…Importers, commuters cry out as Custom officials lament dwindling revenue
By ZIKA BOBBY
Echoes filtering from the Lagos-Seme dual carriage road are not musical to the ears. Anger, distress and sadness Daily Sun learnt are resonating in the air following the myriad of problems many that use the road have been left to deal with on daily basis. Commuters, traders, businessmen and women and even officials of the Nigerian Custom Service and other nationals using the road are complain about the deplorable state the facility lately.
They are united in their will and words that the state of things on the road is sending trans border trade between the country and other members of the ECOWAS sub region crashing down hill. Many failed portions of the road are increasing by the day. And with the increasing presence of bandits waylaying unsuspecting commuters at the bad spots, traveling on the road has become nothing but a nightmare. Now, some stakeholders are saying that unless the Federal government begins to rehabilitate the road, businesses that depend on it to thrive will die off and that may not be long.
Some of such businesses Daily Sun gathered are mainly transport services and cross border trading. And there is no forgetting the revenue officials of the Customs Service operating at the border post collect on dutiable goods. The later can increase or decrease depending on if the safety and condition of the road. Daily Sun gathered that in the past months, the Customs command’s revenue profile in the third quarter of 2012 shows a steady decline apparently due to many traders shunning to use the road because of its worsening situation.
According to the Public Relations Officer, (PRO) Nigerian Customs Service, Seme Border Command, DSC Olota Ernest, the nature of the road taken a drastic toll on the revenue returns of the command in the last couple of months. He said the month of August was particularly affected when the ECOWAS trans border, Cargoes Truck Drivers’ Union, down tools in protest against the deteriorating nature of the road.
The union’s spokesman Alhaji Usman Y. (aka oldsoja) had lamented that their action was to draw the attention of relevant authorities to the worsening state of the road and the plight of his members. “Day in and out, trucks falling on the road has become a regular feature. The bad situation of the road is steadily destroying our vehicles as well as the cargoes we carry. Most times, lives are lost; our innocent colleagues sustain injuries while some of us easily get maimed.
Some of our colleagues who manage to arrive at their various destinations in Lagos, often have tales of woos about damages suffered by their vehicles.” In addition to bad roads, the trans border drivers lamented that they also have armed bandits to contend with. Mr. Yusuf regretted that the failed portions of the international route, which was once the pride of the sub region, have become safe heavens for hoodlums who waylay the drivers and rob their vehicles of the goods they are carrying. He said: “Because the road is bad, armed robbers hold sway at night.
They attack truck drivers and motorists at bad spots once it’s dark; they rob their victims of cash and other valuables.” Responding, DSC Ernest regretted the plight of the drivers. He told the drivers’ union that it was unfortunate that its members have been having such problems to deal with. Describing the situation as disturbing, he expressed sadness that his Command was not in the proper position to handle the situation, stating that his officers too have been encountering similar challenges.
“My colleagues who reside outside the barracks go through hell daily while going to or coming from their duty posts at Seme. Most of our officers at one time or the other have encountered similar problems in the course of carrying out their official duties. Most of them too have had their vehicles constantly damaged or attacked by armed bandits. This often makes them arrive late to office or home,” he said. He further told the drivers that the basic responsibility of the Customs Service was to collect revenue on dutiable goods on behalf of the Federal Government but promised that he would channel their complains to the appropriate authorities after briefing his bosses.
He however applauded them for the peaceful way they conducted themselves and presented their grievances. In a related development, the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) Seme chapter has expressed serious concern over the worsening state of the international road. ANLCA chairman Patrick Ozubialu, in a recent meeting with Seme chapter members extensively discussed the state of the road and concluded that something urgent needed to be done before they would be completely thrown out of business.
He told Daily Sun that a series of SOS letters had been sent to the office of the Minister of Works Mr Mike Onolememen in Abuja to put him in the picture of the deplorable state of the road. He said regrettably, no response had come from his office. He revealed that as a major stakeholder in the trans border trade, at a point, his members decided to assist in repairing the road to ensure that everyone remained in business. He expressed surprise that officials of the Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) stormed the failed portions and ordered them to leave.
“Sometimes last year, we mobilised to fix some bad spots on the road, but FERMA officials accused us of trespassing and threatened to arrest and prosecute whoever attempted to effect repairs of any nature on them . It’s sad that those responsible for the road’smaintenance could shamelessly act in such a way,” he said. He regretted that his association was worse hit by the unfortunate development, but urged that that some immediate measures be taken to salvage the road condition.
An agent and a regular user of the road, Dr Leo Behora, who is the Managing Director of Budu Synergy Concept Ltd, decried the poor state of the road. He said being the major artery connecting most ECOWAS states with Nigeria and one of the economic livewires of the nation, something drastic needed to be done to save the road and its users. “It shouldn’t be left uncared for,” he said. “This road ought to be receiving priority and regular attention in terms of maintenance and security from the Federal government through FERMA and the police.
A number of times, I have witnessed the snatching of diplomatic cars and attacks on top-flight diplomats on this road. This does not speak well about us. In fact, the scenario is a serious indictment on our security operatives. It doesn’t portray us in good image at all,’’ he lamented. Alhaji Garba Barade, CEO, Barade General Concepts, said on many occasions, he had been compelled to lead his trucks cautiously, especially at night, to avoid accidents, falling of truck and breakdowns. “Those failed portions on the road are very bad. Each time we get there, I also ensure that my drivers drive very carefully. But unfortunately when you are arrive there and you are trying to slow down, robbers spring out from their hiding places and pounce on the trucks.
Those portions are simply robbers’ dens. They just emerge from the surrounding bushes and attack commuters at will, disarm their victims, rob them of their valuables and then vanish into the bushes. Policemen are sometimes called in to man such spots.” Against this backdrop, another stakeholder Aliyu Sule of Maguesto Nigeria limited, called for the rehabilitating and reconstruction of the road. He reasoned that the maintenance of the road ought to be key priority of government. “Nigeria has one of the largest road networks in Africa.
Recently the Minister of Works recently announced the revocation of the contract for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Lagos-Ibadan expressway due to none performance by the contractor. This shows that no thorough investigation was executed to ascertain the contractor’s competence, capability or proven record to handle a project of such magnitude prior to awarding the contract. Federal Government should know that the repair of this expressway is long overdue.
The government should act fast to prevent further carnage on this road, which is of vital economic importance to the country. “Custom officials say their revenue collection has not been impressive having suffered about 40 percent decline compared with the monthly average of over a quarter of a billion the previous year. We foresee an inability to realise the command’s revenue target for the year under the prevailing circumstances,” he said.