Idiroko, a borderline between Nigeria and Benin Republic, is notorious for its high smuggling activities. The Ogun State-located border has turned out to be a very challenging area for honest trade facilitation. In this exclusive chat with Uju Ozoeze of SHIPS & PORTS DAILY, Chairman of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) Idiroko border chapter, Overseer Timothy Abel, disclosed that as much as 300 cars are smuggled through the border at a time. He blamed this on the numerous illegal routes that typify the border. (This interview was before the flag-off of the new vehicle transit policy, which is in line with the Transit Code and provides that all Nigeria-bound vehicles from Benin Republic, Cameroun, Chad and Niger Republic are to be handed over to Nigeria Customs by these countries’ customs administration after due clearance).
What are the challenges members of your chapter face operating at Idiroko border?
The only thing threatening my chapter is the rate of smuggling at the border. Smugglers have their way there. Officers prefer to attend to smugglers than to attend to agents, because they get immediate money for their pockets rather than fight for what goes into the Federal Government purse. This is the area we are having difficulties. Most of the big cars that pass through Idiroko pass through illegal routes. This is the reason why we ask the government to give us concession on the duty of these cars to enable us woo them to our chapter. This will enable the government realize more revenue than they get. You know the porosity of Idiroko border is too much, leaving room for smugglers to penetrate it anyhow. Unlike Seme that has only two routes, Idiroko has too many routes. This is the major problem we are having at Idiroko.
What other goods are smuggled through the border?
Mostly cars! Different brands of cars! At times, about 300 cars are smuggled in the night at a time. If you come across them you will be shocked. Also, goods that are prohibited from the country, that is the contraband, are now being smuggled through the border. Items like second- hand clothing, furniture etc. Dutiable goods are also smuggled through the border.
What other operational challenges do your members encounter at the border?
Well, that might be internal ones. Let me start with the officers. When an agent is able to get one consignment to be cleared, given that most of the consignments pass through the bush, the customs officers ensure that they drain the agent. We keep on negotiating with these officers. Notwithstanding that what we receive from our importers is, at times, not enough to clear the goods. Agents have to manage what they are given by their importers in order to survive, but these government agencies look at us as if we are making so much money. Agencies such as Standard Organisation and so on, are enemies of progress, but because they are government bodies, there is nothing we can do. Another one is within us. You know we also have other freight forwarding associations operating at Idiroko. What they do there is divide and rule. They partner with the government officials to face us (ANLCA members). Because they have the backing of officers, we don’t normally see eye to eye. And the officers take advantage of this issue against the main association because our association is the only association on ground that fights for the rights of agents operating there. And we are also the association that generates the major revenue for the government.
Is there a cordial relationship between agents operating at the border and their host community?
With the past Customs Area Controller, we used to have a community forum. We hope that the new controller would embrace this initiative. During the community forum, we discuss with the Nigerians as well as the Beninoise and enlighten them on what they can import and export. The forum is also a platform for us to get to know the community well. We enjoy their cooperation.