By Stephen Ubanna
Vehicle importers and their Clearing agents at the nation’s land borders heaved a sigh of relief when information filtered out that the Senate has passed a bill urging Yemi Osibanjo , the acting President to re-open the land borders for Vehicle imports. It was gathered that the government has set March 15,2017, for importers have vehicles lying at Republic of Benin, Togo and other neighbouring West African countries to feel free to process their documents and pay the relevant duties at the border stations.
At Seme and Idiroko, the two major border towns between Nigeria and Republic of Benin in south west Nigeria,the joy of the importers and agents knew no bound as many of them have been out of business in the past three months. This is because of the government fiscal policy which banned the importation Vehicles through the nation’s land border in December ,2016.
Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Service , NCS, had justified the government action to Concealment of guns and ammunitions in Vehicles imported through the land border.
The policy, according to trans- border business men crippled operations at the ports of Cotonou in Republic of Benin and Togo. The situation was too bad the ports of Cotononou and Ome became empty and devoid of the usual array of visitors from Nigeria who troop to these ports to these countries to buy cars and other goods.
Sources told The Magazine that pressure was mounted on president Muhamadu Buhari to take into consideration the good neighbourly relationship between Nigeria and the other Economic Community of West African Countries , ECOWAS, and the sub-regional Trade Liberalisation scheme to allow the existing trade between the ECOWAS Countries to continue.
The economies of Republic of Benin, Togo, Niger and Chad are virtually dependent on Nigeria. It is not surprising why the nation’s fiscal policies also affects the economy of other countries in the West African sub-region.
Nigerians are the major buyers of Vehicles imported through the ports of Cotonou and Lome in the West Africa sub-region, Particularly Republic of Benin. Prior to the closure of the land border for imported vehicles to come into the country, Nigeria has a transit goods arrangement with Republic of Benin. Niger and Chad also have similar transit goods arrangement with Republic of Benin.
The Benin Customs enjoy the deal because of the enormous revenue that accrue to the country. A senior Customs officer at Idiroko disclosed that of the three countries that had entered into the transit goods deal with Republic of Benin, Nigerians are charged higher fee than Nigeriens and Chadians. The officer confirmed that each Vehicle coming into Nigeria from Republic of Benin, the buyer is made to pay about N150,000.00 irrespective of the brand while the duties which are considerably higher than the fee are paid to the Nigeria Customs at the border.
Sources told the Magazine that the Benin Customs took advantage of the higher duties paid by the Vehicle importers to the Nigeria Customs either at the land border or the country’s port to campaign that Nigeria is too expensive to do business to retain the Customers.
A visitor to Cotonou port last Wednesday, February 9, 2017, said life is gradually coming back back to Republic of Benin port of Cotonou and the major parks where Vehicles are sold by the Lebanese which dominate the business in the country. Even agents who had been virtually idle in the last three months for lack of Vehicles to clear for Nigeria importers are warming up to return to work.
Some of the Benin agents were said to have reached out to their Nigerian counterparts at the border to soften the ground for their business. Ekene Onyebuchi, a major Nigeria clearing agent at Seme border and Chief Executive Officer, Trade Global Company Limited who shuttles between Nigeria and Republic of Benin is happy over the alleged rumour making the rounds that the government has lifted the ban on importation of Vehicles through the land border.
Onyebuchi is optimistic that that many agents who had been out of job in the last three months would find it a thing of joy to return to their operational base at the border stations and re-engage their staff who were laid off for want of job to do. He said life will come come back to the Customs Operation Department and Victor Dimka, the Comptroller of Seme/ Badagry, would busier than ever. SE/ Badagry controls over 50 percent of the imported cargoes including Vehicles through the nation’s borders.
An agent who spoke to the Magazine on phone said the information about vehicles coming into the country through the land borders is still a rumour. The agent said Ali, the Customs boss who was instrumental to the ban has not issued a counter statement to that effect. He disclosed that the Comptrollers at the border stations of Seme/Badagry, Ogun ,Oyo/Ekiti, Katsina, Borno/ Yobe, Sokoto/Kebbi, among others are in the dark as they have not received any directive from the Customs Headquarters about the change in policy .
As at last Wednesday, March 9,2017, Seme, Vehicle Seat was still under lock and key. Officers attached to the Department have been deployed to other Departments and Commands . Some Customs officials who spoke to the Magazine said it would be a welcome development if the government could reverse the policy which banned the importation of Vehicles through the land border because of the economic implication. They are optimistic that the reversal of the policy would go a long way to bring back the lost jobs and businesses at the land borders.