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Traders worry over rising extortion on Nigeria-Benin border

Traders, clearing agents and drivers have expressed concerns over the proliferation of checkpoints mounted by security operatives on the Seme Border-Mile 2 corridor. They alleged…

Traders, clearing agents and drivers have expressed concerns over the proliferation of checkpoints mounted by security operatives on the Seme Border-Mile 2 corridor.

They alleged that many of the “illegal” checkpoints were mounted to extort them, a situation they said was stifling their businesses.

The Seme-Mile 2 corridor is a major route that links Nigeria with neighbouring Benin Republic and other countries. Thousands of Nigerians and visitors from the two countries transact businesses along this corridor on daily basis.

Our correspondent, who visited the route last week, observed about 200 checkpoints manned by personnel of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) and the Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS).

At different times, the NCS had promised to ensure seamless movement of cargoes between Nigeria and countries in the sub-region.

The Comptroller-General of the NCS, Bashir Adewale Adeniyi, had, during his first visit to the Seme Border last year, assured the business community that the Service will look into the proliferation of the checkpoints.

The Customs boss had, during his opening remark at the National Trade Facilitation Committee (NTFC) stakeholders retreat held in Lagos last September, admitted that stopping at several checkpoints along the route was causing impediments to facilitating trade.

He however stated that the Service had reduced the number of checkpoints in the corridor from 60 to three, in order to ease business.

“We’ve undertaken a review of our enforcement strategies to ensure that we rationalise the number of Customs’ structures that actually have these checkpoints. And one of the structures that we did away with was the so-called Strike Force, which was abolished and their operations were merged with that of our Federal Operations Unit.

“I gave a marching order to federal operations units and the various Customs commands around the border to rationalise the number of checkpoints. This is work in progress, but I can announce confidently that this has been done.

“I’ll continue to monitor and evaluate it. I came with a controller operations unit to this event and I have confirmation that checkpoints have been reduced to only three between Seme and Mile 2,” the Customs CG had said at that time.

However, investigations by Daily Trust on Sunday showed that close to 200 illegal checkpoints set up by various security agents, including the Customs, were still on the route, with drivers alleging that they were being forced to offer bribes to avoid delay and harassment.

Those visiting friends and relations in the border towns equally alleged harassment, especially by Immigration officers.

From Badagry to the Seme border alone, our reporter counted 80 roadblocks and 45 checkpoints, majority of which were manned by police officers of the Assistant Inspector-General of Police Monitoring Team, the State Commissioner of Police Special Squad and the Area Commander’s Patrol Team.

Also observed were 15 checkpoints between Badagry Roundabout and Gbaji Bridge, mounted by police, Immigration, Customs and quarantine officers.

Traders and clearing agents, under the aegis of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), decried that the proliferation of checkpoints along the corridor was crippling their businesses.

In an interview with Daily Trust on Sunday, the patron of the Seme Chapter of the association, Prince Suleiman Momoh, alleged extortions and harassment of his members along the corridor.

He said more than 100 checkpoints were mounted there during the day, and over 200 at night by police officers.

“The ordeal faced by drivers is much. The extortions by the police and Immigration officers should be looked into.

“What about the negative impression these checkpoints leave on visitors to Nigeria? Excessive security measures could deter potential investors and tourists. I am urging authorities to muster the courage to address the checkpoints’ proliferation.

“There is an urgent need for a systemic reform to combat corruption and ensure a free flow of goods and people along this critical trans-border trade route.

“This one you’re seeing in the afternoon when you’re coming to the office is a small thing. Anything from 7am, the checkpoints you will see from Seme border to Badagry Roundabout alone will be more than 200; mostly manned by the police. You will hear different names like ‘anti-flying’, ‘anti-bomb’, and others. You’ll be thinking that there is war in Nigeria.

“They’ll never ask you about vehicle particulars. They’re only concerned about what you carry in your boot, threatening you with their guns.

“We pray for a government that’ll take the courage to eradicate these checkpoints.

“If a stranger entering Nigeria for the first time passes through the Seme border, he/she will never come back again because he/she will think that there’s a problem or war in Nigeria. It’s very terrible,” Momoh said.

Some of the security officers along the route, who spoke to our correspondent on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to journalists on the issue, explained that they mounted the roadblocks and checkpoints to checkmate activities of smugglers and secure the corridor and its environs.

A senior Customs officer at the Seme border said the Service had only seven checkpoints between Agbara and Seme border.

