By Stephen Ubanna
Barely one month after President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, now hairman, Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS told Patrice Talon, his Beninoise Counterpart , at the summit on the New Global Finance Pact summit put together by President Emmanuel Macron of France that he has appointed one Adewale Bashir Adeniyi to replace Hameed Ali , a retired Army Colonel, as acting Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, for their close working relationship.
The Lagos state born Nigerian President may have had at the back of his mind that the neighbouring West African countries of Benin Republic, Niger , Chad and the Central African country of Cameroun, Customs Administrations, did not find it easy working with Ali, the immediate past Comptroller General.
The Beninose President may have seen the appointment of Adeniyi as the NCS, new helmsman as a ‘’renewed hope for the sub-region’’, pledging to provide support on trade and security’’ at the borders between the two countries. The Beninoise President was said to have tried to work with the former President Muhammadu Buhari’s Administration to ensure that whatever is prohibited in Nigeria will also be banned in Benin Republic but that was how far he could go.
The World Bank had reported in 2016, that an astonishing N1.45 trillion worth of assorted prohibited goods are smuggled into the Nigerian market through Benin Republic alone every year but the Senate Committee on Customs , Excise and Tariff in its investigating on foreign rice and other prohibited goods smuggling into Nigeria from Benin and other neighbouring countries into the Nigeria market yearly was overN 7tn and must be stopped.
It was therefore tot surprising why the Nigerian new Customs boss had lamented when he visited the President recently at the Villa that the challenge of smuggling across the borders, particular, foreign parboiled rice , vehicles, textiles and fuel, hoping that the new economic policies of the government: removal of subsidy and unification of the country’s multiple exchange rates system on the long run would diminish the smuggling of the prohibited commodities into the Nigerian market.
May believe that the persistent smuggling of the vital items may not be unconnected to the closure of the borders across the country that had forestalled the movement of goods and services. Aware that there are ongoing processes to review the border closure situation, the Nigerian President quest to achieve border security and regional integration may have informed why the Nigerian Comptroller General has begun consultations with the Beninoise Customs Administration to address thorny issues.
On Monday, July 24, 2023, Adeniyi, the Customs Comptroller General was said to be in Benin Republic to rub minds with Romauld Wadagni, the country’s Senior Minister in-charge of Economy and Finance and Alain Hinkati, the Director General of the Customs Administration, on some unresolved issues including Border security .
The Nigerian Customs boss may have used the opportunity of the working visit to Benin Republic, preparatory to planned reopening of the closed borders across the country to address the issue of multiple charges on Nigeria-bound transit cargoes along the Abidjan corridor. There are indications that the Nigerian transit cargo importers currently pay about CFA2.2 million as charges on a ‘’40’’ Container as against CFA500,000 paid by Burkina Faso , Niger and other neighbouring countries to move their Consignment out of their port.
The Leadership of the Association of Nigerian Licensced Customs Agents, ANLCA, Seme Chapter including the Representatives of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, NAGAFF, National Council of Managing Diectors of Licensed Customs Agents and other Associations were said to have at various time met with the Beninoise government officials on the mater but wee diappoined at the Beninoise government’s position on the matter.
Given President Talon’s assurance to support trade between the two countries and enhance security at the borders given the soft landing that had been provided to the country by Tinubu, may have informed why the country to harmonise its import prohibition list policy to ensure that whatever is banned in Nigeria would also be banned in Benin Republic.
Adeniyi who has seen it all, may have gladdened the heart of the Nigerian based Transit cargo importers with their agents that there was no cause to worry any longer as measures have been taken ‘’to ensure good working relationship between the countries that was on the low side during the Buhari’s Administration.
The situation is so bad as Nigerian Manufacturers have continued to suffer loses over the last six months as their Containerised cargoes remain trapped at the Benin Republic side of the Seme/Krake Joint Border Community awaiting to be handed over to the Seme Customs Command.
The situation was even worse in 2021, at the height of the border closure as the government of Benin Republic had imposed an import duty of CFA9 million or N6.5 million per transit truck laden with Nigerian –bound Containerised cargoes which ought to be exempted from all forms of duty under the ECOWAS protocols on transit cargoes.
Adeniyi, the Customs acting Comptroller, who may have found reason to pay a working visit to Benin Republic at the instance of the Nigerian President was said to have agreed with his Beninioise Counterpart ‘’to promote the ECOWAS Trade Libealisation Scheme and the facilitation of the movement of goods, manufactured within the sub-region.
Acting on the mandate of their respective Countries’ President, they were said to have also agreed to the removal of trade barriers and other o obstacles to Legitimate trade between the two countries and the establishment of Customs units when the need arises. At present, trade between Nigeria and Benin Republic, Compt.Dera Nnadi, Area Controller Seme Command had reportedly said was less than two percent.
The NCS, Chief Executive Officer, CEO, may have sent a message to the Nigerian based Transit cargo importers with their agents to be prepared to enjoy a new lease of life at the Land border areas across the country but must ‘’ensure strict compliance with transit cargo import rules and approved harmonised list of products prohibited by the two countries to avoid a return to the old Order.
He was said to have assured them of rapid integration of Nigeria into the interconnected system for the Management of Goods in Transit , IGMAT, comprising of the Customs Administrations of the West African countries of Benin Republic, BurkinaFaso, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo.
Perhaps to ensure that all the vital decisions reached at Cotonou, the Capital of Benin Republic during his recent visit to the country which were aimed at ‘’promoting trade between the two countries and ensuring that that the country’s border that were closed since August 2019, are opened on terms that are comparatively favourable to both countries, they were said to have agreed to the reactivation the aborted joint Committee for monitoring trade and movement of transit cargoes across the Land border areas.
Adeniyi, who may have acted out a script of the Nigerian government which ultimate goal, according to a source at the a ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning is’’ to establish a Nigeria/Benin Joint Commission expected to be achieved on or before the end of this 2023, Fiscal year that may herald the reopening of the closed borders across the country.
Many fears that Adeniyi, the Nigerian acting Customs Comptroller General’s visit to Benin Republic where he was said to have held useful discussions with the country’s Ministry of Economy and Finance officials and the Director General, of the Customs Administration may be wasted efforts if the Beninoise Director General of Customs fails to pay a return visit to Nigeria ‘’to follow up on the discussions initiated at the CCotonu meeting last Monday.