By Stephen Ubanna
Over the years , Nigeria has been losing billions of naira annually from the illegal activities going at the Joint border post truck park. This is because there was no proper control of the activities at the Border truck park where transit truck laden cargoes are kept before being cleared to go into the Nigeria territory to start the clearing process. The situation was said to be worse between 2004 and 2015, forcing Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Service to start looking for ways to block the loopholes of revenue leakage in the Command.
One of the cleverest ways used by importers while their trucks were still at the Republic of Benin Truck park at the border post was to start selling the goods to their Customers who sell it the Border post or cross over to the Nigeria side of the border to hawk it, mostly clothing materials. The foreign parboiled rice were sold at the Seme market or smuggled into Nigeria through unapproved routes.
The Seme Command Customs Authorities appear to have found an answer to the illegal trading of Nigeria bound cargoes at the Border truck park.
This is evident going by the fencing of the Border truck park between Nigeria and republic of Benin by the Customs Command. The Magazine learnt that the Contractor had mobilised on site last Thursday to start the project. The blocking of the truck, according to a source is coming barely two week after President Muhammadu Buhari and Patrice Talon, his counterpart in Republic of Benin performed the official handing over ceremony of the multi- million dollar Seme-Krake new Joint Border Post built by the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, with the financial support of the European Union Commission, EUC. Muhammed Uba Garba, the Customs Comptroller , Seme, Command, said the they came out with the idea to block the truck park at the Border Community for all transit cargoes to pass through the official ECOWAS route , which is the S eme-Krake Joint Border post.
The Command was said to have started the project after securing the approval of Ali, the Comptroller General, who may have been thinking along that line to block the truck park with the opening of the Seme -Krake Joint Border Post and the ECOWAS Administrative building, which would be used by Customs officials of Nigeria and Benin and other security agencies personnel from the two countries for their operations .
Many had expected Mohammed, and his Management team to move their operational office to the ECOWAS b
uilding to facilitate the sharing of information with their Beninois counterparts on the transit cargoes..
But the Command may still be operating from its old site for now because of perceived certain facilities such as Computerisation of the offices to facilitate sharing of information between the two countries Customs Administrations which , according to sources had not been Completed. The Seme-Krake Joint Borde Post is supposed to be a one spot location for examination between officials of Customs from the two the countries. Nigeria and republic of Benin operate different fiscal policies. Take for instance, in Republic of Benin , foreign rice is not a prohibited item as importers are allowed to import it without restriction while in Nigeria it is banned from being imported into the country through the land border, to protect local rice farmers.
The fallout was that many Nigeria rice importers who could not stand the law, relocated to Cotonou port, Republic of Benin to continue their rice imports and were highly welcome port because of the huge revenue that rice attracts. Last Friday alone, Rashid Adahunse, the Commmand Deputy Comptroller, confirmed the seizure of 1785 bags of rice of 50kg each at Pawu, within the Seme, in one of its operations..
Maritime analysts believe that with the Coming together of officials both countries at the ECOWAS Administrative building Nigeria Customs personnel may be able to have an insider knowledge on the type of cargoes Ships berthing at the Cotonou port would be discharging and the transit cargoes coming t Nigeria.
That much was confirmed by Buhari, the Nigeria President, who said that bringing the border Administrations together in the ECOWAS Administrative building and connecting them to each other will help improve the performance of the respective countries Customs Administrations and the ”confort of the movement of people and their goods”. He was optimistic that the nation’s Customs Administrations will be more efficient in their mission of revenue generation and anti-smuggling operations. This is in addition to improving regional integration which was one of the core mandate of ECOWAS.
Going by the new arrangement all cargoes including imported cargoes coming from Republic of Benin coming into Nigeria are now to be treated as imports while cargoes from Nigeria going into the ECOWAS country would be treated as exports in their Customs officials . Maritime experts had expected the ECOWAS to install scanners at JBP for the one stop examination and clearing of truck laden cargos by Customs officials of both countries .
.Given an insider information, Adahunse, the Customs Deputy Comptroller , disclosed that what was provided at the JBP by ECOWAS and EUC, was a” weighing Bridge for trucks”. The weighing Bridge, according to him gives out the weight of the truck, stressing that that the weight of a truck gives an idea what the Height of the truck should be .
Given the International Status of the Seme-Krake Joint Border post , Kayode Oguntunashe, Nigeria Ambassador to Republic of Benin, believes that what ought to have been provided at the Border post in order checkmate the menace of Smuggling activities along the Abidjan-Lagos Corridor was to install scanner machines.
The Ambassador was who was said to have highlighted the economic and security challenges along the Nigeria and Benin Borders to include massive smuggling activities of prohibited goods the land borders, proliferation of small arms and light weapons, Human trafficking, piracy, illegal bunkering and oil theft and international terrorism. But the Ambassador believes that the economic challenges of massive smuggling of prohibited goods along the Abidjan -Lagos corridor could be tackled headlong with the installation of scanners at Nigeria-Benin borders, particular, the Seme-Krake Joint Border post , the busiest border in the West African sub-region.