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‘We Revived 27 Operating Licenses And Helped Secure A Bonded Warehouse’- Compt. Nnadi

CONCLUDING PART OF THE INTERVIEW PUBLISHED MONDAY

My concern is this, I read about your efforts at reducing the number of road blocks on the road and, of course, promoting the ease of doing business. As we were coming this morning, we counted over 15 Police checkpoints from Badagry roundabout to Gbaji Bridge and 21 of such checkpoints from Gbaji Bridge to Seme. In some particular places, you have them between five and six points within 100 meters. For Customs, l couldn’t delineate whether this is Federal Operation, Strike Force, or Seme Area Command resident check points, but there were about five, and for Immigration, about seven. So the question is, how much are you doing to discourage this as the lead agency?

We have done a lot. It’s not even me doing it, my predecessor did so much, ACG  Bello Jibo did so much, in fact, much more than what I’m doing now. He already laid down the structure that is acceptable, which l have been implementing. But like I said, in Igbo language, we say, ‘ori mara ka òka agù’ which simply means ‘it is who has been eating that has appetite for more.

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The process is on. It is slow, but it is on. In one of my recent communications to the Joint Border Security Management Committee, comprising of all security agencies, I wrote “good day JBSM and once again, thank you for your commitment to a secured Seme Krake corridor. While we await the minutes of the last meeting, I wish to announce that Nigeria Customs Service has reduced its checkpoints as promised by me. In the same vein, I regret to inform you that as of this morning, some of the agencies have yet to implement decisions reached at the meeting. Below are the statistics of checkpoints between Seme and Gbaji…..

Please don’t promote this information as it is meant to buttress our joint effort. All we want is understanding of the need to clear this corridor of every trade barrier, one of the main ones being multiple checkpoints.  The Customs will continue to encourage the committee to do more to keep within the allowable arrangement. It is a gradual process; agencies are complying and reducing their presence.

Everybody is sincere about the collective desire to reduce the check points here. Sadly these check points are also a function of the level of discipline of our people engaged in smuggling. The traffic of petty smuggling is high. It is the attempt to check this that encourages the checkpoints, but sadly, this cause inconvenience  for legitimate road users.   Society has a role to play in reducing these checkpoints by discouraging smuggling.

 

 Recently, we learnt that your Republic of Benin counterparts charge high tariff on ETLS goods coming into Nigeria and out of Nigeria, and we notice there are scanty ETLS trucks here unlike in the past, plus low travelers traffic along the corridor, what could be responsible for these?

Thank you. This is our trailer park (pointing fingers at an almost empty space). For those of you who knew here before, look at it, it is empty. I agree with your question. The speculations about what our neighbours are charging on transit goods remain speculation for me. When I came here newly, and I asked ‘what is going on?’ Everybody will tell you, “They are charging us so much on transit. They’re doing this, and they are doing that. Yes, they also charge money on transit. They’re not supposed to. These are transit manuals from WCO, for which Nigeria played a prominent role in developing.  When I told you that we’ve been to Senegal and Ivory Coast, I was privileged to be at the Headquarters when they were writing this book, and I played a part.

They are not supposed to charge money on transit, but then let us do this thing very well. Let’s stop deceiving ourselves as a country; transit regime in West Africa is because even though all of us have litoral relationship, that is we have water connection, we don’t have vessels taking goods from here to any country between us in West Africa except they call from foreign companies.  Isn’t that so? So we have to take things by road. The real countries that are supposed to enjoy transit are countries that are sandwiched and that don’t have access to water transportation.

Land locked countries?

Yes, but WCO and WTO say we should stop calling them land locked countries. Some are the Republics of Niger, Chad, some parts of northern Cameroun. But because there’s no vessel that will ferry cargo from here, we now use road, and then suddenly, it became a norm. When I reported here, Mr. Okey can tell that story better. When I came here, what the Agents complained of is that the Republic of Benin is charging transit fees that are beyond what is expected. I’ve not been able to confirm that with documents, so l don’t want to speculate; but that is the rumour everywhere. The rumour is that they are charging so much on transit goods, whereas they’re not supposed to charge such fees. And because of that the volume of cargo dropped. But there are other functions too that may have contributed.

Exchange rate can be one, demand and supply can be one, when people are not demanding for goods, when economic relation does not favour you so much, you don’t just blame it on one thing. But I’m aware, and I’ve also issued press statement to that effect when I came, that our neighbors are charging transit fees. It is left for you journalists to go and find out how much it is. Me, I can’t speculate, some Agents come here and stakeholders too and say ‘haa, they are charging so, so and so amount.’ I will say give me the documents…’ aah it’s a punitive measure they are charging us so much, it is because we closed the border’, l’ll say give me documents to see what you’re saying. So I don’t want to go into that politics, but I know that under normal circumstances, are we even supposed to do transit by road?

If we have water, can’t we connect? What does it take us? Even ordinary barge can ferry cargo between West African countries. Why can’t we do those things between neigbhouring countries? From here to Ghana by road is about three to four hours, that is from where you are now, and from Lagos about six hours,  so what’s the big deal that we can’t achieve that by sea? That means by water it will even be better. From here to Lagos by road is two and half hours to three hours, by water it is one hour. That means with a vessel from Lagos to Ghana, two to three hours, you discharge your cargo, and you come back.

West Africa is yet to wake up and do real integration for trade. We used to have that problem with flying within the subregion. If I’m going for a meeting in the Republic of Niger in those days when l was at the Headquarters before, it’s with  Air Cote D’Voire Airline and Asky Airline, I first fly to Belgium or to France and then fly back to  Republic of Niger.

Really?

Yes, before if you want to fly to Togo, how do you go? You first of all fly Iberia or Air France to France and then fly from there to Togo. Yes, unless you go by road, until they brought Asky Airline and Air Cote D’Voire, we can now travel from Lagos directly. Eco Bank did a lot with Ethiopia Airline and introduced Asky Airline.  So why can’t you do something similar for sea? This is where people will have to ask questions. So I really feel that we should as a subregion explore that.

Well, we are almost on our way out, but I hope that in the future and the nearest time, people will do that.  And Mr. Okey, since you are here, I want to use this opportunity to tell you, since you were one of the Agents here before becoming a journalist, tell your people about me and the effort we are making to encourage trade along the corridor.  Some are not doing enough to encourage us. If they know me and know that since 2004 I have been working for this industry, if they know me and know that since 2006 I’ve been working on this corridor with USAID, they will know my passion for this sector. They should stop looking at my size and look at what we are doing.

Is the border fully opened now?

That story that Seme Border has opened for vehicle transactions is not true.

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