Our fight against cross-border smugglers – Bomodi, Customs Area Controller, Seme Command – The Sun Nigeria
13 mins read

Our fight against cross-border smugglers – Bomodi, Customs Area Controller, Seme Command – The Sun Nigeria

By Usim’s ears

Comptroller Timi Bomodi, Customs Area Controller at the Seme Area Command, is a smuggler’s worst nightmare.

Although soft-spoken, he is very tough on criminals, whom he describes as economic destroyers who must be crushed.

In close cooperation with various border communities, Bomodi has boldly cracked down on smugglers and in recent months has transported huge contraband worth billions of naira.

He also attaches great importance to standards and recommended practices and has repeatedly advised members of the border community to follow the rules of engagement to ensure lasting peace and progress.

In this interview, he talks about the state of affairs in his command and other plans.

Activities over the last five months

The first five months of operations here at Seme have been interesting. We look at operations from the perspective of our primary responsibilities, which are to first facilitate legitimate trade, collect revenues for the government and enforce fiscal policy. When we look at it from these three perspectives, we see that we are doing quite well. When we talk about trade facilitation, we are talking about imports and exports. Here we have done exceptionally well in facilitating exports as there has been a maximum increase in the number of goods that have left the country for other neighboring African countries. We have seen significant growth in the volume, value and variety of products exported from the country. In the area of ​​imports, we saw some growth at a time when ECOWAS had a problem with the government in the Niger Republic as a result of the coup that took place there. When the borders were closed, other traders who would normally choose this axis to trade shifted their trade towards this axis and we saw an increase in imports. We also noticed that as borders reopened, these numbers started to decline. I just want to emphasize that the Seme-Krake joint border post is fully open. It has been open for several years and we have the same opportunities to facilitate imports and exports as other ports, I mean seaports and other borders open to trade. The only goods that cannot be imported through this common border post are used cars and other items that are prohibited by fiscal policy, commodity policy and cannot form part of this axis. As I said, we are looking at trade facilitation, which we have done exceptionally well. We are looking at revenue generation and this year we started with an expected target of about N650,000,000 per month to collect, but as I mentioned, due to the reopening of the border in Niger, we have seen a slight decline in the expected revenue and we are now at about 85-87 percent of the expected revenue. Either way, we are also achieving results beyond what could have been achieved during the same period last year. We are doing approximately 272 percent more than the same period last year, which is truly remarkable. This is a lot and these numbers make us happy. The failure to achieve the goal was due to certain reasons and for some of these reasons we found that we were well beyond the control of the Service. We have problems with the exchange rate, high customs duties imposed on goods transiting from the Republic of Benin, high shipping charges charged by shipping companies on goods and containers destined for Nigeria. All of this has actually scared off potential traders from this axis and the fact that our systems, much of what we do between us and the Republic of Benin, is not automated as it is in the port, although they are significant. We have achieved benefits in harmonizing the IT infrastructure of the customs administrations of Nigeria and the Republic of Benin. These things affect potential users because their main concern would be the quick evacuation of goods from ports to warehouses. Although we know that we have a strategic advantage in the form of proximity to the port of Cotonou and easy access to the market itself due to the proximity of the two main markets in the country: Alaba and Trade Fairs, it is necessary to take into account the concerns of entrepreneurs, which we have done in the Benin axis. We contacted them and tried to tell them that they have a lot to gain if the trading frequency increases due to the potential of the market. A key element of border operations is the law enforcement aspect. We know that due to the nature of our border, so many entry points need to be manned. People use these widely scattered locations to carry out certain illegal activities. We made huge attacks. For those who were trying to import rice illegally, those who were trying to get premium motor spirit (gasoline) out of the country, those who were importing drugs or marijuana, we looked at the trends and types of methods these people were using, either by water or on land. As we try to adapt to new ways, we also try to find new ways to catch them. We have achieved great success in these areas. We have also had great success in implementing the Convention on Illegal Trade in Endangered Species, as it is commonly known, CITES. We have made mass arrests of people trying to transport birds protected under CITES, and even turtles and other protected species, in line with our commitments to international wildlife. Protecting certain species of wildlife and fauna because it is the foundation of our existence. Protecting the environment, some of the species in our ecosystem, is also of paramount importance as the world moves towards maintaining ecological stability, ensuring that the ecosystem is preserved in such a way that we as humans can live in harmony with nature and strive to cultivate a sustainable economy. environment. Looking at these three aspects, we did very well in the first five months. We hope it gets better as the year goes on.

