Interviews

INTERVIEW: How We Made Seme Border Business Friendly, Suppressing Multiple Checkpoints- Bomodi


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Comptroller Timi Bomodi
Customs Area Controller, Seme Border

 

Timi Bomodi, Customs Area Controller of Seme Border disclosed that the Nigeria, Benin agreement on trade is being handled at a strategic level . 

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He talked about customs increasing community relations and the service contribution to making the border more user friendly for legitimate traders. Bomodi sat with Ismail Aniemu

 

Q: Bring us to speed on the agreement reached some months ago between the Nigeria Customs Service and Customs Administration of Benin Republic


 

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We have talked about the agreement and how we are all waiting for the strategic level of both the Nigeria and Benin Republic Government to move into actualization and that would be in the area of policy for Nigeria and at Benin Republic side . It would be resolving the issue of paying duty on goods in transit.

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Road to Seme Border post

Once that is finalized, we will expect to see a lot of progress in what happens here at this corridor.While we are waiting for that to happen, we are looking at harmonizing processes and procedures between Nigeria Customs and Benin Customs.

 

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What we are trying to do at the joint border post is to first of all manage the way people and goods move.I will start with people.This area is supposed to be a controlled area.We want to change the perception that people have when coming to the border.

 

 

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One of the office complex housing Nigeria and Benin government agencies

A lot of people approach the border with trepidation not because of anything but because they feel the borders are places where they are subjected to a lot of “unnecessary checks”.What we tried to do is simplify that process and make it user friendly.People that are coming to the border should not feel intimidated, they should not be scared.They should be happy approaching the borders especially for those that are engaged in legitimate businesses.We have gotten rid of a lot of unnecessary checkpoints along this corridor.

 

 

 

 

We are encouraging other security agencies to do the same.Right here at the joint border post, we have harmonized our operations between ourselves, talking about agencies of Nigerian government and Benin Republic Customs in such a way that once we finish handling the goods in transit, it is a lot easier for the people there to handle it because we do joint examination and these issues of double handling are eliminated.

 

 

 

 

The level of cooperation in terms of security of this joint border post is what we are taking seriously because we have noticed that as a result of inadequacies ,especially in the area of power this place is poorly lit especially at night.

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We tried to introduce solar lights that provides a level of illumination that makes it difficult for people to come out here to do unlawful things.We have had a lot of cases of vandalization of electric cables and once they vandalize the cables and there is no light, they carry out all kinds of activities.

 

Between us and Benin Republic, Police and Customs are doing joint patrol to ensure that security is tightened and people can do their businesses either in the day or night because Operations at the border is 24/7.There is no break time ,no closing time at the borders.

 

 

Another thing we also want to do is easing movement for vehicles of people that regularly travel across the borders.We have Nigerians that are residents in Benin Republic or Benin citizens resident in Nigeria . They always have business to do in either of both countries and most of them come in their vehicles and the procedure for moving vehicles across the borders requires some kind of bond to ensure that the vehicles are return. This is to avoid people using that as a channel for smuggling in vehicles.

 

We have automated that process and we have asked Consular offices to provide us with the comprehensive list of all the vehicles that they have because sometimes, smugglers use consular number plates to smuggle.Once they give us that information and we put it in our data base, anytime anybody comes with any vehicle using such numbers on it, we already have the details and so it will be very difficult for them to beat our system.

 

We are making it a lot easier for legitimate business people to move across the borders and at the same time making it very difficult for people that want to compromise the system to do so.

 

With traders that are bringing in small amounts of goods mainly edibles like pineapple, coconut, tomatoes, we made it easier for them to declare such as baggage declarations. They may look small but a closer look at the cumulative data shows quite a number of trading activities

 

Seme alone has recorded over N8 billion in export.Some of these things are counted as what we do.The Seme-Krake joint border post is the most significant along the Lagos-Abidjan corridor for both ETLS(ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme)goods ,that is goods produced within the sub-region and for exports within the sub-region.They are either transiting into Nigeria through this border or they are transiting out of Nigeria through this border.

