BY FUNMI ALUKO
The Nigerian Senate has assured border community dwellers to expect laws that allows them source for essential food items and other basic necessities of life without having to exert themselves needlessly traveling outside of their localities in order to make such purchases.
The Nigerian Senate Adhoc Committee on Customs and Excise disclosed above during a meeting with stakeholders at the Seme Border Customs Area Command Tuesday, assuring them that the government of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and the Senate intend to be sensitive to the needs of border community masses and to protect them against harsh policies, noting that as Nigerians and human beings they have the right to access basic necessities of life within the radius of their settlements; irrespective of food security policies.
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Customs and Excise, Senator Ade Fadahunsi who said they were at Seme to find out the position of reported fracas between border community people and security agents, particularly men of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), advised that border community dwellers must learn to live in peace with security operatives performing their statutory duties.
In the same vein, he said economic and fiscal policies should have human face, be more flexible and environmentally friendly to protect the vulnerable from undue exploitation and official harassment.
His words, “This visit and the meeting is necessitated by the need to put a stop to casualties and resultant deaths caused by crossfire between members of the service and host communities. The government needs a harmonious relationship to generate more revenue to take care of the host communities and to carry out national services.
“Why are you killing yourselves? The security agencies are here, border communities have their own local security initiatives. On behalf of the National Assembly, I am here to know what communities are facing in the hands of security agencies specifically in the hands of customs. The other complaint is on rice and tokunbo vehicles, that is part of why the Senate leadership had to raise a team of senators to go round and find out so that we can make some review in the policies.”
“We want you to say it the way it is. We that have come here are your representatives. We have come here to hear you and to make serious recommendations so that you can live at peace. In some of the borders, the communities are contagious.
Traditional rulers, community heads, representatives of business groups, representatives of the Oba Akran Badagry, Badagry West and South local government chairmen, clearing agents and other stakeholders thanked the senate committee for their visit and tabled their grievances.
Aggregating some of the reasons for the occasional crisis, Chairman of Badagry West LGA, Mr. Joseph Gbenu said the community people are often victims of reckless and overzealousness official operations, while the customs on the other hand had reportedly pleaded their handicap, that they are doing their jobs as spelt out by the laws.
Gbenu said, “There are communities around our border, but sometimes customs will chase vehicles from the bush and roads inside the communities. At the end of the day, people get shot by stray bullets, our children and wives and others going about. We’ve seen such and we have been talking.
“The controller of federal operations unit and border patrol are not sensitive to our concerns, and we have been preaching, tell your men to be vigilant while carrying out their operations. Everything is under control now, but I remember what I told him that if they are chasing cars, once they run into communities they should…because our children and our wives that are walking around. He told me nobody has the right to limit the operation of the customs, when you chase smugglers into our communities and homes and kill our people there will be crisis.”
Responding to some of the complaints, the senate committee advised both the customs and other security agencies and community stakeholders to exercise restraint and meet regularly to evaluate situation and agree on what is acceptable.
The Committee Chairman lamented a situation where laws is separating two people with same identity and affiliations.
“There must not be any disparity between the Republic of Benin and Nigeria. On the other side, we have Beninours, here we have Nigerians. On the other side, half of the people are Yoruba. What do we do to ensure that the synergy to trade across the border that does not amount to smuggling? Remember, you know what is not of commercial quantity.”
He urged management and men of the Nigeria Customs Service to be circumspect and to use their discretion in allowing purchases made for consumption in order to de-escalate the unhealthy recurring issues of insecurity and disharmony between security operatives and border community dwellers.
“It is more a matter of common sense and cultural affinity. One bag of rice or one jerry can of fuel is of household consumption. It is left for you and border communities to know that that does not amount to smuggling.”
Senator Fadahunsi said recurring skirmishes between citizens and customs operatives with resultant human death over a bag of rice or keg of petrol is scandalous and extreme, and does not make a nice image of Nigeria, hinting that its present efforts to hear the side of border community dwellers is in response to three petitions before the Senate, alleging incessant fracas and killings of residents of the border communities by the security agencies, especially the Customs.
“The rules of engagement are there, there are operational codes of ethics, among several other books of instruments. Two senators from Katsina State have reported the ordeals of some residents of the border towns in the area in the hands of security agencies, especially Customs over the smuggling of rice, refined petroleum products and used vehicles, which the Federal Government had banned its importation through the land borders.”
Reassuring the border community dwellers, Fadahunsi said, “There will be no shootings in your community, this is a new administration and that is why we are going round to interact with everybody concerned, we need to understand each other and agree on how best to co-exist harmoniously.
“We are here to ensure that peace and security prevail in the border community and we have heard from you. We will return to Abuja and look at where the laws can be amended so that we can amend it and make things work more effectively and efficiently as it was before.
“The other one (immediate past government) I couldn’t defend you too much because it was purely militarized, and that was why you were having these shootings, shooting for the past seven years or five years. But now that a new administration has come, we are going around to hear and to sensitize us; there will be a modern way of checking things. And when government is doing that, tell your subjects to do normal businesses, we know normal businesses.”
The Customs Area Controller, Comptroller Dera Nnadi mni, thanked the Nigerian Senate and the committee members for finding the time to come and jaw-jaw with the security agencies and the border community people on the need for peaceful co-existence.
The Seme customs boss took time to apprise the senators of the command’s performances even as he lamented the low output of intra regional trade due to uninformed and primitive constraints, sheer complacency and mental lethargy.
Responding to a senator’s question on observed bottlenecks to inter regional trade, Nnadi said, “Your question distinguished senator is related to what our distinguished chairman also said about obtaining documents and approvals. Trade is about competitiveness, for you to participate in international trade, you must find out how to lower cost of production. Once you lower cost of production you have to move the cargo, you have to transport them.
“Our distinguished chairman mentioned that if you lower, remove cost of transportation, you also gain some advantage. So one thing we are going to do is first of all is to remove any encumbrance that has to do with the method of obtaining of approvals. I will give an instance, if I am going to get approval to export, how do I make sure that the document for doing business is not difficult to obtain? Do I have to travel all the way to Abuja to get an approval? Is there a satellite office where I can go to that approval will easily be given to me?
“These are some of the challenges we have observed. First, let us ease the process of obtaining approvals so that we can lower the cost of services. We have been talking about energy security; provide quick access to raw materials which we have already done in customs. All our raw materials are either 5% or 0%.”
The area customs boss also explained some of the reasons trading behaviors and statistics between neighbouring and proximate countries are sometimes wide apart, due to human, cultural and attitudinal differences.
“For some lazy reasons our trade volume with Togo is lower compared with our trade with Ghana, we must begin to address some of the preventable causes that is hindering the course of regional trade which is at policy and governmental level.”