The CG recently established a task force to conduct an operation codenamed Operation a whirlwind to curb the smuggling of petroleum products from Nigeria and I know that this border has done well in the past in intercepting such products.

Customs and border community relations

Communities play a very significant role in ensuring we deliver on our mandate. Indeed, no government agency will be able to function properly without the support of local communities and that is why, as Area Controller, I have worked with renowned community leaders, including Obas, High Chiefs and eminent personalities in the community, with the aim that they not only understand the government’s thinking but they also believed in this thinking and then provided help when needed.

We saw this come into play when the government asked us to stop exporting some grains from the country because we saw that we were starting to experience shortages of grains in the market, which had a significant impact on food security in the country. The Nigeria Customs Service had to take action to ensure that the export of these products was restricted, but before we did that, we engaged with these communities, explained the government’s position to them, gained their support and managed to get them to come to our side because they practically became like our spokesman .

They began to engage with people in their community and encouraged them to think with us and cooperate with us in the actions we were about to take at that time. This gave very good results.

The stakeholder engagement was fantastic. They also provided us with useful intelligence where necessary. Many of the acquisitions that we have made have been made through information that we have obtained from some of the residents in this community. It is quite a cordial and symbiotic relationship because the Nigerian Customs Service has made it their duty to provide access to our community and also to provide access to our facilities to host communities. We have our clinic here, which is not just a clinic for customs officers, but a clinic for all residents of the community. We also have a school here, which is significantly supported by the service, and we also have other facilities that are used by the residents of our commune. We have several communities for whom we have built toilets to help them perform their duties.

Regarding Operation Whirlwind, the operation initiated by the Controller General and carried out by some of our colleagues. We have an obligation to cooperate with them 100 percent, but we have not rested on our oars before their arrival. We have made significant arrests in this area. In the last three months alone, we have arrested over 12,000 barrels of gasoline with a capacity of approximately 30 liters each. This equates to approximately 8 tankers carrying 45 tons of PMS, and that’s a lot. If we add what we have achieved since the beginning of this year, we are talking about approximately 12 to 13 tankers loaded with fuel, which is the equivalent of about two of them per month, which is huge. We don’t claim that we do it 100%, but we hit where it matters most – in their pockets. We know that as the winds of this operation come, regardless of the constraints that we have as a command, they will be able to add support, and if we do that, it is possible that they will be able to perform as much as twice as good, regardless of the type of support they receive. We look forward to working closely with them to completely stop this particular challenge of smuggling of petroleum products. We are looking forward to this close collaboration.

At the Seme-Krake joint border post, the Customs Office is considered the lead agency, which is true, but here we have the full complement of all other government agencies that may be working in the port operating here. The relationship between us is very cordial, we meet regularly to discuss our challenges and propose joint solutions to these challenges. We are constantly interacting with each other.

While we were talking, the Head of the Department of State Security tried to enter. He is here every morning, we share notes on matters bordering not only trade, but also security, and this is this is the case with NAFDAC, NDLEA, SON. Everyone is fully represented here. If we need to come together to solve a specific problem, we do so, but we are all on the same page about each trader following trade processes and procedures, complying with trade regulations and simply complying with the regulations. We have not had any major conflict between us and we hope to stay that way because we all understand that the chain we have built here between the security agencies will only be as strong as the weakest link between us. We have no intention of maintaining any weak link. We want every link to be strong, so that the security around this corridor is also strong.

Multiple checkpoints

This is a common trend here on this side of the border. You won’t see this if you go to the Republic of Benin. From Benin to Ghana, you won’t see so many security personnel on the roads, mounting roadblocks or having checkpoints. This is a problem unique to us in Nigeria and in my opinion it needs to be addressed at the highest level of government because as Customs we can only focus on what we do as an organization. The other security agencies you mentioned have leadership and we hope that the government will talk to their leadership to ensure sanity and decency on this side of the road because that is the impression they give to would-be traffickers. Anyone who comes from outside this country who wants to experience what it’s like to do business here, and they’ll find that it will discourage them from doing business, and that’s not what we want. We want more people to come here to invest, we want to see a freer flow of trade, and if that is to happen, they must also consider whether not to completely eliminate these checkpoints, but whether very few of them on the roads.