· Seme Border: Customs set prices for settlement
· Shippers’ Council laments multiple road blocks
By Kenneth Jukpor
The war against smuggling in recent times is believed to have intensified following the mind-boggling seizures of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) especially at the Seme border axis where the Area Controller, Comptroller Mohammed Uba Garba has thrilled stakeholders with trailer loads of rice, numerous exotic cars, tramadol and other hard drugs, among others. Nevertheless, some overzealous Customs officers have also been fanning the flames of smuggling at the borders with smugglers already aware of their Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) and ‘settlement’ or duty for smuggled goods.
Comptroller Uba had just disclosed that the command seized a total of five thousand, three hundred and eighty-three (5,383) bags of 50kg foreign parboiled rice which is equivalent to nine (9) trailer load with the Duty Paid Value (DPV) ninety-seven million, one thousand, six hundred and sixty naira (N97,001,660) before MMS Plusobserved shady Customs officers patronizing smugglers at the border axis.
Barely three hours after journalists had been briefed on the spoils from Uba’s anti-smuggling troops on Wednesday last week, our correspondent observed this close to Gbaji bus stop, opposite a non-functional petrol station, ‘LA ANU OLUWA Petroleum’ at 6: 05pm
Our correspondent boarded a commercial bus from Seme border which had concealed six bags of rice in smaller handbags and school bags and the bus had exited two Customs patrol base with the driver responding honestly to the officers, “na taChere rice” I carry, meaning “rice in very small quantity” and he settled the officers with N100 at both stops.
Trouble struck for the driver/ smuggler as less than 20 meters from Gbaji bus stop, as a group of patrol base Customs officers stopped the vehicle and insisted that the bus park properly for inspection.
For our correspondent, this was an upright crop of Customs officers who would seize the items and nab the smugglers. The head of the patrol team with name tag F.M. BACHA walked up to the bus afterwards and this dialogue ensued:
Driver: Well done Sir! How work today?
Bacha: How many bags of rice you carry?
Driver: Na just six Oga! Make hungry no kill us.
Bacha (instructs the driver to step out of the vehicle): I will instruct my officers to offload and measure. If they get six and half bags, I would give you half and collect the six. So, tell me now, how many?
Driver (now wearing a worried look): Na six Oga!
Conductor (cuts in quickly): Oga officer, I get one ike’ I buy for myself. That one na my own. E no follow wetin dem carry!
Bacha: Give me money for three bags and carry your vehicle out of this place.
Driver: Oga, how much be dat?
Bacha: How much be bag of rice? If you no know, call the owner and ask the price. Then you multiply the money by 3.
Driver (pleads): Oga abeg!
Bacha (instructs his officers to open their makeshift thatch warehouse): See it’s filled with rice. I don’t need your rice. I need money otherwise I will seize the rice and this vehicle.
At this juncture one of the two other passengers spoke:
Passenger: Oga this thing no good o. The last time na so you take stop us.
Bacha: Okay! So, na you be the smuggler? The last time I stopped you, shey you carry rice? Today, you still carry am! How much you pay that time?
Passenger: Oga na 20k (N20,000)
Bacha: Na lie.
Driver: Na N22,000 you collect that day!
Bacha (recalls): Yes! But today na N25,000 I go collect. Make una find the money.
As Bacha walked out, the driver and passenger deliberated on whether the strategy to remind Bacha of their last encounter was worthwhile.
Bags of rice estimated to be over 200 bags were seen in Bacha’s wooden warehouse.
It was business as usual for Bacha as he went to discuss with another bus driver who had been instructed to park on the smugglers’ queue by his subordinates, but MMS Plus reporter quietly left the scene.
While we couldn’t ascertain if the corrupt customs team was working with Seme Customs Command, or one of the numerous Customs units, the residents say that spot was always occupied by Bacha’s team and alleged that he reports back to Seme Customs.
Our correspondent counted five Customs road blocks at Gbaji with two collecting N100 each. There were also 11 Police road blocks between Seme and Agbara.
When briefed about this incident, the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the Seme Customs command, Mr. Saidu Abdullahi assured our correspondent that the Command would carry out an investigation on the officers and such illicit acts.
Recall that in April 2018, our correspondent published an expose titled, “Nigeria Customs, Police Key Violators Of ECOWAS Protocols – Investigations”. In that report, officials of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and Nigeria Police Force (NPF) were identified as the major violators of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) protocol on free trade and movement within the Nigeria–Ghana transport corridor, with 27 checkpoints and roadblocks mounted between Seme and Badagry bridge, less than one hour drive in a three hours journey between Seme border and Mile 2 in Lagos.
The breakdown of the checkpoints and road-blocks mounted on this international route by the Nigerian security personnel in less than 5 kilometer stretch shows that Customs has 11, Police 11, Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) 3, Department of State Security (DSS) 1, and the Nigerian Army (NA) 1.
While the roadblocks or patrol blocks negate the protocol on free movement of persons and goods as also enshrined in ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme (ETLS) which has been adopted by member states, including Nigeria; the more ominous problem is the extortion by the security agents at each point.
Reiterating the ferocity of this anomaly, the Director, Consumer Affairs, Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Chief Cajetan Agu while speaking at a workshop organized by the Council in collaboration of Borderless Alliance on the launch of ECOWAS ETLS handbook, lamented that he counted over twenty needless checkpoints on the route on his last transit.
Meanwhile, the Shippers’ Council boss admonished border community traders to report incidents of intimidation and other irregularities to the Council’s Border Information Center at the Seme border.
“The NSC Border Information Centre was created to assist cross-border traders. So, I implore all stakeholders involved in trade and transport to report any form of harassment and intimidation to the NSC office at the border.
Proffering solutions to this problem, the Director General of the African Centre for Supply Chain (ACSC), Dr. Obiora Madu admonished the regulatory agencies to create an environment where compliant companies and individuals are rewarded while non-compliant ones should be sufficiently prosecuted, stating that very few people set out from the beginning of a transaction to be fraudulent or non-compliant but they have been forced to be non-compliant by the system.
Dr. Madu was speaking at a stakeholders’ sensitization programme organized by NSC and the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) on the theme, “Ethics and Integrity in Shipping Trade” in Lagos, last week.