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Customs: MAN Advocates A Review Of The Border Closure Policy Despite Claims By Ali Of Improved Monthly Revenue Collections

By Stephen Ubanna

Ahead of the take- off of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, AfCTA next January, the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, MAN,has joined the Association of  Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, under the close watch of Tony Iju Nwabunike, and other Nigerians  to call for a review of the border closure policy.  The AfTA, economic bloc  is projected to boost   trade across the Continent   to a total population  of about  1.2 billion  and a combined Gross Domestic Product of $2.4 trillion.`

 MAN fears that if the country’s borders remain closed until the take-off of the  Continental Trade Agreement, the fate of the over 2, 400 Manufacturing Companies,   which  products are making appreciable  impact in the Economic Community of West African states , ECOWAS, Sub-region , would be  in the hang  as they may   be displaced by other Companies producing similar products from other countries within the Continent.

 It is on good records that of the 6,900 products traded on the, ECOWAS, Trade Libralisation Scheme, ETLS, market,  Nigerian Companies alone ,  manufactures  between 60 -70% of it , leaving the rest to other member countries  in the economic bloc.  The Association believes that the earlier the government take another look on the border closure policy, the better for the country.

The closure of the borders across the counry with the neighbouring two West African countries  of Benin Republic, Niger and Cameroon a country in the Central African sub-region,, on  August, 2019, which  was said to have been  on the advice of Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, and Babagana Munguno, a retired Major General, National Security Adviser had remained till now.

 The duo, who, many believe  have  the ears of President Muhammadu Buhari, may have been  worried over  the alleged  smuggling  of transit imported  Foreign par boiled rice from the Asian country of Tahiland,  Small and light arms including  illicit exports of locally subsidized  petroleum product, to these neighbouring countries, that they  encouraged the Katsina state born Nigerian President to cue into the border closure suggestion  to stop the mess.

Mansur: MAN President

 But Ahmed Mansur,  President, MAN, who could not hide his feelings, noted  that’’ while the border closure was necessary at  the time it was announced in August 2019, it was time  for the government to review the policy  as the reasons no longer hold water’’.

He has his reasons. Smugglling of the Foreign par boiled rice shipped to Cotonou port, Benin, Bollore port, both in Benin Republic and Doula port, Cameroon,, have not stopped the  smuggling of  fairly used vehicles, Foreign rice, small and light arms  into the country but had rather   made the situation worse. This is because   the smugglers who have  become  more daring and have developed new strategies  to confront the  Customs  anti-smuggling officers and other security Operatives  standing on their way on the road.

Idiroko: Home of Smugglers

Take for instance the attack on a Patrol Team of the Ogun 1 ,Command, along  Olurunlere village, near Alapoti, Ado-Odo Ota , the Commercial nerve centre of Ogun state i on Thursday, December3, 2020.. The Ogun I, Patrol Team , had intercepted  some vehicles loaded with 50Kg bags of foreign parboiled rice, which the smugglers did not find funny.

Chado Kolo the Command, Area Comptroller, who had received  his first baptism of fire from the  dire hard smugglers in the notorious smugglers route,  had said that the smugglers who had regrouped sensing their loss on sighting the Patrol Team stated shooting sporadically at them to evade arrest, resulting in exchange of fire. The Patrol Tam, according to the Comptroller were overwhelmed  due  to the numeric strength of the smugglers and hoodlums, forcing the Team to tactically withdrew , awaiting the arrival of the reinforcement  Teams to resume operations.

Customs Patrol Vehicle Burn By Smugglers At OgunI.

The bad news was that before the arrival of  the military personnel and other Units of the Usman Yahaya led Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, described as fearless, to the scene, the smugglers, with support of the hodlums , who had  joined them in the attack to frustrate the Ogun I, Patrol Team,  had shattered   one of their official vehicles .

Taiwo.J. Odeyemi, a Customs Inspector I, and a  driver attached to Team, and four others was said to have been kidnapped by the smuggllers during the operation. T It was alleged that he may have been  killed  by the smugglers. But the Kolo, the Area Comptroller has promised the smugglers harder times ahead. The Customs Comptroller has made it clear to those that cares to listen that the incessant attacks on officers and men of the Command doing their Legitimate duties would leave them with no option but ”to use appropriate force to deal with this wave of Criminal attacks on his men.

An emboldened Customs Comptroller had said the attacks by the Criminal elements on his officers would deter them from doing their job but would push them ”to intensify the anti-smuggling war against these economic saboteurs whose interest is to make profits at the expense of the nation. 

Determined to clear Idiroko axis of the Criminal elements, he has vowed to ensure that the killer smugglers and thir sponsors face the full weight of the Law as a deterrence to others who might want to perpetuate such wicked act in the future.

Note thatMansur, who is not happy over the continuous   closure of the borders across the country , and the incessant attacks on Customs officers doing their Legitimate duties,  had said that’’ the border closure had been far enough’’. Given an insider information of  the position of MAN, on the border closure, he stated that’’ after one year , of the border closure, these malpractices, particularly trade malpractices, with the neighbouring countries, which indeed to a large  extent  had contributed to the problem, ought to have been resolved  but this  was not done.

 The MAN President  insists that  the  normal  thing for the Katsina state  born Nigerian President  to do now  ‘’will be to reopen  the borders across the  country with the neighbouring countries  and allow normal,  trading to resume’’.

Ali: CG, Customs

Mansur, the MAN President, who could not hide his feelings stated  that  ‘’reopening  the borders  would only be  in Compliance  with ECOWAS  trade liberalization treaty, which Nigeria is a part of’’. Even Christian Kabore , President of Burkina Faso,  who had  Headed a Committee, set up by the  Authority of Heads of States and Government of the regional economic bloc, to look into the Nigerian Border closure were said  to have made its  recommendations to  the  highest decision making  body for approval. The report, according to sources, had  favoured the reopening of the Nigerian  closed borders for normal trading to resume with the neighbouring countries.

