At a brief media parley shortly after taking over as Customs Area Controller of Seme Border Command, Comptroller Timi Bomodi told journalists that plans are on to address perceived trade inhibitions, including multiple checkpoints.
The new controller also hinted of his plans to block revenue leakages and strengthen trans border trade in the country’s busiest land frontier serving proximate states like Benin, Togo,Ghana, Cote D’voire and others
Q: There is an endless chain of checkpoints along the road to this place. I counted 33 police checkpoints on my way here. These road blocks inhibit trade. How will you manage this?
A: It’s not our primary task to pay attention to everything that happens on this corridor.Our purview is centered mainly on trade .Those other personnel from our sister agencies that are on this corridor, I am sure at a strategic level, that issue is being addressed and not just addressed superficially, they would be going.
By our last meeting at Abuja that we earlier alluded to, there is supposed to be a concerted effort to ensure that those that are not supposed to be on this corridor do not come back either temporarily or in the long term.
It is vital because that was one of the issues that was addressed by both administrations(Nigeria and Benin) and we don’t think we are unique in any way.
I am sure that if you travel from Cotonou to Cote D’Ivoire, you will not see what we are experiencing here.Short distances have been made long.it is not encouraging for trade and hopefully those that are responsible for managing the affairs of these sister organisations would take the bull by the horn and ensure that these multiple points of check are eliminated from this corridor eventually.
We have no doubts that with the resolve at the highest level of the presidency, that will come to fruition in no distant time.The best form of inter-agency cooperation is like what we are doing already .Having regular interactions.
As I said, each agency has its own responsibilities but there are points where these responsibilities intercept but it is not to remove focus from whatever primary objective of these individual agencies.That is why everywhere you see customs operating, you will see that in the course of carrying out our functions, some things that affect our sister agencies comes up.
Even though we execute our functions ultimately, we refer to the judgement of sister agencies on matters that fall under their purview, because that is their primary responsibility and we have interactions with NDLEA, NAFDAC, SON and others.
All of these sister agencies work together in such a way that they optimise that synergy and ensure that we deliver the safest service to the public.There is no other way than constant interaction and we will be engaging on a regular basis. As a matter of fact, that also forms part of the agreement in the discussion we had .
We agreed to meet strategically on a quarterly basis, not just us and other government agencies but other stake holders even up to the chambers of commerce.Anything that affects trade within this corridor will be checked and engaged. hopefully our engagements will yield productive results at the end
Q: A lot of features make this border stand out. Tell us about your main goals as you assume office
A:Concerning my main goals, I’ll like to refer back to the meeting that was held in Abuja because it is a fundamental game changer.When two customs administrations or two countries agree to align their policies, standard operating procedures, and a lot of things, because the objective is to facilitate trade,we have no option than to key into that vision.
It is not going to be like before .If what was proposed is going to come into the fruition, it means that the functions of Nigeria Customs Service is going to extend beyond these borders and it will go right into the corridors of Benin Republic.These have been the operations of Benin Republic with themselves beyond this border and they will go right into our ports.
It will be a symbiotic relationship and we cannot expect something less than what you give .We expect to achieve excellence on both sides of the divide and hopefully, it will be transformative .The results will be huge.Once we enhance trade, the capacity to generate more revenues will also be enhanced and people, goods and services can move freely on this corridor.
Q: How will your operations here rub off on implementation and promotion of the AfCFTA agreement?
We are talking about the African Free Trade Agreement ,and what that entails is generating revenue in thrillions of dollars from trade within the continent, you know what it means.It is totally transformative for Africa.We need to trade more along this corridor and we cannot trade more if our processes are not properly aligned, if our systems are not properly aligned and if the thinking of both sides of the divide are not properly synchronised .
We expect to do that and achieve these goals and even more. I intend to tackle revenue, leakages and smuggling.Smuggling is a global phenomenon but we are particular about smuggling, revenue, leakages and we will attack it from both the strategic and enforcement levels.
Q: Tell us about your planned customs community relations strategy
We need to keep engaging individuals around this area because we do know that the borders are clear that you can tell where a country starts and another country ends.At this point of intersection, we have people that live along this corridor, and it makes it a lot more difficult to execute our mandate if we don’t engage them properly.
We need to engage with them and make them understand the impact of smuggling on the society just so that we can get their support or buy in when we want to carry out our schedules and responsibilities.
We also need to reinform our stake holders that there is always a legitimate way to carry out their business.Not everything needs to be done in that same old fashion and illegitimate way.
The government has provided tools and facilities for us that will enable legitimate trade so why don’t we adopt these tools and facilities to carry out our businesses to promote trade and security because both of them go hand in hand.
If trade facilitation is properly done, it will obviously increase revenue and reduce smuggling.We intend to pursue it from those perspectives, hopefully,we will be able to achieve our objectives.