Seme and Idi Iroko land borders are buzzing with increased commercial activities as many vehicle importers, agents and dealers in Abuja, Lagos and other parts of country have literally relocated to the two major land frontiers to clear what may be described as the last batch of imported vehicles before the expiration of the December 31, 2016, deadline given by the Federal Government.
The Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Hameed Ali, on December 5 this year, released the bombshell that the federal government had banned importation of vehicles via land borders, effective January 1, 2017. He added that all further imports of automobiles must be via the seaports as it is with rice.
Although discordant tunes greeted the planned ban, with the House of Representatives urging the government to rescind its decision on it, dealers are taking no chances and have, massively, begun clearing their vehicles to avoid unpalatable consequences.
In a telephone interview with Daily Sun yesterday, a car dealer in Abuja, Jeff Agumba said he had since relocated to Seme to monitor the clearance of his vehicles which arrived mid December to Cotonou port.
“The government has given us the deadline. We’ve less than five days to go. That’s a short time; so we must act fast even though we don’t like it because it is not in the interest of the masses; but we have to comply. Any vehicle that arrives from January 1, 2017, via the land borders is considered illegal. Most of us here in Abuja have moved to either Idi Iroko or Seme borders, where our vehicles are, to tidy and speed up clearance; no Christmas for us. That is the price we have to pay,” he said.
Confirming the rise in vehicle imports via Seme border, the Public Relations Officer of the Command, Taupyen Selechang, in a telephone conversation, said there had been an upsurge in vehicle clearing with few days to the deadline handed down by the government.
“With few days to the end of 2016, we’ve witnessed a surge in volume of vehicles cleared at Seme here. In fact, the number of vehicles in transit escorted from neighbouring ports to our border have also increased. The importers and agents obviously don’t want to be caught napping. They want to beat the December 31 deadline,” he said.
A clearing agent, Madu Paschal said he has been at the Idi Iroko border to clear his cargo.
“The vehicles have arrived. They’re passing through Seme, but there are other things I’m expecting via Idi Iroko; so, I’m here to clear everything. January 1 is here already. I don’t want to be caught on the wrong side of the law,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Managing Director of Ports and Terminal Multi-services Limited (PTML) Terminal, Mr. Ascanio Russo has said the government may save as much as N200 billion annually from the ban of vehicles via land borders, even as he described the ban as long overdue.
While totally supporting government’s decision, the PTML boss said the government’s revenue was not properly captured via land border clearance, stressing that countless diversion of vessels loaded with vehicles to neighbouring ports further depleted government’s revenue, as the same vehicles were smuggled into the country via the land borders, thus, evading Customs duties and taxes.
To make Nigerian seaports more attractive to importers, Russo urged the government to consider a downward review of vehicle tariffs, pointing out that it was the hike in charges that originally precipitated the use of land borders, thus, making smuggling to thrive.
“We are confident and hopeful that the government may want to go a step further and review, downward, the level of duties applied on used vehicles to make them affordable for the Nigerian people,” he said.