Customs: Sanity Returns To Seme Joint Border Post

By Stephen Ubanna

For the first time, sanity appears to have returned  to Seme, the busiest  International  border community, between Nigeria and the Republic of Benin, a neighbouring country in the West African sub-region in the conduct of business transactions.

The Source finding shows that the usual uncontrolled movement of people , particular,  tricycle and motorcycle operators from Benin part of the border  into the Nigeria  side of the border with smuggled bags of foreign parboiled rice and bales of second hand clothing including hawkers  in broad day light  under the close watch of  officers and other security operatives who were usually tipped between N200.00 and N500.00  have reduced to the barest minimum .

Even the physically challenged individuals masquerading as beggars at the land border Community but  doing illegal businesses and acting as  informants to smugglers  on the movement of the Seme Command patrol team officers on the road  have also reduced as  they   may have  found out that it was no longer  business as usual.

The alleged resumption of    Muhammed Uba Garba, a former Comptroller of Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, Ikeja, Lagos, who was affected in the recent shake up in the Service in the Command may have been instrumental to the sanity that had returned to the border town when he has not started implementing his action plan . The Customs Comptroller who was said to have resumed in the Command  about  three weeks ago was said to have sent a message to the unrepentant under cover smugglers  who had been operating freely at the land border over the years that the battle line has been drawn . The Provost Marshall Unit was said to have stationed a Hilux van at the Joint border post to control the movement of goods and services   . The officers were said to have been making good seizures of smuggled rice loaded in daring motor cycle operators.

Already the Customs Comptroller was said to have told officers and men of the Command  at one of its official parades, that they must show greater  discipline and dedication to duties to ” facilitate trade and improve the revenue generation of the Command as well as fight smugglers to a  standstill .

He was said to have stopped short of reading the riot act to the Command patrol  team leaders and their officers including those on the  import and Export Seat    to sit up and  do the right thing  without Compromising their positions. He was said to have made it clear to the officers that  he would not hesitate to” sanction any officer  caught in the act”.

Muhammed Garba At Forward Operation Base, Owode


The Magazine learnt  that he has made some strategic changes to reinvigorate the Command’s operations in  the recent time. The  changes , according to a source, affected a former Deputy Comptroller, Import and Export  and an Assistant Comptroller in-charge of Enforcement. The Deputy Comptroller  was said to have been moved to  Head the Command’s Administration Unit while the Assistant Comptroller, one Hassan, took over the Import and Export Seat. The changes was  a warning  signal to other senior officers holding  strategic positions in the Command to sit up. Another Deputy Comptroller was said to have been removed recently over his inability to handle issues that was within his control without involving him. A senior Customs officer told the Magazine  that there  had been uneasy calm as  many of the officers were yet to come to terms with Muhammed style of leadership , accorda.

The Comptroller,according to a source may be  in a hurry to start making spectacular seizures in the Command as he did at FOU, Zone A, within weks of assumption of office .This is because  since his assumption of duties  in the Command barely three weeks ago, no major Contraband seizure had been made by the Command.  An Enforcement officer confirmed that no exotic Vehicle  had been seized by any patrol team. The officer disclosed that  the hundreds of ”50” bags of foreign parboiled rice that were seized  were intercepted  by officers on bush operation, an indication that many of the patrol leaders should be ready to go  for gross inefficiency as they were  not making seizures.

An indigene of Badagry Community  told the Magazine recently that vehicles loaded with poultry products from Cold Rooms in Cotonou , frequently find their way  into the Nigeria market through unapproved routes after booking. The  source confirmed that the poultry product smugglers also hire Crafts that discharge  at  the Badagry Creek where awaiting customers  are on ground to take delivery.  He disclosed that past Comptrollers of the Seme Command may have had difficulty in controlling the activities of the  field officers because most of them have link with the smugglers who tip  them daily.

‘l;   As a prelude to sanitising the notorious Seme  border, the Customs Comptroller was said to have paid a  vist to Kayode Oguntuase,  the  country’s Ambassador to Republic of Benin with a promise to work towards trade facilitation and improve the  revenue collection of the Command  by blocking all  revenue loopholes.

Worried about reports of the activities of smugglers in the border Community, the Seme Customs boss was said to have told the Ambassador  that  ”smugglers will face hard time”. He was also said to have to have pleaded with Akinosho Hairat, the country’s Customs Controller of Customs  who has expressed her” readiness to work with the Command  to contain the activities of  the across border smugglers”.

Insiders told the Magazine that the Customs Comptroller may have carried his message of zero tolerance for  smugglers  to the palaces of the Ankran of Badagry, Oba of Ibereku Community and other Paramount rulers visited within Seme and Badagry  axis and its environs. The Seme Comptroller was  said to have taken the same message to the revered Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu, on Tuesday, September  11,2018.  A member of the team told the Magazine that he had pleaded with the Royal fathers for their support as the custodians of the land in the Customs anti-smuggling war to protect the nation’s economy. The Comptroller’s  familiarisations visit to the military formations in Badagry and Owode, was considered expedient, by  security experts.

