Customs: Border Closure, Seme Still A deserted Community

By Elizabeth Chukwuma

 The 3-month- old  border closure , across the four  geo-political  regions in the country: south-south, south west, north central and north west, appears to be taking a turn for the worse  at  Seme/Krake Joint border.

 This is because the border Community, described as one of the busiest in Africa. in terms of economic and social activities  had been deserted by businessmen and women including cross-border travellers to avoid playing into the hands of the Border Drills security Operatives  comprising of the Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, Nigeria Immigration Service, NIS,  the Military, Department of State Security, DSS, and Directorate of Military Intelligence , DIM, personnel .

Signs that that the border Community  which is  between Nigeria and Republic of Benin has been deserted begins to show  at Gbaji  Check point, where the border Drills Security Operatives  were stationed . Note that the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, Seme Command and The Comptroller General of CGC, Strike Force,  were  also to have their checkpoints at the Gbaji bridge.

 They may have put fear on the people who ply the road  by searching thoroughly very vehicle passing through the route,including those of Para- Military security Operatives to ensure that no  ‘’50’’ bag or bags of  foreign par boiled ice are not hidden in the booth of their vehicles.

Those who  had  taken advantage of their uniform to carry one or two bags of ‘’50’’  including NCS and NIS personnel working at the border town would never forget their experience in a hurry. They were said to have been disposed of the items by the border Drills personnel who are acting on the Presidential  directive that nothing should enter or leave the country through the land border.

Indeed, this  may have  the Cross –border  travellers, fire-works , traders, and Nigerian  students in these other  ECOWAS  countries, particular,  the female folk, who  had been forced  to stop making frequent movement  along the road carrying  second hand clothing, used shoes, used bags in their bags or rice to sell in the country .

 It is not surprising  why the Joint border Community has lost all the trappings of a busy  place and now  a shadow of itself.   The situation in the Seme border Community  is so bad that when a visitor tells an NIS or Customs  Officer that he is coming to  see him , his response had always  been: what are you coming to do in this deserted place? 

Last Thursday , October 24, 2019, at the Gbaji  foot bridge, where all the security  agencies at the border including the border Drills personnel   have their checkpoints, there was a  free flow of traffic. The Value News Findings shows that  the Border Drills personnel , Officers from the FOU, Zone A, Seme Command and The CGC, Strike Force , may have been forced to maintain skeletal presence on the road to avoid a break -down of Law and Order because of the presence of  the Gani Adams, Aare Onakakanfo, of Yoruba land, led  Odu’a people’s Congress , OPC, who were said to be  holding their  yearly ritual  at the Badagry Beach. The yearly ritual was said to have  started on Tuesday, October,  22,2019 and ended  on Thursday, October 24, 2019.

It was learnt   at the end of the yearly ritual, the members usually  drive across the border  with their buses to buy  rice and poultry products. It was a different ball game this year.  Perhaps to avoid any confrontation with the OPC members, the  Customs Authorities may have told them  in advance to avoid  doing so this time around because of the government policy  banning  importation of foreign rice  into the country through the land Border.

The Magazine cited the OPC members’  buses  with  flags which had come from  Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo and Ekiti , the six states in the south west geo-political region. There were also OPC members’  buses from Edo , in the south-south geo-polical region and Kwara states , north central geo-political region.

A source informed  The Magazine that security Operatives may have put a close tab  on the OPC members to ensure that that they did not flout the government policy.   Also at the border Community  there  were no sign of   the OPC members who  came near  area because of  as the tight security.

 The security Operatives showed that they were in for serious business at the border as the Magazine was seriously drilled by the  NIS , personnel  before being allowed to  enter the Economic Community of West  African  States , ECOWAS,  building ,accommodating both the Seme Command  Customs, and  the  NIS personnel  and their Beninese counterparts  including other security agencies .

At the ECOWAS building, the Magazine  could not believe it that most of the offices were under lock  and key while the  ones that were said to be opened had only one or two  officers  on ground to attend to visitors  as majority of the senior officers may have gone on forced leave .But the Enforcement Officers were seen milling  around the Border  while  others attached to  the Command patrol Teams were said to be  in the bush  and the Creeks  running after the  smugglers. The Magazine cited Adahunse Rashid, a Deputy Comptroller, in-charge  of the Command Enforcement Unit at the Comptroller’s office with  his Orderly and one  of the Comptroller’s Secretaries doing their  work .

 A  police officer who spoke to the Magazine disclosed  that there is  little or no job for the Customs officers , particular ,those in  Valuation,  Accounts Department to do because the government policy on the ban on imports and exports  through the border.   The Magazine was  informed that virtually all the senior Officers at the Seme Command would have  stopped coming to the Office both not for the riot act  read to them by  Muhammed Uba Garba,  the Area Comptroller , that the Heads of department  must report  at work daily.  As an officer who leads by example, he was said to have always been  in the office to oversee what is happening at the Border.  The only time , the Customs Area Comptroller , was said to have kept away from the office was only  if he is invited for a meeting  with other Comptrollers  at Abuja  on the orders  of Hameed  Ali, a retired Army Colonel and the CGC.

