- Our efforts and dilemma in reducing checkpoints
Comptroller Dera Nnadi, mni, is the Area Controller of Seme Border Command, Nigeria Customs Service (NCS). In this exclusive interview with News Diet, Nnadi speaks on cross border trade at Seme border, highlighting some peculiar challenges confronting the border region, and efforts to streamline multiple checkpoints which discourages trade along the corridor.
Multiple checkpoints on border routes don’t support cross-border trade facilitation. It’s currently a problem along the Seme border corridor as there are numerous agencies and also multiple Customs units. Could there be a one-stop shop for these inspections rather than multiple interceptions?
Along this corridor, there are only two approved ECOWAS checkpoints and they are at Gbaji and Agbara. The rest of the checkpoints ought to be just patrol groups. However, you will observe that there are several checkpoints belonging to multiple agencies.
Despite the fact that the corridor should be protected for security and with respect to anti-smuggling and cross-border crimes, the conduct of those at the checkpoints and patrol bases is what really matters. While trying to enforce anti-smuggling laws and suppress border crime along the corridor, we should learn when to differentiate between border protection and prevention of legitimate trade. This is one of the biggest challenges of border protection. Where does the enforcement of laws stop and where does trade facilitation start?
One of the reasons we would take this balance very serious is that if we do more of one, the other will suffer and ultimately it would have a negative impact on the nation.
If we create a loose environment for trade in the guise of facilitating trade, some people may want to take undue advantage of it to circumvent trade laws and policies on smuggling. Nevertheless, if we overtighten the enforcement processes, we would end up discouraging trade.
One thing is sure, if we succeed in reducing traffic along the corridor and reducing the number of checkpoints, it will increase trade. This is because more traders will want to do their businesses here and the whole place will thrive; but in a situation where investors are scared of multiple checkpoints, the entire corridor suffers economically.
Despite the ban on land border trade being lifted, the trade at Seme border hasn’t reached the volume recorded prior to the ban. What could be the challenges and how do we address them?
The border was closed for over two years and people diverted either to the seaports or moved to entirely new businesses. Following the reopening of the borders, certain conditions were also given that must be met.
It is possible that those who diverted to seaports are finding it difficult to come back because they have gotten used to where they have gone to or it could be that the conditions provided by the government for reopening the land border can’t be met by some people.
Nevertheless, don’t forget that Seme border may have been opened but some outstations like Owode hasn’t been opened. Also, the trade policies of our neighbours aren’t favourable to us at all. If traders from these countries are coming to Nigeria on transit, they are charged duties. I have had a number of complaints from many traders and I think the Nigerian government should engage more with Benin Republic because we are neighbours and we can’t afford to ignore how their trade policies affect Nigerian businesses.
In your maiden press briefing as Area Controller of Seme Border Command, you highlighted some level of trade carried out under the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme (ETLS), how about trade under the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA)?
AfCFTA provisions have been made and the preparations have been on for some years, but effectively no one can say that the regional trade agreement has kicked-off fully.
It is still a work in progress in terms of infrastructure, logistics and human capacity development. However, the potentials for AfCFTA is exciting especially for border regions like Seme border. When it kicks-off, the regional market will be a very enormous one and the Nigerian GDP will also improve from enhanced trade among regional states.
Nigeria manufactures so much and Made-in-Nigeria products are valued within the sub-region, so AfCFTA is desirable but it hasn’t kicked off yet.
Having served as the Area Controller, Ogun 1 Command responsible for the Idiroko border area, cross border trade and its associated challenges wouldn’t seem new to you. How would you deal with the recurring challenges, for instance high degree of unemployment in the border communities is one of the factors encouraging smuggling as perhaps the last resort for some border residents?
Border communities are very essential to coordinated border management. Security agencies serve and leave the border after some years, but the community remains there. One thing that I have already observed anytime we pay courtesy calls is that there are complaints of negligence by federal government. They usually lament that their youths aren’t being employed.
Although resources for the federal government to carry out all the required developments is scarce, I would support the idea that more attention is paid to border communities in terms of infrastructure, employment of the youths, and others.
In Nigeria, Customs is well recognized for supporting the nation’s revenue collection with over N4trillion generated in 2022. What’s the revenue target for Seme Border Command for this year?
There is always a fiscal target for the Customs Service and it’s broken down to the respective Commands, but we haven’t been given 2023 target. We are expecting it within the next few weeks.
Naira scarcity following its redesign and fuel scarcity have grossly affected businesses nationwide in recent weeks. How have these issues affected border trade, Customs officers and other activities at the border?
Definitely the fuel scarcity puts pressure on officers to reinforce our zeal to suppress fuel smuggling. We have to ensure that no petroleum product is smuggled out as we witnessed in the recent press briefing. Over 39,000 liters of PMS was seized and displayed by the Command and this shows that amid the scarcity some persons are still attempting to move the products out of the country.
As for the naira scarcity following the redesign, I’m yet to know the impact on the traders. The basic thing is that several stakeholders complain that they don’t have cash to transact petty business but for those who do big business, they import using their bank accounts or online transactions.
For those that consume locally, there are complaints about the scarcity of naira, but that is beyond Customs because it is a government policy.