According to him, Customs officers are manning the only two approved checkpoints at Agbara and Gbaji Bridges, but are merely on patrol at the other five checkpoints for monitoring.

“You should ask the police what they are doing on the roads with their numerous checkpoints. At least, the Nigeria Customs Service has the mandate to be at the border areas.

“The numerous checkpoints you see at the Seme corridor are mostly mounted by the police. You should ask them questions,” the officer said.

A freight forwarder at the Seme border and Secretary of the Board of Trustees of the Association of Registered Freight Forwarders Nigeria (AREFFN), Innocent Elum, also expressed frustration over the proliferation of illegal checkpoints along the corridor.

He said with the recent appointment of Timi Bomodi as the new Customs Area Comptroller at the Seme Command, there had been a significant reduction in Customs’ checkpoints along the Seme-Mile 2 route.

He however alleged that police and Immigration officers continued to operate under the guise of “border drills” long after the border’s reopening.

“It has been like that for God knows how long now,  despite the media reports and all of that. I can tell you for free that no amount of media reports on that road would make the police to leave the road. We’re Nigerians and we know what is happening. That’s where they feed from. And of course, the ones on the road are not the ones to blame. The big men in the offices are the ones who sent them and perhaps they’re collecting “returns” from them to keep them there.

“The DPO cannot tell you that he does not know that his boys are on that road; he knows. And if he knows, then, his Area Commander also will know. And if the Area Commander knows, then, maybe the Commissioner, the AIG and all of them are aware of their presence on the roads.

“They’re probably getting something from them; that’s why no matter how many reports are published by the media (on this development), you’ll always find them there. But if they hear that one big politician is coming, they’ll disappear; which means that these are illegal checkpoints,” Elum said.

A commercial bus driver, Jerry Oponde, who spoke to Daily Trust on Sunday, accused security operatives mounting checkpoints along the route of adding to the masses’ suffering.

“They collect money brazenly from drivers as if it is a right. And if we fail to give them money, they seize our vehicles. The burden of whatever money collected from drivers is passed on to passengers,” he said.

A man selling cotton at the popular Vespa Market at the Ijanikin area of Ojo, John Onyedika, told our correspondent that the harassment of travelers on the Mile 2-Badagry Expressway was becoming a national embarrassment.

He said many travelers had been forced to part with money in order not to be delayed at the checkpoints.

We have only 4 points for checkmating smuggling – Customs

Speaking to Daily Trust on Sunday, the Public Relations Officer of the Seme Command of the Customs Service, Mr. Abdullahi Onawo, reacted to the allegations of multiple checkpoints.


He said the command only maintained one approved checkpoint at Gbaji and three other motorised patrols.

Onawo, a Chief Superintendent of Customs, explained that the three motorised patrols were deployed to checkmate activities of smugglers who prefer using the bush parts.

“One of the motorised patrols has its base in an area known as Yad. This area is known to be smugglers’ exit point from the creeks.

“We also have another one after the bridge at Gbaji, outward Seme. This one too is to check illicit movement of unwholesome goods from the waterways.

“The Nigeria Customs Service does not have any other points aside these ones mentioned,” he emphasised.

Our officers are there to maintain law and order – Police

Also responding to questions about the increasing number of police checkpoints on the Seme-Badagry Highway, the Public Relations Officer of the Lagos State Police Command, Benjamin Hundeyin, told our correspondent on the telephone that police officers seen on the corridor were duly deployed to the area to check movement of criminals.

“Are you, by any way, insinuating that policemen seen on that route are manning illegal checkpoints?  Officers seen there were duly deployed from the zonal command, from the state command and the respective area commands and divisions.

“Their duty is to maintain law and order and to ensure that visitors to Nigeria from other countries in the sub-region go about their business without harassment.

“Travelers should not be embarrassed by the presence of policemen. Travelers should report any unprofessional conduct of policemen to the appropriate authority for adequate disciplinary measure,” he stated.

Our officers there are for border patrol-Immigration

When contacted, the Public Relations Officer of the Seme Command of the Immigration Service, DSI Isaac Elisha, said that the command only handles movement of people within the border post and not outside the border.

He said those on patrol along the Mile 2-Badagry Expressway were from the Border Patrol of the Service.

“The Seme Command is in charge of movement of travelers within the border post and not beyond. Our responsibility is to check those who are going across the border or coming into the country.

“However, we have two commands of the Service at Seme: the Border Patrol and Seme Commands. Those who patrol the length of the road are basically from border patrol and not from Seme,” he said.


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