How Seme Border Closure Made Life Unbearable For Stakeholders

How Seme Border Closure Made Life Unbearable For Stakeholders
  • Not Open For Vehicle import , 36  road blocks litter corridor
  • Command generates N844 in half year, restores 24  operating licenses

With a total revenue of N844 million generated between January and  June 22, 2023, the Seme Customs Command is gradually  overcoming the revenue drought that marked its business activities  during the  two years of the  land border closure. This is despite the restrictive reopening of the Nigeria-Benin Republic   land border recently which does not allow the importation of vehicles and rice through the land borders. Only non-prohibited items like the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme( ETLS) cargoes are permitted for import for now under the new border reopening.

Meanwhile, the Seme-Lagos ECOWAS  corridor  is littered with over 36 road blocks manned by different security agencies  in defiance to the Joint Border  Committee  directives, making nonsense of the ease of doing business objective of  the  ECOWAS protocols.  A breakdown of the road blocks shows that Nigeria Police had 20, Nigeria Immigration Service(NIM) had 7, Customs 6, among others.

The Customs Area Controller (CAC) of the Command, Compt. Dera Nnadi who disclosed this during a visit by  members of the League of Maritime Editors, last week, described the revenue figure as a relative no- mean- feat given the low economic activates that characterized the closure of the border with a negative effect  still  palpable  in the psych and pockets of traders and freight agents who lost their sources of living.

He said he has been on a mission for restoration of hope and businesses to engender increased revenue as the Command has recorded the revival of 27 operating licenses from just three on his arrival even as many stakeholders have been encouraged to begin export 

The CAC recounted the Command’s restoration experience thus: “The border was closed for several years and one of the things I did when I resumed here was to boost  the morale  of  officers and stakeholders because after several years of border closure people felt frustrated. Some agents will tell you that some of their members died and some took ill. When I reported here there were only three operating clearing licenses. I reported here in January and all I kept seeing were three licenses so I called the technical supervisor who affirmed that everybody stopped work because nothing was happening.

 “They could not even renew licenses. I asked him to give me the list of  the moribund licenses. He gave me 18 licenses that were dead. He said these were licenses that are registered under Seme. I asked him to get their phone numbers and form a WhatsApp group and add me there. I asked him to invite them and tell them that the new Area Controller wants to revive here but we can’t achieve it without functional licenses. And we can’t collect revenue without reviving this place.

“So we started encouraging them. And I am happy to announce that as at three days ago we had 27 licenses renewed. We need them because they are the ones that will get the job and pay the revenue. Without them there is no revenue. The next thing I did was to have stakeholders meeting and informed them that there is a new Federal Government that says you can’t export what has been imported into Nigeria. But under the new arrangements, you can get approval from the Federal Ministry of Finance’ 

“With the approval you can export but pay 2.5 per cent of the value of the goods. The process of obtaining the license requires going to Abuja so I called a meeting here and made a public appeal for them to ease the process. Some of them have obtained the approval but if you have to export every time it is cumbersome. So we have to encourage them. We have appealed to government to fasten the road construction. I did that because you cannot lay emphasis on revenue without creating the enabling environment. 

 “Again, when I came because of the border closure all the security lights here were dead. I was told that it is impossible to repair them I told them I don’t believe in impossibility. I had to get people to fix it. It took us about three weeks to restore the lights. Again, we got all the places repainted.  And then we started cutting the grasses. We just wanted to give people sense of belonging because they were disillusioned. For those who knew Seme before they think that it is dead end. Let there be hope and the best way to give them hope is to restore the infrastructure. We encouraged people to come and see changes and they came and have seen that this place is no longer what it used to be. That is the result you are seeing on the board now in terms of the revenue, he narrated.

He spoke with delight on how the command has made steady leap in revenue:”If you look at that board you will see what it was in January when I came. Look at the quantum leap for instance, from  N14 million in January to  N101 million; N85million to N140 million. Look at the ETLS:From N248million  in February to N472million,  N539 million  to N567million. This shows steady increase, it may be slow but my joy is that we are making steady progress. Look at even the total revenue collected, from N130 million over all in January to N64milliion in February. Why? Because of the anxiety over elections. Immediately after that it came to N155 million, then N147million and N211million . You may think that this is not up to what one SGD will pay in the Seaport but   for us it is steady progress. For us I am excited about it in the sense that our revenue target for the year is N1, 960billion

“This is almost N2billion equivalent or approximately. For those who know  Seme , this is what you can generate in one month before now. Seme used to collect one billion a month as revenue. Now I am going to collect N2billion a year, it does not give me joy.  I wish Seme would become what it used to be. However, we are still trying. As at this morning when I called for a meeting, I was told that my revenue from January till Friday 23 June,  was N844 million . I want to believe that before the end of the year we will hit our target after Christmas sales and the ongoing road construction completed.

“You can imagine people operating in an environment where the revenue was over sixty billion and now they are forced to operate under two billion, how do you want them to feel? They feel frustrated and I am the government they are seeing and so they let out their anger on me but I understand their feelings. I empathize with them. They churn out petitions every now and then but I know that it is not easy for them.  However, these make my seat very hot.” He said.

Praising his predecessor, Compt  Jibo, Nmadi said the command is ready for full reopening of the land border with the arrival of imported vehicles, saying there a one million capacity bonded terminal for vehicles  close the command while noting that Nigeria is ready to take advantage of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement(AfCFTA) but there is need for more awareness on the preparedness. 

According to him, “We have taken substantial advantage of the ETLS . African Continental Free Trade Agreement when it fully takes off will be like the expansion of trade within Africa which is what ETLS is all about in ECOWAS region. I had showed you some ETLS trucks. The sub region depends on Nigeria, no matter what anyone says. Nigeria is prepared but we need to create more awareness and that is where the media can also help. 

“We have data for trade between Nigeria and other countries in the sub region.  For instance, export in summary, between now and last year. But this is just for January 2023. The volume of trade with Niger Republic is N12.6 million. But taking it in terms of percentage Cote di viore is 0 per cent for January, Burkina Faso is 3 percent ; Niger 2 per cent, Mali 6 per cent, Togo is 6.36 per cent, Ghana 8.38 per cent, Benin republic is 1.2 per cent. Now, ask yourself, this is your closest neighbor but the business we did with them  is small. So they are just a transit route. We do this to help the economy. If people want to write about Seme what comes to their mind is smuggling. That is not fair. We are doing more than that,” .he noted. 

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