Customs Laments Beninese Duty on Nigerian Transit Goods
‘Ambassador Burutai Working to Resolve Bilateral impasse’ – Jibo
BY EGONO ODJEGBA
Seme Area Command of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), has accused the government of Benin Republic of imposing import duty on Nigeria-bound cargoes transiting through Cotonou to Nigeria.
According to the Customs Area Controller, Comptroller Mohammed Jibo, no fewer than 3,700 transit trucks of goods from Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Togo worth several billions of naira were recently trapped at llakoji- the border between Togo and the Benin Republic for over four months, as a result of the new policy.
This is even as Jibo has assured that the Ambassador of Nigeria to the Benin Republic, Major Gen Tukur Burutai is working to resolve the apparent bilateral impasse.
Fielding questions from maritime reporters in his office during a press briefing earlier the week, Jibo, explained that the policy is not known to the World Customs Organisation (WCO) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) protocols on international transit agreements.
He also explained that the action of the neighbouuring Benin Republic Customs to collect duty on the transit goods was not backed by any formal circular to the Nigeria Customs Service. This is even as he lamented that the development has affected the command’s revenue collection as goods worth billions of naira due to transit the command remain stranded within the francophone neighbouuring Benin Republic borders.
He said, “The Command began the activities of the year, 2021 with focus on the main objectives of revenue collection and facilitation of legitimate trade. However, the Benin Republic economic policies affected the revenue drive of the command as all goods transiting through Benin were mandated to pay some duties and levies by the government of Benin Republic which is contrary to ECOWAS protocols and international transit agreements.
“What we know as Customs officers is that transit agreement and ECOWAS protocol does not allow goods transiting through a country for any duty to be paid on such goods. Duties are supposed to be paid in the country of destination.”
Asked to explain reasons for the development and what the NCS have done about itt, he said: “Up till today, the Benin Republic has not formally written to us that our importers must pay such duties if they are transiting through their country.
“Since we have not received any formal letter from them, I cannot say this is the reason why they are imposing such charges on our imports passing through their country. When our business community called to inform me that their trucks are stuck in Benin Republic that they had to pay some charges before they could cross, immediately, I contacted my colleague from Benin Republic asking for the reason, but he said he was only called to do what their country wants him to do.”
He continues: “We demanded for a formal letter that directs them to collect charges on transit goods but up till today, they have not given us. I have written to the headquarters to inform them of the situation.
We met with the ambassador and fortunately for us, the first assignment of the present ambassador, Major Gen Tukur Burutai (Rtd) was to have a meeting with us and to hear from us the situation report.
“I believe the appropriate authorities are handling that now because it is not an issue of Customs only. This concerns the whole of ECOWAS country, but we are assured that we will take it up,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Seme Customs boss Tuesday, handed over 3,447 parcels of Cannabis Sativa seized by the Command, between January 2021 to date to officials of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA).
Jibo said the substance otherwise locally known as Indian Hemp were concealed with sharp sand, noting that it is one of the largest single seizures made by the command, and said to have a Duty Paid Value (DPV) of N98.9million.
According to him, “This is not the first time we are handing over such a seizure to NDLEA. Sometime in July this year, we handed about 232 parcels of marijuana to NDLEA. Sometimes in August too, we made some arrests and were equally handed over to NDLEA. And today (Tuesday), we are handing over 3,447 parcels of cannabis sativa.”
While urging the NDLEA to further probe the movement of the substance to ensure that the suspects are brought to book, the customs area boss assured that the command will continue to ensure an expanded coordination with all other security agencies to minimize smuggling along the Seme border axis.
Responding, the NDLEA Commander, Seme Command, Udotong Essien, assured that the agency would carry out further investigation to find out those involved.
“Behind all these banditries and the insecurity plaguing our dear nation, drugs are the cause of the problem. If this is allowed to go into the society, you can imagine the damaging effect on our economy.
“The Customs has done its part and so we are going to take it up from there to bring those behind these things to book to serve as deterrent to orders,” Essien said.