Long wait for new Seme Border facility
A date is yet to be set for the official commissioning of the new facility.
At the end of August, a step towards the opening was taken when the European Union and the Economic Community of West African States handed the facility over to the two countries (Nigeria and Benin Republic) for test operations and technical assessment.
But there seems to be some executive inertia in the nation’s capital, in this regard. When will there be a sense of urgency in the way leaders handle public affairs?
Whatever happened to the planned opening of the strategic facility, as the officials of the two contiguous nations prepare for the historic event, Nigeria must recognise the symbolism and plan for meeting the challenges of providing the complementary road transportation infrastructure in the area.
According to reports, the test run involved officers of the Seme Command of the Nigerian Customs Service, Nigeria Immigration Service, Port Health Service, Relevant Security Agencies and the executive officers in the Seme Branch of Association of Nigerian Customs Licensed Agents.
There were also their counterparts from the Republic of Benin. It is intended that when operations commence, the officials from the two countries would sit together in the same cubicles.
The construction began in 2014, with a design for a facility of international standard and modern equipment to ensure seamless travel in line with ECOWAS Protocol.
Among the challenges faced, many contractors had defaulted before the contract was re-awarded to Grande Enterprise Route (GER-SA), Siem Togo.
The facility was completed in 2017 at a whopping cost of $4.5 billion, funded by ECOWAS and the European Union. The long delay in putting the new facility to use has generated many questions.
There were many factors. On the part of the Republic of Benin, there were several court injunctions stopping the demolition of structures of the right of way, as well as by traders and transport operators.
There were long delays in obtaining exemption Certificate (of Import Duty) for equipment brought from abroad for the facility. All these had necessitated ECOWAS to give extension for the take-off of operations.
During the construction, traders and travelers complained of inconvenience unavoidable temporary closure of the official entry point; as they used bumpy roads and suffered from extortion by officials, in the absence of a standard operations base.
The beneficiaries of illegal business that had arisen during the construction period have got so used to filthy ochre that many are not keen for the system that will come into operations with the opening of the modern facility.
In any case, there are concomitant benefits. The new Seme Border Post has a scanner for trucks. There is a quarantine office.
There is accommodation for officials of both countries. There is an underground prison as well as a detention office for minor offences. There is a car park.
There are designated lanes for travelers and migrants with checked documents, cars and buses, trailers and trucks, as well as diplomatic vehicles.
In addition, there is a Border Patrol Post. All stakeholders who have applaud the benefits of the new facility, have also accused the two countries of the lacking the political will to agree on the modus operandi despite readiness to open for business.
The official commissioning is long overdue. The Presidents of Nigeria and Benin Republic are chief hosts, supported by their officials responsible for Customs, Roads, Transport, Immigration, External Affairs, National Planning and National Security.
While the Nigerian President may be conveyed thereto by a helicopter, the Federal Executive Council members should not fly over the Lagos Badagry expressway mess, so that they can go back to Abuja painfully and take necessary steps to complete the Lagos-Badagry-Seme highway to international standard.
The Lagos state effort in this connection cannot salvage this international reproach.
The road is in the Nigerian segments of Trans African Highways. This newspaper had earlier called for Lagos State to seek federal collaboration for its on-going upgrading of this highway. Yet, no dice.
Nigeria must go further; to plan for the road network. Would goods coming from the Seme border first come into the traffic of Lagos metropolis before being carted to other parts of the country?
Ditto for manufactured goods from Nigeria going to ECOWAS countries? This calls for an immediate revisit of the Lagos (Badagry)-Igboho-Sokoto federal highway conceived in the 1975-1980 National Development Plan.
Instead of taking off from Badagry, the construction took off at Agbara in 1977.
However, the first 80-kilometer segment by Losada was terminated at Atan Ota.
In the period of its abandonment, the Dangote Cement Plant in Ibese was built in the surveyed and designed path.
The second segment was completed by Strabag while work had advanced in the third segment handled by the French construction company, Sefni in mid-1980s.
To complement the Seme development and the planned seaport and refinery in Badagry, the Sokoto highway should take off near Badagry and link up with the existing alignment in Igboho Oyo State, then to Kwara, Niger, Kebbi and Sokoto.
The existing federal highway Route 10 from Badagry provides a ready take-off point for the new alignment that would veer westwards through Ipokia, Imeko, Ibarapa to link with the existing third segment of the Sokoto highway.
Besides, the new Seme border Post provides a template for upgrading major installations among Nigeria’s 114 approved international border posts.
In this regard, the federal roads running parallel to the three land borders must receive special attention.
These are the Badagry-Sokoto highway, the Sokoto-Daura-Kano-Maiduguri highway and the Calabar-Ikom-Ogoja highway linking to Adamawa and Borno states.
It is commendable that the Cross River State Government has embarked on the expansion and upgrading the Calabar-Odokpani segment of this highway.
Also noteworthy is that President Buhari recently flagged off the Daura-Kano segment to be expanded to an expressway.
When these three strategic routes are developed to expressways, they can be tolled for users from both sides of the frontier.
Certainly, they will serve as catalysts for development in the borderline areas. They are also important for national security and must be so designated.
When the new post was handed over for test operations in August, it was expected that the formal commissioning would take place in September.
However, as the month ends, the lessons to be learnt from the technical assessment must have been known. That is why an exact date must be set for the official commissioning.
At such an august occasion, the leaders of Nigeria and Benin Republic must use the platform to announce concrete plans for developing the complementary infrastructure for efficient operations.
The new Seme Border issue is an opportunity, in the main, for Nigeria to show Africa and the world that it is capable of fulfilling the leadership role in the region.
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