TEN of the Benin Republic Customs are extorting Nigerian businessmen and agents at Seme border and also subjecting them to multiple duty payments, which violates the Economic Community of West African States (EECOWAS) treaty.
Some importers, who don’t want their names mentioned, told our correspondent that cargoes billed for Nigeria from Benin Republic are now being subjected to multiple duty payment by the Beninoise Customs. “Besides, they collect extra charges of between N80, 000 and N100, 000, which are not receipted just to get our cargoes and trucks to the Nigerian side of the border,” the businessmen said.
But under ECOWAS treaty, trucks conveying goods from Benin Republic to Nigeria are designated as transit goods, which ordinarily should attract minimal duty having satisfied the import regulation law of Benin Republic but the customs ignore this.
The importers said the problem arose as a result of the ECOWAS joint development project sponsored by the European Union (EU), which has forced the Nigeria Customs Service, Seme command and other security agencies around the border to relocate their offices to the Nigeria end of the border.
The relocation was necessitated by the plan to demolish the ECOWAS building, which hitherto accommodated the security agencies, such as the Immigration, Customs, Port Health, Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and other security agencies.
Investigation by The Nation revealed that Customs officers in Cotonou are imposing unreasonable levy on goods coming to Nigeria under the guise of opening of seal and demurrage levies before such goods are allowed to be loaded on trucks coming to the country.
Confirming the development, one of the importers at the border, Mr Segun Adebayo, alleged that Customs officers from Benin Republic are impeding trade facilitation programme of the ECOWAS treaty, through that act.
A clearing agent, Mr Sunday Balogun, confirmed that Cotonou Customs officers extort Nigerian business people at the border.
“These extortion tendencies often impede trade facilitation because Nigerian importers or their agents are forced to wait until we give them money. These undignified levies need to be looked into at inter-governmental level,” he said.
When contacted, spokesman of Seme Customs command, Mr Ernest Olota, who spoke on behalf of his Comptroller, Sadiq Abubakar Sahabi, said his boss would investigate the matter. He said the revenue profile of the command has improved tremendously because of the new measures introduced by Sahabi, which has resulted in speedy clearance of goods and reduction in smuggling in the area.
The command’s processing unit showed that about 800 declarations were cleared between January and October last year. Records of seizure accounted for 378 with a duty paid value of N579.823 million. He said the achievement recorded was a reflection of sense of duty, patriotism and the determination of his officers and men to suppress smuggling around the border.
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‘Benin Customs extort Nigerian importers, agents’