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.
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.
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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