Smuggling of both prohibited and non-prohibited items have increased along the Nigerian borders of Seme and Idiroko, LEADERSHIP Sunday findings has revealed. This is also as customs clearing agents, operating in Apapa and Tin Can Island ports, Lagos have shut down their activities in the two mainstream ports and relocate to Seme and Idiroko land borders due to harsh operating conditions at the ports.
The increased smuggling activities according to investigations by our correspondent followed the biting economic recession, the auto policy, and the government policy that banned importation of some items through the sea and land borders.
This is as the Idiroko Border command and the Federal Operations Unit of the Nigeria Customs Service express readiness to combat the increased smuggling activities.
Specifically, vehicle and rice smuggling activities have skyrocketed along these two border points, bordering Nigeria and Benin Republic.
It could be recalled that the Federal Government in 2013 slammed a 70 per cent tariff on importation of used vehicles and hiked the duty on imported rice from 60 per cent to a total of 110 per cent.
Speaking on increased activities of smuggling at the border, the customs public relations officer for Idiroko Border, Usman Abubakar said the command was engaging the smugglers fire for fire. “Our men are on alert all the time; we are confiscating all the illegally imported goods. Anyone that imports legally, presents it and pays duty, gets cleared, but anyone that brings goods illegally, our men are there in the bush and just last week (lastTuesday), our men got over 500 bags of rice found in an illegal warehouse in the bush. This is what we are doing on daily basis and motorcycles used for the act are seized,” Abubakar said.
He also stated that the command has been sensitising clearing agents on the need to pay appropriate duty on imported goods coming into the country through the land borders.
“We have been sensitising them and educating them. We have told them to come and pay duty instead of smuggling because once you are caught and vehicle seized you will be arrested and taken to court,” he said.
The FOU Zone ‘A’ public relations officer, Jerry Attah said the command have mounted checkpoints to checkmate smuggling activities at Seme and Idiroko borders.
The FOU Zone ‘A’ , which is the anti-smuggling arm of customs he said, was ready to bring smuggling activities in these two border areas to the barest minimum.
The economic recession, the auto policy, and the ban on importation of some items according to checks conducted by LEADERSHIP Sunday have combined to drastically stifle business activities at the seaports, prompting licensed customs agents to abandon the ports in droves and relocate to the Seme and Idiroko land borders. Customs duties paid at these land borders are much lesser than what is paid at the seaports on imported goods and due to the porousness of the land borders, smuggling activities also boom through them.
Confirming the development to our correspondent, a frontline clearing agent and member of the Association of Nigerian Licenced Customs Agents (ANLCA) disclosed that a good number of clearing agents have relocated to the border posts of Seme and Idiroko to be part of bustling import business activities at the land borders and to get their fingers on the booming smuggling pie in the locations as well. LEADERSHIP Sunday gathered that such relocations are usually the tradition among customs licensed agents “when government stifles operations at the seaports.”
According an agent who pleaded anonymity, “That is the only way to survive the current auto and rice policy at the seaports, they have to relocate to the border post to continue their businesses. To be sincere with ourselves, relocating to the land borders is not a new thing even your importer will be the one to advise you to relocate and smuggle the goods in since they cannot bring it through the seaports. We all know that smuggling activities is going on in Seme and Idiroko, so we need to join them to feed our families, we cannot die of hunger,” he said.
Speaking with our correspondent, a customs broker (names withheld) confirmed that his licence agents have since relocated to Seme/Idiroko borders “because it is now more lucrative to work at the border.”
Explaining the rationale behind the change of location, our source disclosed that a Model 2014 vehicle could attract as high as N3.4million tariff at the seaport ports, while at Seme or Idiroko borders, the same car would only attract N350,000.
“I am one of them, I have gone to idiroko to start hustling, I cannot sit and allow the economic recession to cripple my finances, I just joined them this year. Many of my colleagues transferred their licences since President Jonathan introduced the auto policy. At the border, customs do not have access to the manifest of all the cars coming from Cotonou, if the business that is going on at the border could be going on at the seaports, the ports would not be dry as they are now. Over there, we pay cheaper tariffs than at the port, the value customs is using is not the same at the port,” he said.
Also confirming the new trend to our correspondent, the national publicity secretary of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Kayode Farinto confirmed the movement of clearing agents to the border posts. While confirming that many agents have transferred their licences to Seme and Idiroko borders because activities have severely dwindled at the ports due to several prohibitive custom tariffs; Farinto disclosed that he also may soon transfer his licence to the border since activities at the seaports have almost wound up.
“From idiroko, four containers could be un-stuffed into a trailer and one would pay just N2million, meanwhile the value of each of the containers at the port is worth several millions through the seaport. Irrespective of what any of the trailer is carrying, once you pay N2million, customs will pass it, meanwhile government is losing money. But at the port, they will tell you that your cargo has low duty or various alerts. If you have a 2016 Prado jeep and you bring it through the seaport, you cannot pay less than N10million as duty alone. Meanwhile if you take it to Cotonou/Nigerian borders, the moment you pay N1.5million it enters Nigeria legitimately.
“Don’t be surprised if you see me taking my licence to Cotonou because my children have resumed school and I cannot pay their school fees and I will not steal, and there are enough cargoes coming through the borders legitimately. I may likely move my licence to Cotonou too because the licence is for both sea, air, and land borders, I will transfer my licence to the borders and clear goods legitimately,” he said.
Also speaking, former public relations officer, PTML Chapter of ANLCA, Gani Adeola accused the federal government of deliberately relaxing the duty of cars through the borders to favour the neighbouring country while Nigerian citizens continue to suffer.
According to him, “If you carry a 2016 jeep at Seme border, you would pay N500,000, by the time the same car gets to the seaport, they would ask you to pay N7million duty and N7million levy, by the time you calculate it all, your total duty will be up to N18million, meanwhile the cars are going to same market,” he said.
Also speaking with our correspondent, a member of National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) Mr Simeon Olua lamented that the valuation tables of customs at the Roro Terminal are now empty as a result of agents abandoning the port due to high tariffs.
Olua said “If you go to Cotonou, they have what we call ‘flat rate,’ where vehicles of 2001 or 2016 all pay equal rates. This will enable the government to wipe out old and dilapidated vehicles, when you have a vehicle manufactured in 2002 and you pay N8000 and you have the one of 2016 and you pay N8000, definitely you will not want to go for 2002 cars again. At the border, if customs ask you to pay N100, 000 and you pay it, there is no stress, you will get to the border and drive away,” he said.