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Seme: The gateway of Benin ports to Nigeria

Their reason is that the border is porous and the Benin Republic government appears to be aiding the act of smuggling which has castrated businesses…

Their reason is that the border is porous and the Benin Republic government appears to be aiding the act of smuggling which has castrated businesses in Nigeria.
President of the group, Mr. Devakumar V.G. Edwin said,   hitherto, his members’ companies have sacked over 270,000 people either due to complete closure or massive reduction in capacity utilisation.
The Seme border is notorious for smuggling of all sorts of goods and human trafficking of Nigerians seeking greener pasture in Europe. Also, West African children recruited to work for low wages on plantations in Central Africa are transported through the border.
According to Wikipedia, Seme is the major crossing point for immigrants entering or leaving Nigeria illegally, and for smugglers of marijuana and other illegal goods.
In recent time, the border has also become a bedlam of violence between the smugglers, officials of the Nigeria Customs Service, including other law enforcement agents along the road.
The issue at stake
The group said the nature of the smuggling going on along the Seme border is beyond ordinary as it is now   a “state-sponsored smuggling” by Republic of Benin.
The group said smugglers had shown to be directly encouraged by the government of the Republic of Benin, leading to the closure of 53 out of its 145 member companies.
According to them, it is necessary for the Federal Government to shut the borders between the two countries in order to save businesses and jobs of Nigerians.
“We are aware of the other challenges which face our businesses in Nigeria such as power deficiency and other infrastructure issues, but the problem of smuggling, particularly one supported by the government of the Republic of Benin, is the primary killer of manufacturing efforts in Nigeria’’
The group explained that the Federal Government should take far-reaching measures such as the closure of all border points between the two countries, to make a strong statement against the criminal act.
The group said elements within the government of the Francophone nation, which borders Nigeria from the west, were firmly behind the intractable problem of smuggling that had engulfed virtually all arms of the nation’s productive sector.
Smuggling castrates businesses
The group believes that smuggling killed vibrant sectors in the country such as the tyre industry, where the two main indigenous manufacturers – Michelin and Dunlop have relocated outside the shores of Nigeria.
According to the group, smuggling was also responsible for the ill-fate that hit the textile industry, making it impossible for the various government interventions to address the problem effectively.
“The textile industry used to be the most vibrant sector in Nigeria, employing the highest number of people after government but it has been damaged by this hydra-headed problem of smuggling, which we have come to see is supported directly or indirectly by the government of Benin Republic’’
The group said the situation in the case of rice demonstrated the complicity of the authorities of the Benin Republic in the massive smuggling of the commodity into Nigeria.
Its President said   there was no other reason why the Francophone country should import 2.3 million tonnes of parboiled rice yearly, when its people culturally do not consume it.
He said in the Republic of Benin, what the people culturally  consume is raw rice.
“So all the 2.3 million tonnes of rice that land at their ports are targeted at the Nigerian market and they ensure that most of this rice comes in through illegal channels, thereby knocking off locally produced Nigerian rice from the market,” Edwin explained.
Suspicion
According to the group, while Benin Republic   has been sponsoring the smuggling of goods into the Nigerian market, its government imposes extremely prohibitive tariffs on goods manufactured in Nigeria.
The group lamented the country’s relentless effort towards preventing the implementation of the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS), which orders all countries in the ECOWAS sub-region to allow the movement of indigenously produced goods freely from country-to-country without inhibition, particularly when the destination country does not produce such items locally.
Senior official of Seme Command of the Nigeria Customs Service told our correspondent that in 2013, Nigeria lost N1, 987,249,832.55 to the concession. He said during the period in review, ETLS compliant goods with a CIF value of N6, 821, 81, 86,901.38 were cleared through the command.
In 2003, the government of Olusegun Obasanjo imposed a stiffer sanction on the Benin Republic over the disturbing rate of smuggling. Government closed the western border with Benin and said it would remain closed until the Beninois government took action against smuggling along the 700 kilometre border.
Several travelers were stranded at the main border crossing Seme after Obasanjo’s government ordered the border gates to be closed.
The Nigerian government said it made several complaints to the Beninois government, but failed to elicit the appropriate and satisfactory response.
The decision to close our border with Benin Republic, Obasanjo said, was taken in Nigeria’s overriding interest.
But the Seme Area Command of Nigeria Customs Service recently extended arms of fellowship to the police in Lagos with a view to tackling smuggling.
Willy Egbudin, Customs Area Commander of the command regretted that some inhabitants of Seme border take smuggling as their trade, adding that his command has been employing intelligence to tackle it with a view to preventing violence.
He urged the police to support the efforts of his command.
He said, his command’s patrol led by Superintendent of Customs, Aina Olufemi, recently tracked 1 Volkwagen,1 Iveco and 1 Ford buses being loaded with rice, bales of second hand clothes and other smuggled goods worth   N7.5million
He said last year, his command made 1,102 seizures with a Duty Paid Value (DPV) of N548,389,417.00, adding that this is a significant improvement on the seizures made in the corresponding year of 2012 where only 480 seizures with a DPV of N227,035,726.00 was recorded.
According to him, 29 suspects arrested in connection with the seizures are at various stages of investigation and prosecution.
He said goods seized during the period comprised motor vehicles, motorcycles, frozen poultry products, rice, spirits, second hand clothes, shoes, bags etc.
He said the Export Section of the command facilitated the export of made in Nigeria goods with Free on Board value of N10, 820,776,333.10 in 2013
 But he said the marshy and swampy nature of vast land area of the command tends to limit the movement of his men to chase smugglers.
There are concerns that the demand of the group is contrary to the treaty obligations of members of the Economic Community of West African States which pledged to   allow free movement of people and goods among them.
 Stakeholders in the maritime sector said the Federal Government should hearken to the call of the group in order to stem the tide of the increasing smuggling along the Seme border. They said doing so became necessary in order to stave off further danger that may arise as a result of the unbridled smuggling from the Republic of Benin.
Mr Afeez Orilowo,a maritime expert, said Nigeria and Benin Republic can still work   on the smuggling issue without damaging the long standing diplomatic ties between them.

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