By Stephen Ubanna
Until last Thursday, February 7, 2019, officers and men of Seme Command of the Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, anxiously waited for signals from clearing Agents operating at the Seme-Krake, a Joint Border post, between Nigeria and Republic of Benin to prepare the ground to facilitate the transfer of the transit cargoes to the temporary site that had been provided for it.
The Value News were at the joint Border post last Thursday, to witness the handover of the transit cargoes by the Beninois Customs personnel to their Nigerian counterpart. Unknown to many, there are some unresolved issues between the Beninois clearing agents and their Nigerian counterparts. The Beninois were not ready to allow the transit cargoes leave their territory. This is because of the billions they are making for the government from Nigerian transit cargoes importers from duties and demurrage.
A source at the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, Secretariat at the Joint Border post confirmed that for much of last week, the Nigerian agents ,shuttled between the Nigerian side and the Beninois side of the Border to hold meetings to resolve the problems to open the road for the trucks to be escorted to the Nigeria side of the Border by the Republic of Benin of Customs .
Maritime analysts fear that the conflict of interests between the two groups may be a smokescreen to sabotage the project as there are those within and outside the country who may be feeding fat from the old arrangement where transit cargoes are cleared differently by agents in their respective countries. The Beninois Customs Authorities, according to sources , are said to be using their contacts in the ministry of Finance, to forestall the movement of the transit cargoes into Nigeria. They were said to have also reached out to Emmanuel Kayode Oguntuase, the Nigerian Ambassador , to the West African neighbouring country , to use him to penetrate the Presidency to put a stop to the transit cargo site project.
Prior to Mohammed Uba Garba, Seme Command, Comptroller, decisive stand on the enforcement on Customs International law on transit cargoes on Januaruy 8, 2019, the task of sensitising the stakeholders at the joint Border post, of the relocation of the transit cargoes to Rashid Adahunsi, a Deputy Comptroller in-charge of the Command Enforcement Unit.
At the instance of Garba, the Seme Customs boss, Adahunsi was said to have interacted with the villagers, particular, the Chiefs, Baales , Youths , market men and women including other stake holders in the Community as part of efforts of carrying them along rather being caught unaware.
Some uninformed Customs personnel at the Border were said to have taking advantage of the confusion trailing the transit of cargoes to the Nigeria side of the Border Community to forestall the movement of transit cargoes destined for land locked countries of Chad and Niger through Borno state. It was gathered that the intervention of one of the senior officers at the Command Enforcement Unit saved the situation from degenerating.
Many believe that the setback in keeping to the time schedule of transferring the transit cargoes to the Nigerian side of the joint Border post may have provided opportunity for the Seme Command Authority to put finishing touches to the fencing of the site which was started by Mohammed Aliyu, a former Comptroller of the Command and now Comptroller, Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A and the sand filling of the site.
As at Thursday, February 7, 2019, the grader machine was at the site leveling the sand filling to prepare the ground for the truck laden transit cargoes to discharge. Maritime experts would want the Seme Customs Comptroller to seek the support of Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel to put Asphalt on the land to make it an enduring project that would stand the test of time as a mini-seaport.
They noted that this has become very necessary as the clearing process that takes place at the sea port such as breaking of seals of Containers would now be done at the site instead of trans-loaded cargoes into trucks coming into the country. Officials must show their total commitment to the project by ensuring that the transit cargo site are concretised to ensure that the money spent on the site would not be a waste. There are fears that if the Command uses only the red earth to cover the site, the heavy duty trucks laden with Containers may destroy it by creating potholes .
The Customs Comptroller may have assured those who fear that the project might be stalled that there was no going back as both the Nigerian and Republic of Benin customs as well as other security agencies personnel at the joint order are well informed of the new arrangement and have thrown their weight behind it to ensure smooth transfer of the transit cargoes to Seme Command.
Residents of Seme Community who spoke to The Value News are optimistic that economic and social activities would bounce back to the joint border because of the thousands of jobs that would be created for Nigerians at the mini-seaport. They are also optimistic that it would reduce smuggling and lose of vital revenue by the government.
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