By Stephen Ubanna
Those who think that with the reopening of Seme, a border Community between Nigeria and Benin republic, described as the busiest land border in the West African Sub-region which was closed for 18 months by President Muhammadu Buhari, a retired army General, it would reinforce economic and Social activities in the Community may have to do a rethink.
Notwithstanding, the heavy traffic of the Economic of West African States, ECOWAS, Trade Liberalisation, popular, ETLS, goods, manufactured by the approved Companies under the scheme, that are flowing into the Nigerian market and the export of made in Nigeria goods to these West African countries , particular, Dnagote and BUA Cement, with their full Complement of agents at the land border Community, it is not yet Eldorado, as economic and social activities are still on the low side.
Blame it on the transit cargoes which are coming into the country in piecemeal. Recall that many Nigerian transit cargo importers who used the autonomous port of Benin, Cotonou and Bollore port in the neighbouring West African country including other ports in the region who had relocated to the Lagos ports of Apapa, Tincan Island and Port Multi-services Terminal Limited, PTML, in the wake of the border closure in August 2019, may not have found it necessary to return to the Benin Republic ports to resume their importation because of the pains which they had gone through between 2019 and 2020, as their scores of trucks laden cargoes were trapped at the border town beaten by rain during the rainy season, thus exposing the transit cargoes to danger.
Many of the transit cargo owners who are still struggling to take delivery of their truck laden goods may not have been in a hurry to place order from the Asian countries of India and China suppliers for now as they are still watching the situation to avoid giving the Katsina state born Nigerian President room to mess up their business again.
Many believe that the transit cargo importers may have been finding it difficult to relocate to the Benin Republic to resume importation from the autonomous port of benin and Bollore port because of the measures that had been put put place by Bello Mohammed Jibo, the Seme Command Comptroller, described in Customs circles as a workaholic to block areas of revenue leakage , particular, with the trading on ETLS, goods by cross-border traders and approved ETLSCompanies to shortchange the government.
Before now, some of the ETLS, approved Companies from the memeber countries had been accused of repackaging imported manufactured products from China and India through the autonomous port of Benin, Cotonou, Bollore port, Benin, Lome port, Togo and Abidjan port Coted;Ivoire and label them as ETLS goods from those countries of import .
The situation was so bad some years ago that Masur Ahmed, President, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, MAN, cried out about the abuse of the ECOWAS, ETLS, noting that it was hampering trade in the Sub-region and which may scuttle the dream of economic integration.
It is instructive to note that ECOWAS had approved 2,400 Companies as ETLS Companies and 6,900 products manufactured by these Companies to be traded within the Sub-region region with the Certificate of origin fully inscribed on the product and the package to show the Company that had manufactured it and the country.
The ETLS products may have been divided into groups in order to show that what was declared by the trading Company was what was contained in their bill of Lading. These are livestock, fish, plant or mineral products that have not undergone any industrial transformation, traditional Handicraft products.This is in addition to wooden cooking utensils, fancy goods, small cabinet work, mats, carpets, bed linen, footwear and headgear among others.
It is on record that MAN, had called on the ECOWAS Leadership to take a closer look on the ETLS, products that are being traded in the Sub-region in order to address the menace of abuse and ensure smooth trade among member states. The Leadership of MAN had every reason to complain as some of the ETLS Companies were said to have taken advantage of the free trade and movement protocols to sell foreign goods, which they repackage in the names of member countries deceitfully to enable them sell the goods without hindrance in the region.
Note that the ETLS is one of the Protocols that was adopted by the ECOWAS Leaders in order to boost intra-regional trade, which according to informed Customs sources had stipulated a token of 0.5 percent tax of goods manufactured in any of the economic bloc member country.
The alleged abuse of the ETLS by the approved participating companies with the Collaboration of officials in the Regulatory Authorities as well as the limited application of the Common External Tariff, CET, and other ECOWAS, protocol and which had recommended the adoption of Common tariff structure among the member countries may have strengthened the resolve of Jibo, the Seme Command Area Comptroller to ensure that the right thing is dine without Compromise in handling the ETLS, cargoes.
Ahmed Abubakar, a Deputy Comptroller, overseeing the ETLS, in the Command, may have known that Jibo, the Area Comptroller would not want to hear that third party manufactured products entered into the Nigerian market t in the guise of ETLS goods that he has put a close tab on the examination officers to ensure all ETLS goods are thoroughly examined.
The Magazine in its undercover reporting witnessed one of the ETLS trucks being examined at the border. All the cartons of goods in the truck from the West African country of Togo were unloaded. One of the cartons was ripped open to confirm that what was declared by the cross-border trader was what was contained in the bill of Lading. The ETLS Companies and cross-border traders may have known that Jibo, the Seme Customs Comptroller and his officers at the ETLS, are hard nut to crack , that they have to making correct declaration to avoid losing their goods to the Nigerian Customs.
This may have informed why officials of the ETLS and other security agencies personnel involved in examining the ETLS, trucks are not having problem in doing so and turning in their report to facilitate the release of the cargo by the releasing officers.
While the Seme customs Operatives are very thorough in examining the ETLS goods coming into the Nigerian market from other member countries of the ECOWAS, the Nigerian Companies , which had dominated the Sub-regional economic bloc trade, were said to have taken advantage of the reopening of the Seme land border and other borders across the country in order to beat the African Continental Free Trade Area, AFTA, agreement, deadline ,to export their ETLS products to Ghana, Togo, Niger and other West African countries in the recent time.
One of such Companies is the Dangote Cement plc, owned by Aliko Dangote , a Multi-billionaire and the undisputed richest man in African. There is hardly a week, according to informed sources that thousands of Dangote Trucks loaded with Cement are not exported to these West African countries. Michel Puchercos, Chief Executive Officer, Dangote Cement , may have seen the reopening of the Seme border as a big relief to the Company to open up trade with the neighouring West African countries after 18 months blockade by the government.
Prior to the reopening of the Seme border last December, the Nigeria government had granted approval to Dangote Cement plc and BUA Cement plc, under the Chairmanship of Abdul Sama Rabiu, to export Cement to the neighbouring West African countries through the land borders which had been closed to checkmate smuggling activities , which many believe was affecting the trading of ETLS, goods in the sub-region.
Joseph Attah, a Deputy Comptroller, and Nigerian Customs spokesperson had said that the two Nigerian Cement manufacturing Companies got the Presidential nod to export to countries in the West African Sub-region following Diplomatic agreements. The handling the export of Cement to the West African countries which is on the approved list of ETLS goods to be traded in the Sub-region was a major test for Jibo, the Seme Area Comptroller and officers on the Command export Seat.
The thorough examination of the product of the two Cement Companies for export to the West African countries may have sent a signal to other ETL S approved Companies that it is no longer going to be business as usual. This may have informed why there have not been any adverse reports on the ETLS or exports goods ever since the Seme border resumed handling the ETLS and export goods in Commercial quantities.