By UDEME CLEMENT
SEME, the border between Nigeria and Benin Republic has a vast area, which covers a large expanse of land. The challenge in policing this particular border is the swampy nature of the environment that tends to retard movement of patrol vehicles. When Vanguard visited the border recently, security personnel were seen at strategic positions screening people crossing from Benin to Nigeria, aside from economic activities in both countries.
The border information point surrounded by Customs officers was placed at the centre of the border line. Also, numerous seizures including second hand shoes, textile materials, bags and rice, were seen in the Customs warehouse, while vehicles, motor cycles and frozen poultry products among other seized items surrounded the warehouse.
Our investigations revealed that smuggling of contraband items as well as petroleum products across the border, which was prevalent in Seme, has reduced drastically due to the new security network put in place by the current Customs Area Controller, CAC, of the Command. The CAC, Comptroller Willy Egbudin, spoke on the new look of Seme. He said, “Seme now wears a new look despite the unwillingness of some border communities to embrace changes in government’s fiscal policies to protect the nation’s economy. What measures did you put in place to ensure effective policing of the border?
“To start with, I took over the Command on November 28, 2013. We blocked revenue leakages, even as discussion is on-going with Nigeria and Benin Republic to tackle the problem of appropriate transit of imported vehicles from Benin to Nigeria. The Command is basically an enforcement unit with mandate to suppress smuggling to the barest minimum, even as we are saddled with the responsibility of revenue collection, legitimate trades facilitation and general security of the nation’s border. Immediately I took over, we embarked on a familiarisation tour of the entire communities where we met with traditional rulers to enlighten them and their subjects on the dangers of smuggling and the consequences on the economy.
“Aside from awareness campaign, we deployed skilful officers to strategic areas of the border to curtail illegal activities within the region. We recorded tremendous success using this approach, with outstanding revenue generation of N1,260,736,639.35 in December 2013 alone, which is the highest monthly revenue collection in the last three years in the Command. We did not only meet our revenue target in December but we surpassed it by N161,666,179.35, representing 14.77 percent increase.
“The Command also realised total revenue of N8,482,231,289.81 in 2013, which represents 65 per cent of the annual target. We commend the Comptroller General of Customs, Abdullahi Dikko Inde, for his initiative in reforming the Service and providing us with logistics and work tools to function effectively.”
We learnt that the Command arrested 29 suspected smugglers and no casualty has been recorded in your operations since you took over. How did you tackle the issue of incessant conflicts between your officers and the border communities, which was a major problem facing the Command in the past?
What you have seen at the border now is a fresh impetus by my team to curb illegitimate trade at the region. The 29 suspected smugglers were arrested for economic sabotage and we have also stepped up security surveillance to check the activities of border traders, to prevent importation of offensive goods into the country.
It is important for the public to note that we must enforce government’s fiscal policies to protect our economy, because this is our statutory responsibility. For instance, no one is allowed to import rice through the border, according to the fiscal policy of government. So, we enlightened the people, including market women to know that we will not hesitate to intercept those items and arrest the offenders, because we must enforce the policy effectively. That is why we have the huge seizures of rice this period as you can see here in the warehouse. In carrying out our operations, we apply intelligence to prevent casualties. So, we do not need to shoot a bullet during operations because our work now is intelligence driven.
Dikko has a way of punishing erring officers to instill discipline in the Service. What sanctions do you give to some officers who collaborate with smugglers to sabotage the economy?
Well, we have not experienced anything like that here since I came on board and no officer had been caught in sharp practices here.
Can you give us the statistical analysis of the ECOWAS Trade Liberation Scheme in your Command?
The ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme, ETLS, is a trade facilitation tool adopted by the ECOWAS member states to promote regional trade and integration. Last year, which is the period under review, the Command cleared ETLS compliant goods with a CIF value of N6,821,862,901.38.