts of the world.
Indeed, the neighbouring West African country had increased the Nigerian- bound cargoes passing through its borders to CFA9 million, equivalent of N6.5 million. Informed sources told The Value News on Thursday, August, 19, 2021, during a working visit to Seme border Community that prior to the increase on the Administrative Charges for the Nigerian bound transit cargoes, passing through its Benin corridor, the Benin Customs Authorities collected as duty N1.8 million for a ‘’40’’ Container and N1.4million for a ‘’20’’ Container.
According to informed sources the Transit cargo importers with their agents and the Beninois Customs Authorities had connived over the years to shortchange the Nigerian government through the abnormal payments of duty. This is two to three Containers could be loaded into an ETLS Truck , and assessed as two Container loads of goods that duty would be collected by the Seme Customs Command.
This may have encouraged Patrice Talon, the country’s President to approved the increase on Administrative Charges to recover the lost revenue that had been incurred as a result of many of the Nigerian Transit cargoes importers abandoning the Autonomous port of Benin, Cotonou and Bollore port, the country’s two major seaports.
A Seme based agent who spoke to The Magazine on condition of anonymity disclosed that even with the N1.8 million and N1.4 million duty charged on each ‘’40’’ and ‘’20’’, Container, respectively not many of the transit cargoes importers were able to pay it forcing them to relocate who Tema, Lome and Abidjan ports in Ghana, Togo and Coed’Ivoire, respectively, to take delivery of their Nigerian bound transit cargoes.
The Beniniois argument major worry was that if the Nigerian transit cargo importers could relocate to Ghana, Togo and Cote Ivoire, to take delivery of their ETLS, goods that are manufactured by Companies in the Enterprise list of the Economic bloc and thother third party goods manufactured in Europe and the North American country of the United States, US, including the Asian countries of China and India and still pass through their corridor into the Nigerian market, they must be read to the Administrative Charges which have been criticised at several quarters.
Given an insider information on the implementation of ETLS protocols on Transit, cargoes, Fanu Lasisi, Chairman, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, Seme Charter, informed The Magazine that the ETLS, goods, are not supposed to attract any duty, from any of the 16 member countries of the ECWAS, sub-region, going by the Protocol. He noted that the only cost which the ETLS, transit cargoes importers and exporters are expected to bear are the transport cost.
Fillers from Benin Republic indicates that the Beninois government officials have already started holding discussions to lower the Administrative charges on Transits cargoes truck but the ANLCA, Leadership at Seme, based on their Correspondence with the Beninois Authorities are still insisting that’’ the status quo must remain’’ to enable the Transit cargo importers take delivery of their goods and still pay the relevant duties to the Seme Customs Command at the Land border to facilitate the release of the cargo.
Fanu, the ANLCA, Chairman, Seme Border, Chapter, had confirmed that though importation and exportation of goods have been ongoing at the joint border between Nigeria and Benin, but ”the volume was nothing compared to what it used to be in the pa.
Recall that prior to the increase in the Transit cargo Administrative Charges by the Beninois government which had forced some of the importers to abandon over, 3,735, of their Trucks ladenwith both ETLS and Third party goods, at Ilakoji, a Border Community between Benin and Togo, the Seme Command had cleared 4,438, Nigeria-bound Transit trucks laddened with various goods at the Seme Border between late December, 2020 and May, 2021
. It is on record that out of the 4, 438 trucks laddened with cargoes, which were processed at the Land border, 1,059 of the trucks came under the ETLS, while 2,487 trucks were exports. It was reported that for the imports and Baggage, 179 laddened and 713 trucks respectively, were captured.
Although, imports and exports have not fully resumed at the Land Border, which have given people the impression , including the the Customs personnel that ” there are no activities” , but Dangote Trucks loaded with Cement for export have continued to leave the Seme border through the Benin corridor to other countries in the West African sub-region.
This may not be unconnected to the working agreement with the Beninois government . The Magazine had sighted over five of such Dangote ETLS, trucks, that had discharged either in Benin, Ghana, Togo or any other country in the West African sub-region returning back to the country at the land border. The Magazine also sighted another 30 or therabout, Dangote ETLS trucks loaded with cement, along the Badagry and Seme road, enroute to the west coast market.
Many believe that the Beninois Customs Authorities may not have been hard on the Dangote ETLS tucks to pay the mandatory CFA9 million 05 N6.5million, Transit cargo Administrative Charge before passing through their corridor because of the role that Aliko Dangote, President,Dangote Industries, playedto facilitate the reopening of the Nigerian 18 month- old closed borders with the neighbouring West African country, Niger and the Central African country of Camerron, by President Muhammadu Buhai, a retired Army General, last December.
For now, the partial closure of the Ilakoji and, by the Beninois government to forestall Nigerian- bound cargoes from entering the country may have informed why Bello Mohammed Jibo, Comptroller, Seme Command, described as” an action man”,by security agencies Operatives to have further tightened up security within the Seme Jurisdiction which had yielded spectacular results.
This is evident going by the thousands of Foreign Parboiled rice of 50Kg each, scores of Vegetable Oil of 25 litres each and other Contraband that are deposited at the GHW, at the Land Border, awaiting to be evacuated to the Internally Displaced People IDP’s Camp in different parts of the country.
AC.Abubakar, the Command, Head of Operations, and his officers who were said to have been working round the clock, over the last couple of months, according to insiders had made much of the seizures which have given both the land and the water smugglers, a ause to worry , forcing many of them who could no longer bear the heat ‘’to have relocated to Ogun and Oyo states to carry out their nefarious activities’’.
An eye witness account disclosed that the quiet looking Comptroller Jibo and the Command, Head of Operations had at different times , disguised themselves to go out at night on operations where they were said to have made seizures to the surprise of the officers. The anti-smuggling heat may not have been turned on the Foreign rice and vehicle smugglers alone alone.
Even those engage smuggling Premium Motor Spirit, PMS, popular, Petrol in Jerry cans of 25 litres each mostly through the coast would never forget their experience in a hurry as many of them were said to have resorted to the use of sacks to smuggle the product to Benin Republic by road.
The Magazine had confronted the Command, Deputy Comptroller, in-charge of enforcement who was mistaken to be the Officer-In-Charge of Operations over the new tactics of Petrol smugglers, along the Badagry and Seme, road: Using sacks to smuggle Petrol. He took offence.
Hear him: Do you have any proof . I have my officers staioned at startegic locations at the Border who are making seizures of Jerry cans of Petrol on a daily and weekly basi. In emotional outburst , he disclosed the Jerry cans of Petrol are immediately disposed as it could not be preserved in the Government warehouse like rice and other non- perishable items. ’’You are a Journalist, leave my office’’.
This. is where Comptroller Jibo, who has been working tirelessly to stop smuggling of petroleum products across the Border may have to redouble his efforts to stop the racketeers who may have penetrated the ranks of the security operatives including the Customs personnel at the various Checkpoints under the control of the Command to ensure that they would continue to do the right thing without Compromise.
As the Katsina state born Nigerian President had repeatedly said, ‘’We have no other country other than Nigeria and we must to protect it to the later’’. This is where the economic saboteurs may have no option but turn a leaf by doing the right thing to avoid playing into the hands of Customs personnel.