Why Seme-Border Can’t Take Vehicles, Rice Import Now-Compt. Bomodi

 Why Seme-Border Can’t Take Vehicles, Rice Import Now-Compt. Bomodi
Compt. Timi Bomodi

Seme and Idiroko borders have been a subject of international politics and economic diplomacy in the hands of fiscal authorities in Nigeria superintended by any sitting president. They are gate -ways to key  West African countries’ market. Surprisingly, there are over 2000 smuggling routes across different land borders between Nigeria and other countries. But the interest in Seme border in particular is incredibly heavy.  Despite the recent directive by President Bola Tinubu for the reopening of land borders caught in the web of ECOWAS anti-coup policy, Seme border remains partially closed to import of vehicles and rice, a fall out of the previous closure ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari. Only the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme(ETLS) associated imports are currently allowed into the country.

It is now considered so important and strategic that ANY-HOW Customs Controller is not posted there because any Customs Area Controller (CAC) there, is not just the Federal Government’s eyes but the official economic diplomat without ambassadorial badge and accouterments.

No wonder, the Customs Comptroller General(CGC), Adewale Adeniyi found Comptroller Timi Bomodi a worthy candidate to replace another professionally restless CAC, Compt. Dera Nnadi, who had piloted the command.  

Bomodi happens to be one of the best Customs Public Relations Officer(PROs) in the history of Nigeria Customs Service(NCS) having served as PRO in Kirikiri command and later Apapa Area One Command. His few years in customs operations equipped him better to handle the position of the National Public Relations Officer of the Service when the opportunity came. He spoke operations in customs with control of the system without the usual put off cliché of “Let me find out and get back” associated with image- makers alienated from operations.  His incubation and background as a poet came handy in delivery of complex situations requiring persuasion with writing artistry and communication.  Compt. Bomodi is in the mould of the late General Mamman Vatsa, who found his first love in poetry even as a soldier; the late Elechi Amadi, a poet and novelist but professionally a medical doctor and many more.

In this Customs Executive Series; interview, he talks about why Seme border cannot be fully reopened now. He reckons that customs revenue budget and target are a function of prediction anchored on previous performances; He explains why the Lagos-Abidjan corridor cannot be free of multiple checkpoints; how the fluctuation in customs duty rate affects the border businesses; among others. He spoke with KINGSLEY ANAROKE of MMS PLUS. Enjoy your reading.      

The Comptroller General of Customs (CGC) recently said the reopening of the land borders will depend on the cooperation of the border communities to ensure that the war against smuggling is fruitful through intelligence gathering. Has there been any review since that was said?    

Well, the reopening of the border is not something the Customs can do unilaterally.  Government is expected to take a decision on that. So we are waiting for that order like any other person. There was an agreement in principle with Benin republic authorities that we will both align our systems to the effect that whatever it is that it is done in Nigeria will be done in their country. There was an agreement in principle for both services to allow operation to take place in their countries in exchange.  However, there are some reconciliations that are still outstanding. So we are just waiting for the order to be given basically.

On assumption of office, you talked about the need to reduce the number of check-points on Lagos- Abidjan corridor. How much of this have you been able to manage?         

We have been able to reduce the number of check points significantly but the major challenge we have is with other stakeholders with particular reference to our other sister organizations. However, we have always talked to them about the need to readjust their schedules to accommodate facilitation of trade which we are already known for. For them,trade facilitation is an abstract concept that needs to be re-echoed  on a regular basis. So, that is the role of the government. Customs cannot go and begin to modify the role of other government agencies. If the government understands the significance of clearing the multiple check points on the Lagos-Abidjan corridor it will definitely enhance trade.

Has there been any increase in smuggling activities since the fluctuation in customs duty rate began? It is being widely speculated.  

We have not noticed any significant increase in smuggling activities.  The complaints that we get especially from those engaged in normal export trade is the fact that the exchange rate hike has significantly affected their capacity to buy. Looking at the market, they have the concern that they have stock that they bought but not been able to sell.  So, we have not seen any significant increase in that but we just believe that the trend is affecting everybody.

In September last year, the CGC talked about integrating ICT while partnering the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) to curb illegal entry of vehicles through the border stations. How much of this has taken place?    

It is from the headquarters that they can answer that question because once that is done all of us will be notified of it. In fact, we are looking forward for the implementation of that policy because it will help us, especially those of us that are on the road, it will really help us to function better.

There have been serious concerns in many quarters even at the official circles that Nigeria Customs have failed in policing the borders, especially in checking the migration of illegal immigrants into the country, a situation they say contributes to the worsening security situation in the country. How would you react to this?

Well, controlling the movement of people at the border is not the job of Customs. We have no responsibility in that regard. Moreover, whatever the assertions are, we do know what our duty and responsibilities concerning the movement of goods, specifically are.  When we are confronted with the movement of people in the field, we always refer them to the knowledge and wisdom of our brothers, the immigration service. 

I noticed that there is a significant increase in revenue target for the Command. I have been wondering what caused the leap, is it the foreign exchange factor?  Last year, you made N5.45billion.

Well, we made about N6billion last year. Budgets are estimates. Targets are also estimates. They are predictive in nature and are based on previous performances  May be they looked at what we did last year and the feeling that if given the right kind of support we can make this kind of target. It is not a big thing. But you know we are not immune from the vagaries of the system. Everybody knows that the economy has not been particularly stable, lately .I am sure our performance in the previous year encouraged them to think we can do better this year.

How many clearing licenses are active now because your predecessor was working on reviving some to help achieve the revenue target? 

I can’t give you the figure now but we have a lot of clearing agents working here at Seme as their primary operation command.  We have a good number of them.

The outlook for export via Seme seems good. You made N8billion and here…

Export has been looking good. It is also encouraging given the devaluation of naira lately.  We should ordinarily make export more attractive. These are the opportunities we want people to know about. Once your currency loses in value more people are likely going to purchase local goods.  We expect more people to go into export.

Do you have any export processing terminal? I know NPA licensed five but I don’t know if there is any sited in Seme.

We just have the normal terminals here which are designed for the examination of all cargo- both import and export. We don’t have export dedicated terminal.

Are there any form of encouragement for export? I was expecting to hear about one –stop- centre for export  or a waiver kind of incentive for export at Seme. 

Ordinarily, you have exporters doing their businesses. If they are expecting to be incentivized one way or the other in addition to  the potentials that exist in that place it will be the job of the  government to do that. We do know that they have export expansion grant that was given prior to this time.

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