Many believe that the reopening of the borders would the reduce the pressure on the economy and reduce  the incessant attack on Customs Patrol Team s and other  security operatives by smugglers/hoodlums.

There  are indications that the Nigerian President , wh ois not  ready to jump the gun, is awaiting for the Mohamadou  Issoufou, Chaired of Authority of Heads of States  and Government of the Sub-regional economic  bloc to deliberate on the recommendations of the Kabore report and also  address the issue of security  before  reopening the borders across the country. 

Aware that many Nigerian Companies  manufacturing, particular, the   cement and other Consumer products manufacturers have large quantities of unsold export  stock in their warehouses rotting away, may have  informed why  the Nigerian President recently   gave approval for the  two big players in the ETLS market,   Dangote Industries, which have Aliko Dangote, a multi-billionare business mogul as the President and  BUA Group, which has  Abdul Samad Rabiu, as the Group Chairman,  to  export some of the manufactured  cement to Niger  and Togo, two West African countries,  in the third quarter of 2020, for the first time in ten months.

  The government  may have used the  authorisation to the Dangote Industries and BUA Group, to export  cement to Niger and Togo, to test the waters for normal trade to resume with the neighbouring  countries  after a prolonged blockade.

Michel Puchercos,  Chief Executive Officer of Dangote Cement, reportedly  said that  the Company may have resumed  the export  of cement through the land border   but with restricted volumes as’’there are   plans by the Management  to grow the trade  using the sea channels’’.

The Nigerian government may have seen the folly of closing the borders across the country with the three  neighbouring countries that Babagana Munguno, a retired Major General and National Security Adviser, NSA, and  Chairman of the Operation Swift Response, popular, Border Drills, overseeing the Border Closure,  at the instance of  the Nigerian President, has given the nod to       Ali,  the Customs Comptroller  General,   to release  the over  N130 billion  worth of transit  cargoes  trapped at Seme border between August 2019 and now. The approval  letter was said to have been conveyed to the  retired Army Colonel, led Customs Management Team  by one   E.A. Ndagi, a serving Army Major General, in the office of the NSA ,on November 13, 2020.

 But the Customs boss  may have  be dillydallying  in in releasing the trapped  trucks laden goods at the Seme/Krake lander border  because of  his believe in the border closure as there had been  an increased patronage of Nigerian ports, particular, the Lagos ports.

 This is because  most of the  importers who had relocated to Benin Republic ports and  other ports in the West African sub-region, because of the  high cost of doing business at Nigerian ports have plotted their  way back into Nigerian ports  in order to remain in business which have translated to improved revenue  collection for the government from non-oil goods.

Take for instance, the Lagos port of Apapa Command , which has AP Moller, one of the biggest Container terminals in the West African sub-region, as one of its terminals, under it,  according Abba-Kura, the Area Comptroller, generated N227.3 billion  in the first  half of this year, despite the Wuhan Town, in Hebei Province of China emerged coronavirus, popular, COVID 19.

 He confirmed that it was a   10.59% over the 2019 collection as Port Multi-services Terminal, popular, PTML, another major port in Lagos, the nation’s Commercial centre, under the close watch of  Festus Okun,  generated  N87.8 billion, compared to N75.7 billion generated in the first half of 2019. Comptroller Okun, was said to have described the 2020 half year collection as the highest  ever to be made by  the Command. He had attributed the impressive revenue collection to the intelligence  of the Command Operatives who had refused to be Compromised.

Mohmammed: Comptroller, NCS, PH. Area II, Command, Onne

Auwal Mohammed,  who had just resumed as the Comptroller of Port Harcourt Are II Command, Onne, not too long ago,  had said that  within the month of September, which was his first month  of fully  supervising the  operations at the port,  the Command generated  N13.106 billion , described as the highest  monthly revenue to be made by the Command under any Comptroller since its establishment about 37 years ago.

  Insider sources told The Magazine, that the  amount that had been collected by the Command  in the subsequent months of October and September far outweigh the collection of the month September that is being celebrated by the Port Harcourt Area II  Area Comptroller.   

The Onne Customs Comptroller had attributed the impressive monthly collection, in this era of COVID 19,  to the unrelenting efforts of the officers in the discharge of their duties. Mahmood Ibrahima Deputy Comptroller, incharge of the exit gate, serving both the Port Harcourt Area 11  and the Oil and Gas Free Trade Zone Command, and his officers were said to have been  very outstanding in the scrutiny of  Containers released from the West African Container Terminal, WACT, to ensure that the right is done.

Abdullahi Musa, popular, MBA, Comptroller, Tin can Island Command,, said  it generated  close to N118 billion within the first five months of  the  year 2020.

 Note that the global pandemic  had  erupted in the country in March 2020,  which adversely  affected importation through the port as  many multi-national shipping  Companies withdrew  their vessels from the  participating in International trade to avoid exposing their Crew members to danger. The situation  was made worse as many countries banned  vessels from  the most  pandemic infeestested countries, particular, China, from coming to their country. The fallout  was that it affected the volume of cargo traffic tp the TINCAN Island port, which  adversely affected the  revenue collection of the Command.  The Command, has a monthly  target of NN47.7 billion , which  translates to a target of N540 billion for theyear.

With the gradual easing of the global pandemic and the resumption of International trade , which had resulted in improved  cargo traffic  to the port in this this last quarter of the  year, there are indications, that the Command made may  make  for the loses in the previous  months.

Stephen Ubanna

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