Fuel availability gain of border closure –Amaechi

Dickson Okafor

Dennis Amaechi, National Chairman, Import and Export Development Initiative (IIDI), has linked availability of petroleum products especially fuel to the closure of land borders by the Federal Government, adding that the availability of fuel is one of the benefits of the border closure.

He said this feat won’t have been achieved if not for the recent pronouncement directing owners of filling stations to situate them 15km to the border, as against the former 40km, by the Comptroller-General of customs (CGC), Col. Hameed Ali (Rtd).

Amadi saluted the CGC for taking a bold step towards curbing smuggling of fuel to neighboring countries through our borders especially, during yuletide period thereby causing scarcity of fuel.

The former Custom officer relived his experience as a team leader of the Customs Intelligence Unit in Seme Border.

There is availability of fuel this Christmas and New year celebration unlike in the past when motorists queue for days and weeks to access petrol, what would you say is the reason?

To me and many Nigerians, one of the major achievements of the President Muhammadu Buhari led government is availability of petroleum products especially fuel during yuletide seasons since 2015. Like you rightly noted, in the past motorists and car owners go through hell during festive periods just to buy fuel. It improved this year’s Christmas and New Year because of the closure of land borders which has prevented smugglers from transporting fuel and other petroleum products to neighbouring countries illegally. There may be pockets of smuggling going on specially, fuel because smuggling can’t be eradicated completely. However, we must not use this as an excuse to encourage this abuse of fuel supply/usage and smuggling. The main business in most of these borders is fuel smuggling through false bottom of containers, vehicles and other vessels. We don’t refine fuel in Nigeria. Why are we expending foreign exchange on fuel importation which is later smuggled to neighboring countries through our borders? So, the reason for availability of fuel this period can be attributed mainly to border closure. Yes, the policy may be harsh, but let us look at the merit of such harsh decisions. There was an existing promulgation which limits filling stations to 40kms to the borders. Let the Nigerian Customs, DPR, and all towns, relevant agencies work out the threshold quantity of fuel for our borders. An Igbo adage says “If you give a child what is larger than his palm, he would ask, to whom do I share” if the filling stations within the border areas are limited and the supply to such areas are regulated. The indigenes will resist any activity which denies them the use of fuel. Naturally therefore, smuggling will be resisted even by the indigenes. The inhabitants of border settlements are not mainly indigenes. So, they will resist it so that they won’t be thrown into darkness as well as other uses of which fuel serves. I salute again this bold step by the Comptroller General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (Rtd). We also request an urgent synergy between other agencies of government particularly the NNPC, DPR and other subsidiary in making sure that this initiative is harnessed and not misconstrued to mean a pronouncement against border inhabitants.

Many Nigerians will disagree with you on the benefits of the land border closure because it has brought untold hardship on ordinary citizens as price of goods has gone up, what is your take?

I served as a team leader of the Customs Intelligence Unit in Seme Border in the year 2010. During this period, I stumbled on a very disturbing observation in Owode/Yekeme, one of the rivereine border outlets in Seme/Badagry Area Command. Under my intelligence coverage, Owode/Yekeme doesn’t have more than a population of 5, 000 people, and visitors inclusive. I never saw more than 30 established human settlements in form of buildings at that time. I wrote an intelligent report on this stating subject matter unfortunately, the report didn’t see the light of the day. Owode/Yekeme had approved filling stations numbering about 15. The question I asked was how many people will use the fuel in these approved filling stations? Every week as much as 30 tankers of 33, 000 litres of fuel were seen discharging in Owode/Yekeme consistently. I happened to have served for not more than 3 months in that duty post. So, this is to tell you how much fuel that was smuggled to neigbouring countries through our land borders. And I would not know whether that contributed to my brief exit from that posting. All I’m trying to highlight is that the Comptroller-General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali’s (rtd) pronouncement on building more filling stations in the border districts of our border habitations must be viewed critically because these people are Nigerians and must not be disfranchised from having fuel for use especially, when most of our border areas are living on generators given the limitation of our power supply.

Are you saying that smuggling of fuel has stopped since the borders were closed?

There may be pockets of smuggling going on specially, fuel because smuggling can’t be eradicated completely. However, we must not use this as an excuse to encourage this abuse of fuel supply/usage and smuggling. The main business in most of these borders is fuel smuggling.

The previous promulgation of 40km to the border was earlier resisted, what is the assurance that this pronouncement won’t also be resisted soon?

To the extent that this pronouncement states 15kms to the border and not the former 40kms to the border which was resisted, it is ideal. Let’s not throw away the baby with the bath water. It is a development we should tap into hence in a state of emergency; we need some level of fiat. According to the famous Fidel Castro, “In a state of anarchy, it is criminal to be law abiding” filling stations restricted to 15km the border is an improvement on the previous promulgation of 40km to the border. That couldn’t survive for a long time because of its non-workability. Thus, this ideal and must act as an entry into working out modalities for controlling abuses of fuel in the border. Some persons must feel the impact of every act of change.

Your organisation may be viewed as a proponent of President Muhammadu Buhari economic policies; will it be wrong to say that IEDI is government appendage?

As the Chairman of this organization, I have been in this industry for upwards of 40years as a civil servant (Enforcement Operative in the Nigerian Customs Service) for 35 years. I also worked as a consultant and clearing Agent as well as Maritime Advocate s since retired from the Customs.

So, my account and commentary on this industry is that of a Participant Observer and should not be taken as partisan, rabble rousing on mere prose. We are only observing this cardinal objective of educating the public on what is going in the Import and Export corridor as a lot of Nigerians especially those of us in the landlocked states are blind about these realities.

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