Customs: Bad Roads, More Revenue

By Stephen Ubanna

Chukwukadia Okoro, a Lagos based Clearing A gent, was filled with enthusiasm  when  he joined the  Profession in the early ’90s. This  is because of the ease at which Containerised cargoes and truck laden goods were cleared at the seaport  and  seme joint border post and   goods delivered at the importers’ warehouse. There were no cases of fallen Containers along the Oshodi-Apapa Express way or trucks laden goods along the  Lagos-Seme Express way, thus putting the price of imported within the reach of masses.

But the last three years has been frustrating for Okoro in taking delivery of his  client’s Containers from Apapa and Tin-can Island port or trucks laden goods from Seme, a border Community  , between Nigeria and Republic of Benin. The situation has been very frustrating that the Anambara state born Agent  had lost many of his agents because of incresed  cost of clearing  andinability to deliver cleared goods on schedule due to bad state of the Oshodi-Apapa and Lagos-Seme  roads, forcing him to quit. There  were other frustrated agents like Okoro.

An aggrieved Okoro lamented  that Importers with their clearing agents have  never had it so bad in the last three years as President Muhammed Buhari of the ruling All Progressive  Congress, APC, appears not to be interested in fixing the dilapidated Oshodi-Apapa or the Lagos -Seme Expressways to facilitate the movement of goods and services but interested in the revenue that is coming into  government coffers from non-oil sector.

Hameed Ali
Hameed Ali, CG, NCS

Given an insider information as one plies the  roads daily for his business ,he disclosed that  if Buhari  had made adequate budgetary allocations for the rehabilitation of the dilapidated   seaport and Seme, the busiest International border  roads, as former President Goodluck Jonathan did , the problem of agents in moving their cargoes into clients’ warehouse could have been minimised.

It would be recalled that Babatunde  Fashola, a former Governor of Lagos state on the platform of the defunct  Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, had pleaded with the then President  Jonathan to allow the  state take over the rehabilitation of the bad roads  and later be reimbursed by the Federal government but was turned  down.

Many had expected that Fashola , who incidentally had become the Minister of Works , Power and Housing in the Present Administration to   push for the rehabilitation of the dilapidated  roads  to facilitate the movement of cargoes  but nothing  was said to  have been done about it   , fueling speculation that he may have lost out  in the power play in the  presidency , where Abba Kyari, the Chief of Staff to the Buhari, wields too much powers and asserts much  influence over the Katsina state born Nigeria President.

Party sources told the Magazine that the influence of Kyari  over the Buhari Administration was very pervading  that he could influence the execution of project proposals in any state of the Federation. It is not surprising why many had expected him to present  the Oshodi Apapa and  the Lagos-Seme  Expressways to the President because of its economic importance to the nation as  billions  of naira of cargoes cleared  from the seaport and the  Seme land border station pass through the roads  annually  as well as the billions of naira generated   by the Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs Service,NCS. The  yearly revenue are paid into the Federation Account to be shared by the three tiers of government: FG, state and local governments.

Insiders  told the Magazine that Buhari only knew about the economic importance of the seaports in Lagos or the International Seme border with the mouth watery revenue  rolling into government  coffers monthly. An agent who spoke to the Magazine  on condition of anonymity confirmed that  he  never bothered to ask himself  how the importers were able to take delivery of cargoes from the seaport or the bad Seme road to the importers’ warehouse. The fallout was that price of goods have continue to skyrocket beyound the  reach of the masses. Take the price of a a ”50” kg  foreign  parboiled which dropped significantly  but had suddenly gone up,but blamed on the bad roads.

Political analysts believe that Buhari may be forced to focus attention   to facilitate the bad roas to facilitate  the movement of cargoes  if Kyari, the Chief of Staff makes a case for Julius Berger Construction Company  or any other reputable Construction Company  to be contracted by the government  to take over the contract because of its critical importance to the nation’s economic  growth.

The bad situation of the  Oshodi -Apapa road, particular, the Cocoanut end of the  road to Apapa port  major gate  may have forced Alikor Dangote, President, Dangote Group of Companies, Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA, and OLAM, a major  rice importing firm, to quickly mobilise funds to remove the problem of transporting their cargoes through the seaport by taking over the repair of the dilapidated road.  The  Dangote Construction Company,  which took over the rehabiliation contract of the Apapa  side of the road  was said to have been granted waivers for his imports to recover his  costs.

There are indications in both official and unofficial circles that if these private Companies  which had taken over the repair  of the Apapa road  fail to complete  the project on schedule and  Buhari loses the 2019 general election, it may be another p abandoned multi-million road project in the country. The Magazine gathered that the leadership Association of Nigeria licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, had piled up pressure on the Dangote Construction  Company to expedite work on the project because of the suffering which aimporters with their agents were going through  in the recent time.

In spite of the dilapidated  state of the Apapa and Lagos-Seme roads which handles  over  60 percent of  the non oil  revenue imports,  the Customs Personnel had  continued to pursue the agents  like slave drivers  to force them topay  appropriate duties  for their clients imports.

This is  evident going by the over N140 billion that was said to have been generated by the  Service last August. That much was confirmed by Joseph Attah, a Deputy Comptroller and the Customs Public Relations Officer. Tincan Island Command, which, for now  bear the brunt of the pains and agonies of the dilapidated Oshodi-Apapa Road was said to have  generated over N32 billion   while Seme , which has a mandate to combat smuggling activities  in the border area was said to have generated  well over N500 million.  The Command could generate that much , despite the fact that many inter-border importers have relocated to the seaports to escape the bad Lagos- Badagry road in taking delivery of their goods because the Command  had blocked all areas of revenue leakage.

Given the fact that Importers  with their Agents are working round the clock to ensure  that the revenue target  set for the Customs, which runs into a trillion of naira this year  are met, Nigerians, from all works of lie, had appealed to Buhari  not to kill the goose lay the golden egg  by removing the shame of the nation:  rehabilitating  the Oshodi-Apapa and Lagos Seme  Expressways . There are indications that  Buhari may take advantage of his re-election bid in the 2019 general election to win the heart of importers with their agents to give  a matching order to Fashola, the minister of Works,Power and Housing to ensure that these two  economic roads  which are fundamental to the movement of cargoes across the border were rehabilitated.

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