When will €11mn ultramodern border facility at Seme open?
In 2014, when construction of an ultramodern border facility commenced at Seme, the border town between Nigeria and Benin Republic, regular travellers on the Lagos-Cotonou-Accra route who were often resented by the delays at the border, the stress of passing through many meandering routes and extortions by the border operatives, were hopeful of a permanent relief in the nearest future.
The €11 million tax and duty-free project, which is a joint venture between ECOWAS and EU, had also passed through the supervision of many contractors who defaulted before it was re-awarded to Grand Enterprise Route, ( GER-SA ) Siam Togo, which finally completed the construction in 2017.
Unlike others whose contracts were terminated earlier for poor performance and delays, Grand Enterprise Route completed the project, though with extension by ECOWAS, despite many challenges. “We encountered many challenges, especially on Benin Republic side of the border like several court injunctions stopping us from demolishing structures on the right of way, traders and transport operators, delay in getting exemption certificate to enable us bring in our equipment and more. That was why we were given extension by ECOWAS”, Ago Soule, site project manager of Grand Enterprise Route, ( GER-SA ) Siam Togo, said at the completion of the job in 2017.
Before the completion, travellers on the route were inconvenienced by the temporary closure of the border and suffered delays on bumpy roads amid extortions that doubled as official surveillance was absent on the rough roads due to the illegalities going on. As well, security operatives at both sides of the border had challenges in carrying out their duties due to the absence of standard operational base.
At the peak of the challenge, the Nigerian Immigration Service used a base, which temporarily belonged to Web Fontane, and also hampered their operations.
However, the question asked by many travellers on that route now that facility is long completed and seems abandoned, especially while passing through the inconvenience of bumpy roads and makeshift security posts, is when will the new gate be opened?
If you visit the border and see the convenience and speedy service the new facility will offer when it opens, you will even ask more questions on why governments of Nigeria and Benin Republic allow their citizens to suffer unnecessarily, and especially allowing extortions to continue unabated.
The new facilities include; scanner for trucks, quarantine office, accommodation for immigration, custom and police officers, passport office, underground prison for criminals, simple detention office for those with minor offences, border post, car park among other conveniences.
With what is on ground, the new facility is ready to run, but it seems lack of political will from both countries and sabotage from border operatives are still keeping it in locks.
It would be recalled that when Victor Dimka, the former Controller of Nigeria Customs Service, Seme Command, visited to inspect the on-going project at the border in 2016, he commended the speed and assured on corporation between the two countries to ensure seamless travel experience for citizens, and his successor who met a completed project had made even much stronger assurance on the opening soon.
The chief of Benin Republic immigration had severally called for the opening. But there is a blame war between the two countries on why the opening of the border facility is delayed. Some blame Nigeria as the ‘big brother’ to lead, while others say Benin Republic is insisting on having upper hand in some issues before the opening and Nigeria will not bend.
An anonymous source at ECOWAS headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria, said that the border facility is ready for use, but the two countries have to agree on terms of operation to ensure that the objectives of building it are met. “The project is a joint venture between ECOWAS and EU and is geared towards building the border to international standards with modern equipment and ensuring seamless travel in line with ECOWAS Protocol on free movement”, the source said.
Martins Olugu, an immigration retiree and security expert, said the facility is most beneficial to Nigeria. “Considering the fact that Nigeria has 114 approved control posts covering about 4,000 square kilometers, the approximately 23, 000 staff strength of the Nigerian Immigration Service is grossly inadequate to police the vast borders. So, the facility is handy and should be opened before it starts deteriorating for lack of use”, Olugu said.
However, travellers attribute the delay to sabotage by security operatives at the border who feel the new facility would make extortion impossible and deprive them of illegal money that collect daily. It is estimated that travellers are extorted over N5 million daily by border operatives from passport stamping, entry of those without passports, truck permits, car permits among others that are not receipted.
“Most immigrations, customs and police officers lobby with bribe to be posted to the borders because of the illegal money they make, as well, those who do the postings give them targets to meet. So, the security operatives at both countries are the ones behind the delay. They are the ones that mislead government on the true situation of things at the border”, Kemi Fadina, a regular traveller on the route said.
But Olugu argued that the European Union has not pressured both governments enough to consider opening it. “They said the projects costs €11 million and probably EU brought more than half of the money, they should not just watch their investment or aid go down the drain. They should pressure on the opening now”, he said.
The latest is that the new facility will open this August. According to Olanma Ojukwu, MD, GOTA, a travel company based in Cotonou, Benin Republic, who was present at many meetings at both sides of the countries, the officials are working towards opening the new facility this August. As well, the ECOWAS boss was at the border last week to probably do the final inspection.
Travellers are tired of the many assurances; they await the opening to believe anybody now and to bid farewell to extortion, touts and delays.
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