By Stephen Ubanna
For years there had been promises by officials of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, to develop a transit cargo park at Seme, a border town between Nigeria and Republic of Benin, a neighbouring country in the West African sub-region.
The decision to develop the truck park may have been informed by the exploitation of Nigeria importers with their agents by the Beninoa Customs Authorities who were coming to take delivery of their goods at their truck park. The same mistreatment was said to had been extended to Customs Personnel who had crossed over to the Beninoa Truck park to monitor the trans-loading of the goods from Containers cleared at the country’s port located in Cotonou, its Commercial nerve centre.
Investigation by the Magazine shows that the decision to develop the truck part had been on the drawing board over the years. This is because that had been given to the Command Authorities to go ahead with the Project by Abdullahi Dikko, the then Comptroller General. Hameed Ali, a retired Colnel and Comptroller General, NCS, was also said to have supported the execuation of the project to save Nigeria businessmen from unnecessary embarrassment from Beninoa Customs and security operatives. It was learnt by past Comptrollers deployed to the Command including Victor Dimka, now Commandant , NCS, Training College, Kano, had promises to officials to Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, NAGAFF and National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents, NCMDLCA of developing the truck but that was how far they could go.
the delay in the execution of the truck park project at its large expanse of land the border town which was lying waste may have encouraged the National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW, to encroach on it by converting part of the Customs landed property into their own park. They were said to have used the land for years and spent money on its sand-filling as no person or Organisation came forward to claim ownership of it. They may have known that the land belong to the NCS, when they started seeing strange movement of people coming into the land.
Unknown to them , Mohammed Aliyu, regarded in Customs circles as the action Comptroller of Seme had concluded arrangement start the fencing of the property to forestall further encroachment by NURTW . As a prelude to the execution of the project, Aliyu was said to have driven the NURW members away from the land.
A driver who plies the Lagos -Seme border route disclosed that no sooner than the Seme Command Authorities took over the land as they started the Construction work. The driver who now makes do with any available space opposite the proposed truck park to park his vehicle for passengers to board is optimistic that going by the speed at the which Aliyu, the Comptroller is going about with the project , he might complete it before the end of the year. A senior Customs officer informed the Magazine that the Comptroller’s whole life appear to be on the project for now to stop the mess at the Beninoa truck park.
the joy in the heart of Seme based agents know no bounds since the Comptroller started the fencing of the proposed truck park. The Comptroller was said to have told a close associate that the completion of the project would be at a great economic advantage to the nation. This is because the billions of naira which Nigerian importers pay annually to the Beninoa Customs Authorities for parking their trucks for trans-loading of transit cargoes would no longer be there. The Beninoa Customs Authorities, Enforcement officers would now be required to escort all cleared transit cargoes in Containers to the Nigeria Truck where it would be trans-loaded into trucks to under the Nigeria Customs clearing process at the border town.
It would also afford the Seme Customs examination officers to have an idear of what is loaded into the cartons stocked with goods in the Containers before subjecting to the scanning process.
While Aliyu, the Seme Customs boss had intensified efforts for completion of the Seme truck park, Communities leaders around the border town had cried out for help from the activities of the Command Enforcement officers. the officers , on the orders of the Comptrollers were said to have mounted a surveillance on the Communities and the Creeks from smugglers using these border Communities as their base for their illegal business.
A source told the Magazine the aggrieved Community leaders, who believe that Aliyu was blocking their source of income which is smuggling had sent emissaries to him pleading for caution to avoid open confrontation between the youths and the officers.
Not many surprised at the intensified anti-smuggling operations of the Command at the border Communities because he had earlier alerted of it. It was gathered that as part of efforts to ensure a better communal relations with host border communities, he had initiated a sensitization campaign to enlighten the people on the need to obey and comply government economic policies which is mandated to enforce.
Last February, the Comptroller, acting on credible intelligence was said to have availed the acting Head of the Enforcement Unit of the coded information. The Unit was said to have promptly complied with the Comptroller’s order to track the deviant smugglers.
taupyen Selchang, a Chief Superintendent of Customs and the Command Chief Public Relations officer, confirmed that the Enforcement officers” intercepted 2,200 cartons of Tin Tomanto”, allegedly imported through Cotonou port, Republic of Benin, along the Lagos- Badagry Express Way in a truck with Registration No. LND.
Selchang disclosed that an additional 63 front and backlight of used spare parts were also intercepted on March 11, 2018 in a Siena bus along the Lagos -Badagry Expess Way. The Duty Paid Value of the goods, according to the Command Image maker was about six million naira. Going by the Customs and Excise Management Act,CEMA, the items had been seized outright and deposited at the Command warehouse.
Notwithstanding its ssucceful anti-smuggling operations in the last two months and the continued ban on the importation of foreign parboiled rice and Vehicles , which are heavy duty items through the land border, the Command was said to have generated about N1.08 billion between January and February 2018. Many believe that the Command generate that much in the first two months of this year because Ali, the Comptroller had successfully blocked all areas of revenue leakage in the Command.
Moreso, he had warned Officers to ”ensure that the golden rules for the service operation is always brought to the fore while discharging their statutory functions”.
Appealing to the officers for attitudinal change, he warned that ”failure to” comply with approved procedures and guidelines in the clearing process will be met with severe disciplinary actions that is commensurate with the offence committed in line with the Service Preventive Regulation”
Aliyu was said to have made it clear to those that care to listen that ”Seme is no longer a safe haven for illicit activities and trans-border Crimes as any attempt by deviant stakeholders will be with stiff response ” by the Command anti-smuggling Officers.