Mr. Olaniyi Alajogun is the Comptroller of Customs, Edo/Delta Area Command. In this interview with Bolaji Ogundele, he speaks on the renewed hope for economic resurgence in the Edo/Delta area, especially with the ongoing dredging of the Escravos Bar and the Warri Port. Excerpts:
How have the operations been since you resumed duties here?
As you must have known, the Warri Port is not very active for now, which is as a result of the security challenges experienced around here in the past, but to the glory of God, since I came there’s been a slight improvement, probably because government is trying to do something about it; a contract has been awarded for the dredging of the port, especially as there’s now some relative peace in the area and I think this has started encouraging people to start looking towards this place; many potential users of the port have approach me that they want to be bringing vessel, especially when the dredging job is completed.
What is Comptroller-General’s mandate to you when he sent you here?
Everybody knows that the Warri Port is dormant for now, so when I was posted here, the only charge he gave me was to come here and make a difference. To me, that is like putting me on my toes; if he told me to come here and make a difference, that means he expects something better than what has been happening here from me and that is what we are trying to do and you know you can’t be doing something same way and expect to get a different result. We are trying to ensure we do things differently from what it has been in the past, in terms of operations and see if we can do it better.
Are you meeting up with your monthly target?
Our monthly target, given by the service, is N1.5 billion. I think from January to the time I came, the monthly collection has been hovering between N1.1 billion and N1.4 billion, but by my first month here, which was July, we were able to do beyond N1.5 billion, I think about N1.55 billion. Then the second month, which was August, we actually did very well; we were able to get up to N1.8 billion, which has never happened before in this place. That’s how we’ve been faring in the area of revenue collection.
It is generally believed that the Warri Port is currently not meeting its potentials in revenue generating capacities. What do you think it might look like after the dredging has been completed?
If there’s no import, there can’t be revenue. That has certainly been affecting what government gets from here because of the low patronage of the place. Currently, our monthly target for revenue is just N1.5 billion and if you compare that to some other ports in the South-West, that might be what some of them make in just a day. However, I believe that at the completion of the dredging project, when cargo vessels will start coming this way, there will definitely be an improvement in revenue collection.
Despite the dormancy here, you reportedly made a seizure recently. How did that happen?
The Edo/Delta Command is a combination of a revenue command and an enforcement command. The revenue aspect of the command is the seaport, while the enforcement command has to do with our axis in Edo area, where we can go to the road if we have information and intercept whatever we have the information on. That does not necessarily give us revenue because whatever we get in that process ought to be seizure, especially when it is contraband, but the revenue we get here, despite the fact that the port is not active, is from some fish vessels that come, the Julius Berger Terminal is also operating some skeletal services. These are where we get our revenue from for now.
What is the recent seizure all about?
It is a trailer, carrying a one by 40 feet container, loaded with foreign rice. After examination and counting, we found 751 bags of 50 kilograms. The driver and his assistant (the motor boy) were arrested with the trailer, kept for some days, but after initial investigations, they applied for bail and following due process, the law allows that they can be granted bail and that’s what we did.
The duty paid value for the seized rice is around N21 million, which is what Nigeria is losing by that seizure.
After the dredging contract must have been fully completed, what should Nigerians be expecting from Warri Port?
By the time this port comes alive, what we expect is more revenue for government. We also expect it to turn around the economy of this place; the youths will have jobs to do because in any seaport environment, commercial activities are always an indicator. It will have so many effects, besides the fact that more revenue will accrue to government, the economy of the area too will come to life.
Besides the dredging of the port, what else would you expect government to do to make your task here easier?
Apart from the dredging, I think government also needs to sensitise the locals because from past experiences, the local residents always believe the seaport is a natural gift to them from God and they always want to take maximum benefit of it by way of wanting to collect royalties from whoever is using it. But if government can sensitise them that if they allow this place to work, it will be to their own benefit, that it is not the money they collect from importers or those who are working around here that will guarantee a good life for them.
In this regard, I think I need to commend the Delta state governor. I recently read about the celebration of the 27th year anniversary of the state in the papers and the governor there read the riot act to the youths about the dredging work that is ongoing; he warned that nobody should dare disturb the dredging works and that anyone caught disturbing would court his anger and I think that is a very good message that he passed across there.
What is the message from the Nigerian Customs to the host community people?
My advice to them is that the location of a seaport in any place is a very big economic advantage for the people of the area, so they should see this more as something good for them. Rather than trying to stop whatever effort government is making to revive the port, they should instead support government to ensure it is speedily completed.