The security experts  saw the Customs Comptroller’s  visit to the Army Battalions 243 and  121 Forward Operations base  at Badagry and Owode respectively as very timely  in the Customs anti-smuggling war. This is because the soldiers and the Air-Force personnel were critical  actors in the  anti-smuggling war at the Seme land border  and its environs. There had been instances in the past  where the uniformed personnel had been caught with smuggled vehicles , Thailand parboiled  rice and cartons of poultry products and other Contraband items by Customs personnel but  had been challenged by the officers at gun point.

Given  the Seme Customs boss determination to achieve results with the  operational tools released to the Command by Hammed Ali, a retired  Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, he was said to have solicited the support of the   Brigade Commanders who had promised to give the Command the security back up  in the  anti-smuggling war as part of the inter-agency Collaboration.

Many believe that the support of the soldiers and the Air Force personnel  would be able to assist the Command   to forestall the activities of the smugglers who were usually armed to the teeth from carrying out their nefarious activities. A Customs source told the Magazine  that the Command had lost billions of naira over the years through the activities of the VIP  rice, exotic vehicles and second hand clothing importers and their sponsored smugglers.

It would be recalled that the VIP smugglers, who engage the services of  the youths of the border Communities and security personnel may have been  having their way over the years but there are fears in both official and unofficial circles that  they have got their match in Muhammed who is prepared to cut their wings. The Comptroller is optimistic of policing the border   communities within the Seme jurisdiction with ease  with the support of the Soldiers and Air force personnel who have thrown their weight behind the Command  anti-smuggling war.

For now, one thing that may be working for the Seme Customs Comptroller was his understanding of French, a major International language, spoken in the French -speaking countries in the West African sub-region including  Republic of Benin. Only recently, the Seme Customs boss was said to have visited the Owode Out Station of the Command , where arrangements had been made to get an interpreter for him to relate  with the  Benenios  government officials in the Border Community.

The Comptroller was said to have ignored the arrangement  made by his officers and walked straight to the Benenios officials and  was found  discussing  with them in french. The Out Station officers were at a loss. This is because past Comptrollers that had worked at the Command had relied on them to contract  an interpreter  whenever they were at the Out Station on a working visit.

The situation became very embarrassing that the Headquarters was forced to deploy  a Deputy Superintendent of Customs who understands the French language to serve as an interpreter instead  of  engaging the services of a non Customs officer all the time.. The Deputy Superintendent was said to have operated  from the  the NCS  office at Cotonou.  To improve on his spoken french, he  was said to have been sponsored on a one year advanced French Language studies  in one of the Universities in Cotonou.

But the officer may have lost the job of being an Interpreter  to  the current Customs Comptroller at  Seme Command in his iteractions with his Benenios Customs officers, thus saving the Command thousands of naira yearly. This is evident going by the recent close door  meeting between  the Comptroller and his Beninenios Counterpart at SSeme.

A source told the Magazine that the proceedings of the meeting was conducted in French, that the Benenios officials could not hide their feeling that they now have  a Nigeria Customs Comptroller at the Seme International border who could speak both English and French, which is an added advantage to the Service.

The Seme Customs Comptrller, was said to have chaired  the first  Joint Border Security Meeting, JBSM, which took place  at the joint border post at Seme on Friday, September 7, 2018. The meeting , according to a source, was at the instance of Muhammed to tackle the  illegal  trade   in the border area, described as” capable of  hindering  the maximum revenue  generation of the Command for the government”. The Command, the Magazine was informed has a monthly revenue target of N630 million which had never been met    this year. Muhammed disclosed that  ”securing the nation’s border  has become imperative in order to protect the economy  from the influx of Contraband items from Republic of Benin  into the country”.

Many believe that the Customs  Comptroller, may have prepared himself  for the International border assignment, going by his early engagement of private French language teachers, who were working with him under ground . The  French teachers were said to have been with him for the past six months, and had properly guided him on the use of Diplomatic  languages in the conduct of business at the land border and dealings  with his counterpart at the Republic of Benin and other Countries  in the Cote d’Ivoire corridor in the West African sub-region.

A Customs source told the Magazine that his communication with  indigenes of the Seme Community found  around the Customs office in French has improved his spoken french.  This  may have helped him to tighten the revenue loopholes in the Command and put a close watch on the officers. This is because of the usual deals that goes on at the trailer park before the truck laden  goods are allowed to enter into Nigeria to go through the Customs formalities.

An insider confirmed  that the Command generated  about N520 million in the  month of August, 2018, described as one of the best  since the beginning of the year.  Mohammed Aliyua, former Comptroller of the Command, now Comptroller of, FOU, Zone A, Ikeja, Lagos , was said to have made  all the necessary efforts  to improve on the monthly  revenue  generation of the Command through trade facilitation but that was how far he could go.






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