Muhammed Uba Garba: Comptroller , Seme Command

Note that what usually  attract a first time visitor at the Seme Command was the scores of trucks laden cargoes at both sides of the border Community.   One of the worst hit was  Ekulu Holdings Nigeria limited, a Company, owned by One Bishop,  who has a franchise with UAC Nigeria plc  to export   its Gala product  to  other countries in the West  African sub-region. The Lagos based  Company , operating from v  the Trade Fair Complex, according to an agent, has over 15 trucks laden with thousans of cartons of Gala product meant for export  to different countries in the sub- region  worth millions of naira that had been trapped at the border over the last two months.

The agent disclosed that there are several other trucks from Cot d’Ivoire,  Benin, Togo, Ghana and several other countries , which had been loaded with the item at the Trade fair Complex  but could not move because of the  border closure which  had banned imports and export of  goods into the country. The bad news was that  the  UAC Gala products had expired  and not  good for human consumption while some  were said to have been destroyed by the rain .

Ucheson Nigeria limited, popular, Fragrance World, another Company, which imports  body Creams and  perfume , according to the agent is also counting his loses.  The  trading Company was said to have imported  over 15 trucks  load of  the products  worth millions of naira which are trapped at the border.  The Magazine under security cover went to the  Holding   bay provided for  trucks laden goods for imports and export at the joint border  and found that some of the Ucheson Body Creams and Perfume imports had spoilt because of the odour  oozing out from the direction of the Trucks.

 Multi-national Companies such as  Lever Brothers, Cadbury, Nigeria Breweries,  Guiness Nig. Plc and the Ibadan based Nigeria Tobacco Company, plc, among  others  which exports its products   to other countries in the ECOWAS and Central African sub-region  were said to b counting their loses   as well . This is bbecause of many of their export trucks laden with cargoes had been  trapped at the border over the last two months.

Investigation by the Magazine shows that most of the importers  who had relocated  to Republic of Benin and other ports in the West African region to take delivery of their goods  and move them by road in Trucks may have been forced to patronise Nigerian ports, particular, Apap and Tin-can Island ports, including  Grimldi, popular, Port Multi-services Terminal Limited, PTML,  to take delivery of their goods. They may have realised that  the Katsina state born Nigerian President who is impressed with the activities of the security Operatives involved in the border Drills , across the four geo-political  regions in the country  may not be a hurry to reopen the borders.

This is evident going by the improved cargo traffic at the Lagos ports which had robbed off on the south eastern port of Warri, Port Area1, Onne, and Calabar, in the last two months. The improved cargo traffic at the ports have also reflected  on the revenue of the various Commands.

In spite of the fact that the   countries’ borders with the neighbouring Benin, Niger, Chad and the Central African country of Cameroon remained closed for now, the Beninese and Nigerian traders at the  border Communities, who are no longer finding  it funny appears to have devised survival strategy.

Take for instance at Seme, the traders  were said to have turned part of  the J4  Park used  by motorists to display their wares such as  tomato, Onions, garri, yam, Orange, fruits and  Vegetables  of different types including foreign par boiled rice for sale. The Beninese traders were said to have found their way to the  J4 border market through a track route, which was said to have been taken over by soldiers from the Border drills, forcing them to develop new track roads inside the bush  to access the  market to sell their wares.

A f petty  trader told The Value News that many of them have lost thousands of naira to the Customs as the border Drills and  the Seme Patrol Teams  often  raid the market  on informatiom to cart away their foreign par boiled  rice for sale.

 Appealing to Heads of State and Government   of the member  countries  of Economic Community of  West African States, ECOWAS sub-region, to put heads together to find solution to the Nigerian government  closure  of the border with neighbouring countries in the sub-regin  to  save the  economic bloc.

 The trader fears that if the border closure  extends to 2020,  many African countries, which economies depend on Nigeria will Collapse, Particular, Benin, Niger, Chad and Cameroon. She disclosed that Companies in Togo, Ghan and, Cote d’ Ivore  which also manufacture for the Nigerian market may forced to wind up business  because of the market to sell their goods. ‘’ I am a trader, I deal on many goods and  not  only foreign rice.  I know what is happening in most of these other African countries   because  I and other traders from Benin buy  goods from their markets for sale’’, she said.

Raphael Agbogu, Managing Director, Sovereign Gate International Nig. Limited, a Lagos based Clearing Agency,  and Director ,Public Relations, National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents, NCMDLCA,  has urged  the  government  to have a rethink on the border closure. He wants the government to take  into consideration the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme, ETLS, protocol, which the country is a signatory to review the policy.

Agbogu , who has Professional Colleagues at  Seme border, who are already feeling the pains  since the  border closure   noted that if  the government  had given the required three months’ notice to the neigbouring countries about its plan to shut their common borders  to checkmate the activities of smugglers, who had  flood the Nigerian market with prohibited goods , particular, foreign par boiled rice, using their countries as base to do so, it would have given the importers and exporters with the c agents an Opportunity  to go back to the drawing board to devise  ways of  keeping their  agency afloat for the period of the border closure.

Raphael Agbogu: Director, PR, NCMDLCA

He noted that many of the importing and exporting firms and their agents are suffering  it at Seme border because President Muhammadu Buhari took them unawares. The agent disclosed that what the  President has done shows that ECOWAS  Heads of State and Governments  no longer respect the  economic bloc protocol  as member countries could  do whatever they like , stressing  that the ECOWAS countries , including Nigeria , must go back to  basics  to  ’’implement what the ETLS protocol says instead of flouting the rule’’ .

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