By Stephen Ubanna
The Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, Seme Command, Administrative machinery is gradually being moved to the multi-million dollar Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, building at Seme-Krake Joint Border post.
As a prelude to the movement of Mohammed Uba Garba, the Comptroller of the Command and other key Departments of the Command to the ECOWAS, building, the Magazine learnt that the Import , Export , Economic and Trade Liberalization Scheme, ETLS and the Baggage Seats have already relocated to the new office site to join their Beninois counterparts who had moved in. Visitors who have had the opportunity of getting to the building said the offices and a joint Conference room were furnished to international standard with the support of the European Union Commission, EUC, which also provided financial support for the Joint border project and the Administrative building.
Mohammed, the Seme Customs Comptroller and the other key Departments of the Command may not have been in a hurry to relocate their offices to the new office site because of the problem of interconnectivity of the offices and other vital facilities which have to be put in place , such as provision of scanner machines for joint examination of import and export cargoes between the two countries and source of electricity supply if there happen to be power failure in the border.
For a start, the EUC, was said to have made provision for two scanner machines to replace the weigh Bridge for use of truck laden cargoes at the land border. The scanners, according to a source, would be installed at the Seme-Krake, Joint Border between Nigeria and Republic of Benin and Noepe, another Joint Border post , in the West African region between Ghana and Togo.
The Magazine gathered that at the Seme-Krake , Border officials had already mapped out a parcel of land at a strategic location within the ECOWAS building site where the scanner would be installed between now and early next year for easy joint examination of cargoes between the Nigeria Customs personnel and their Beninois counterparts including other security agencies operatives from the two countries.
The Magazine learnt that the European Union Commission, EUC, which had provided the financial support for the building of the multi-million Euro project . was said to have made arrangement for the provision of two Scanner machines. One of the scanner machines, according to sources, would be installed at Seme-Krake joint Border post and the second scanner would be installed at Noepe , another joint Border post , which is between Ghana and Togo.
It would be recalled that Kayode Oguntunashe, Nigeria Ambassador to Republic of Benin had at the completion of the Seme-Krake Joint border post in readiness for its official handing over ceremony to the countries of Nigeria and Republic of Benin expressed the need for the installation of scanner machine at the Joint Border post to facilitate joint examination of cargoes by the two nations Customs and other security agencies officials.
A source who cited a recent physical examination of an ETLS, cargo , at the Joint Border site, disclosed that the cargoes were evacuated from the truck to ascertain that it was truly manufactured in the ECOWAS subregion and re-parked into the truck after the examination was completed. Ordinarily the physical examination of the truck laden cargo could have been avoided if the scanner machine had been installed instead of the weigh Bridge which could only give the weight and height of the truck laden cargo.
Many are optimistic that installation of the scanner machines would save the Customs and other security personnel at the Joint Border posts the hassles of physical examination of cargoes.
This is because the scanner at the joint Border post would serve the purpose of the two countries importers and exporters as Customs personnel of the two countries would be at the same office site to read the images of truck laden trucks to write the report of their results to facilitate the release of cargoes.
Until the scanner machines are installed at the Border site, the Nigeria Customs may likely continue to use its own scanners at the Seme land to examine truck laden cargoes which had successfully scaled through the weigh Bridge and allowed to enter the Nigeria side of the Border through the ECOWAS official route.
Muhammed, the Seme Customs boss may have made matters worse for importers, exporters with their agents including Cross – Border smugglers with the fencing of the short-cut route at the land border post mostly used by truck laden drivers from Republic of Benin are employed by agents to drive the hired truck into the Nigeria side of the Joint Seme -Krake Border post for examination at the scanner site to transact their business at the border post. The The Beninois government officials at the Border were said to have thrown their weight behind the Border short cut fencing project by the Nigeria Customs to forestall petrol and other Contraband smugglers who use tricycles , with inbuilt bunker tanks to carry out their nefarious activities. Before now, filling stations at the Nigeria side of the land border post always run out of business because of insufficient petrol to sell to the public. This is how the Beninois smugglers would drive in to the Nigeria side of the Border with their tricycles to clear the stock at the filling stations because of the alleged reports making the rounds that the dealers makes more profit by selling to the tricycles with their adjusted meters than selling to Nigeria motorists.
The rot appears to have stopped since Muhammed, the Seme Customs Comptroller embarked on the fencing project as motorists could now drive into a filling station at the land border and fill their tanks without complaint or told that there is no petrol or diesel in stock to sell to the public. The petrol smuggled from Nigeria into Republic of Benin in the tricycles inbuilt bunkers which are emptied into available jerry cans were sold in bottles on the road from Seme- Cotonou , the country’s Capital.
But Immigration officials who spoke to the Magazine said the project is good to control the movement of persons, goods and services at the border post but that it would affect their job. This is because immigrants who find their way into Nigeria through the short cut routes were said to have diverted to the old border post which is an open space to enter Nigeria without interruption.
There have been pressure on the Customs Authorities to fence the old border post to forestall the movement of immigrants from other countries into Nigeria. The Customs Authorities may not have the power to do so because it is a border post between two countries. A Diplomat told the Magazine that the land could only be fenced based on agreement between the government of the two countries or the ECOWAS, to make it official.