By Bayo Bernard
President Muhammadu Buhati was somehow prophetic last year October 22, 2018 when he said the Seme/Krake Joint Border Post would strengthen bilateral relations between Nigeria and Republic of Benin.
‘As we all know, Nigeria and Benin share many things in common. Hence the establishment of the Joint Border Post will certainly promote out brotherliness and emphasize our common interest, Buhari said adding that the JBP is “ a symbol of integration that brings together the people of Nigeria and Benin”
But neither the president nor the Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd) would have imagined the magnitude of progress made in the last few months.
Importers too had initially thought that the arrangement would impact negatively on their business, but it has turned out otherwise, a blessing to all the stakeholders in the importation business chain using this corridor.
Ask Mohammed Uba Garba, Area Controller, Seme Customs command of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, he’s not likely to contradict the fact that the decision to establish a one stop border post between Nigeria and Benin Republic has turned out a win-win situation for the two neighbors.
He recently told the magazine that things are moving faster than expected. He’s however more impressed with how the JBP has led to more cooperation between the two sovereign countries.
The frequent clashes of interest between the two para-military bodies had at a point nearly put the two countries on the edge of diplomatic squabbles.
But the tension was somehow reduced after Comptroller Garba assumed duty sometimes in August last year, close watchers of Seme border told the magazine.
The clashes were usually over modalities to adopt for movement of goods and persons along the shared border.
But no more, the JBP now allows the two customs authorities to share information and iron out grey areas to avoid confrontation, thereby eliminating mutual suspicions, the controller said .
Few weeks ago, some officials of the Benin Customs approached their Nigerian counterpart, to seek their understanding to allow passage of some used imported vehicles into the country.
Their request also included the clearance of some cargo laden trucks to move into the Nigerian territory.
The goods were mostly contrabands, it was learned.
The magazine was told by a Chief Superintendent of Customs, privy to the issue that Nigerian officers stationed at the joint border post plainly turned down the request on the basis that such will compromise the Federal Government’s policy banning the importation of vehicles through the land border.
The Buhari’s government has restricted the importation of used vehicles, also known as tokunbo through the seaports since it took power in 2015.
This has obviously hampered the business interest of her neighbor because most vehicles shipped through Benin ports most likely end up in Nigeria.
Some importers, backtracked this policy in the past by smuggling vehicles through various land borders along Seme and Idi Iroko axis, but things became difficult after the NCS under the current Comptroller General of Customs, Hameed Ali(rtd), blocked every avenues to acquire customs papers for smuggled vehicles.
“So we understand the situation with our counterparts in Benin Republic. Despite this, we cannot compromise our duty as customs officer, if anything is to be done, that should happen at top levels of the two governments” one officer told the magazine on why they turned down request by some Benin customs officers, to allow imported vehicle pass through the JBP.
He said Comptroller Garba has warned officers that anyone caught in the act will be dealt with accordingly.
The officer disclosed that the Benin officers accepted their decision by showing understanding “such situation would have resulted in confrontation and stalemate in the past’” he said adding that “the customs at both ends now understand that trade can only thrive in a peaceful atmosphere.”
Things are moving fast in a manner that was not initially envisaged said Controller Uba as there are more gains on the Nigerian side.
For instance, the speed at which cargo laden trucks are now cleared will confound anyone who knew what obtains in the past.
Some agents told the magazine recently that they now take delivery of their goods within the within the day.
‘As long as you have made all the documentations and payment, you are home and dry, no one will delay your cargo” James Aiki, an agent told the magazine last week at the border.
He explained that men and officers of the Seme customs command are now working as if their lives depend on it.
Indeed. The magazine learned from competent sources in the command that Comptroller Uba has instructed his men that they must earn their pay.
“The era of free money is gone. In the past the many checkpoints from Seme to Badagry provided avenues for some lazy officers to make money from traders. But now that half of the checkpoints have been dismantled officers have been recalled back to the desk,” he said.
The controller has recently dismantled most checkpoints, reducing them to three in line with the CG directive, the magazine was told.
Public outcry has grown against customs officers who allegedly extort traders on the route.
“I have directed the Enforcement Unit to ensure compliance” in line with the CG order to reduce these checkpoints to allow for seamless movement of goods and persons along the corridor, Comptroller Uba told the magazine recently.