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.
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.