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Q: Let us look at Customs community Relations in the border communities.How are you able to manage their plurality of interest, and their ever increasing demand from the government and its agencies?

 

 

We enjoy a very cordial relationship with the border communities here at Seme.As you know, most of these communities actually traverse both countries.We have a community half of which is in Nigeria and the other half is in Benin Republic.In managing them, we have to deal with the traditional heads and these are traditional heads that are recognized in both of these countries.The traditional heads have been very cooperative.They have been very supportive because everytime we had issues that had to do either with sensitization or advocacy,they have always helped us to carry on the message of the service and the government to their people.

 

A few of them can be strong headed and we have to deploy other means of interacting with them.Here, we use sport as a tool for that and we are fully in support of Badagry United for example.It is a football club that has made a huge impact on the local football game.They have done tremendously well in FA cup.I think the last time they participated, they ended up in the quarter finals.We used that because a lot of the young people that engage in some of these unwholesome practices like moving goods across borders they have keen interest in sports.

 

If we can engage them through sports, it would go a very long way to reduce the activities in other areas and we plan to do more.We plan to engage them not just with football or soccer but with other kinds of sports.We intend to go to the primary and secondary schools and actively engage them in inter-house sports and school debates so that we could make them see the angle from which we are coming and see that we are actually there to support them in both academic and other endeavours.Those are the tools with which we engage the communities.

 

The support have been very encouraging not only from traditional rulers even from the Local Government Chairmen.We have visited all of them, and they are very open to further cooperation with the Nigeria Customd Service.

 

 

Q:Expectedly, lawful and unlawful activities tend to be on the increase during Yuletide periods.To what extent are you prepared to manage that aspect of the border life?

 

 

We are beginning to see increase in the number of travelers.Nigerians that live within ECOWAS and even beyond have been coming in.There is a surge .One thing that we are prepared to do is to increase the number of persons that will attend to their needs.

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Somethings are often overlooked when people are in transit . One of it is the convenience of the passengers themselves.Here, what we try to do is provide facilities that will enable them relieve themselves after the long journey. While we are making it easy for them, we are also doubling our efforts in terms of inspection of their means of conveyance because we know that some questionable characters will like to seize this opportunity to move certain goods or commodities that are prohibited.

 

In that area also, we heightened our examination of the means of conveyance and the checks on the people that are in transit.We know that majority of these individuals are going about their normal duties, they are not intent on breaking the law.We are trying to make that as seamless as possible for them especially Nigerian citizens.They should feel at home and be happy coming back home.Our intention is to make their trip a lot more enjoyable through Seme

 

Q:Let’s look at non-intrusive inspection.I took a walk round the border this morning and I saw the non-functional mobile scanners . To what extent is Seme border embracing technology, ICT and particularly non-intrusive inspection?

 

 

We recently had a visit with officials from ECOWAS and the EU.This facility was built by ECOWAS with the support from the European Union.They did a recent audit of this facility with a view to resolve some of the challenges that we have here, primarily among which is the scanners and the weigh bridge.

 

 

 

 

We also have scanners that are at the walkway where persons pass through .The kind of scanners we have at our airports,both domestic and international wings.They did an audit of these equipment and the contractor responsible for installing and maintaining the scanner has been summoned to come back to site to see that they are operational.

 

 

 

We expect that they will be here.It is the responsibility of ECOWAS to see that these things work and they have shown good fate first by deploying their officers to do these assessments and we have seen the letter that has instructed the contractor, after the ruling of the court , to return back to site and get the scanners operational.We believe that in the not too distant future, this equipment will be functional and we can begin to enjoy non-intrusive inspections here like in other places

 

 



Ismail Aniemu

Ismail Aniemu, Publisher of JournalNG and ghost writer, is a maritime journalist of over two decades' of practice with multidisciplinary background. He holds a masters degree in Transport Management from Ladoke Akintola University of Technology(LAUTECH) with bias for logistics. He is also an alumnus of the Times Journalism Institute where he obtained a post graduate diploma in Journalism. Email: ismail.aniemu@aol.com

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