AFCTA:’’Abidjan-Lagos Corridor Would Be Best Performing In Next 10 Years’’- Mene

By Stephen Ubanna

Last Friday, June 3, 2022, all roads led to the Seme/ Karke, joint border, between Nigeria and Republic of Benin. Comptroller Bello Mohammed Jibo,  Seme Command Area Controller,  had received  Wamkele Mene, the South African born Secretary General, African Continental Free Trade Area, AfCTA, on behalf of Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS.

Mene, the AfCTA, Secretary General, who was impressed by what he saw on ground may have used the opportunity of the visit to encourage the Customs Comptroller not to relent in his efforts in encouraging the export of Made IN Nigeria goods within Abidjan-Lagos corridor, stressing   that theAfCTA Secretariat had received a grant Commitment of  36 million United  Kingdom, UK, pounds sterling for the corridor. 

An Appreciative Mene had said that the grant would be used ‘’to address the infrastructural challenges along the corridor.  He was said to have told the Seme Customs Area Controller who was beaming with smiles that the African Development Bank, ADB, under the close watch of Akinwumi Adesina, a former minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, during former President Goodluck Jonathan Administration is also involved in raising funds for the Abidjan-Lagos corridor to make it easier  for movement of goods from one country to the other.  

  The AfCTA Secretary General , who could not hide his feelings had said that the Continental Trade Secretariat would not only channel all the funds mobilised from the different sources to the  provision  of infrastructural facilities alone along the corridor but  would  also focus  on the purchase  scanners and other digitalised equipment to ensure productivity and efficiency in the movement   of transit cargoes.

He was to have given an insight of what he saw  when  he went to the port of Mombassa, in Kenya,  where he was showed   the control  that is digitized  for the East African Community, made up of  Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, Kenya, Rwanda, Southern Sudan, Tanzanian, and Uganda.

He had said that Control room comprises of equipment that could help them to access what is in a truck  that is moving  from  Kapala, Capital of Uganda,  to the port of Mombasa. He had  revealed  that the officer in the Control room  with a click  of a button  will see what is in the truck,  an indications that the Leadership of the Economic of West African States, ECOWAS, Sub-region still have a lot to do to cue  into the  AfCTA project to make their traded goods competitive.

The South African may have shocked many when  he  disclosed that the member countries of the East African Community,  EAC, did not  pay  for the digitisation of the Control room with their money, stressing that they had mobilised the money to  from other sources to do so, which the ECOWAS Authorities could do without member countries paying for it.

Jibo: Seme Command , Area Comptroller

The AfCTA boss may have gladdened the heart of Jibo, the Seme Customs Command Area Controller when he disclosed that the Secretariat on its own would continue ‘’to mobilise resources to resolve the infrastructural challenges  within the Abidjan-Lagos corrodor’’, descried as the busiest in the African Continent.

He had said that the AfCTA Secretariat intervention in the Abidjan-Lagos corridor will include’’ inter connectivity’’ adding that those who think that it may appear to be an insurmountable barrier, may have to do a rethink . Hear him: ‘’We will look at what ECA and other  sub-regions in the African Continent   have done  and to improve on the system  they had introduced  in other to address the Abidjan-Lagos challenges’’.  NAN, had reported that AfCTA Secretariat had promised that ‘’it will deploy   similar system in the port of Mombasa   within the Abidjan-Lagos corridor’.  This may have informed why the British government made available the #36m to the Secretariat    to be used to address the infrastructural needs along the busy corridor.

There are indications that officials of the Ghana based AfCTA Secretariat are also working closely with    Afreximbank to see what intervention they can give ‘’to help   in trade facilitation within the Abidjan-Lagos   corridor to reduce the dependence on the British government for intervention funds.  

 ‘’We want  to adopt an integrated approach  by mobilising funds from   those  we can influence  to bring more resources   so that  what we can replicate what had happened in East Africa Community  can in the Abidjan-Lagos corridor’’, Mene had said. He had said that AfCTA Secretariat has entered into discussions with the Commissioner for Trade in ECOWAS, to compliment the work they had done to achieve the desired result in the Sub-region.

Giving an insider information on the movement of transit cargoes from one country to the other in the African Continent, the Ghanaian born Secretary General of AfCTA, had said  that ‘’the agreement  establishing  the rules, Customs Procedures , harmonization  and trade facilitation,  has been worked out and were very clear’’.

 He averred that it may not be in any country’s interest ‘’to impose additional  charges on goods  that  are on transit  because it will not make trade competitive’’, noting  that ‘’it will  make traders think  twice about  transiting  their goods  through the particular corridor.

This is where  Patrice Talon,President of  Benin Republic and the country’s Customs Administration may have to do a rethink on the extra charges imposed on Nigeria –bound cargoes  since the reopening of the Seme border that was closed by President Muhammadu Buhari, in August 2019, in December 2021. It is not surprising why manyNigerian bound transit cargoes have been abandoned at the Autonomous port of Benin, Cotonou, by the importers because of the high cost of clearance from the port.

The AfCTA helmsman, may have alluded to the situation in Nigeria, when he remarked , that he is’’ very happy to hear that Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, had fully , along the Abidjan-Lagos corridor. The officers were said to have been properly grilled to ensure that no such illegal checkpoints would be mounted again on the corridor that may inhibit movement of goods and services within the corridor.

 Mene has given his words that AfCTA Secretariat would work closely with the NCS , to address other challenges,  that may crop up on the corridor.He had urged the NCS, Authorities, not to be in a hurry, to address the challenges along the Abidjan-Lagos corridor, because  ‘’it took the East African  Community  about 10 years to reach  its present level of Competitiveness  where goods  can leave  the Container ship  in the port of Mombasa, Kenya, and arrive  in Kampala, Uganda,  in less than three days. He is optimistic that that in the next ten years, the Abidjan-Lagos corridor will be ‘’the best performing corridor in the African Continent’’.

 Comptroller Jibo, may have spoken the mind of Ali, the Customs Comptroller General, when he revealed that ‘’interconnectivity gap was the major factor limiting trade facilitation in the ECOWAS Sub-region’’.  He had said to the hearing of the AfCTA Secretary General that some of the equipment that  were purchased for connectivity  in the ECOWAS Sub-region were still lying fallow  in the Command, which is an open invitation to Mene to intervene to help in   putting it to use.  

NAN had reported that  Frank Matsaert, CEO, Trade Mark Africa , Contractor  in-charge  of assessing the Abidjan-Lagos corridor,  had listed  its key findings  of challenges  that should be followed up  to enhance trade facilitation in the  Sub-region  such as  infrastructure, connectivity gap and limited connectivity, confirming what the AfCTA Secretary General  And Comptroller Jibo had said.  Matsaert, had identified other problems such as ‘’ high trade trade cost, logistics capacity and Professionalism, informal trade highly complex, lack of cross border traders awareness, security concerns and limited corridor approach’’.

He may have taken advantage of the AfCTA Secretary General visit to Seme Customs Command  to reveal that in ‘’implementing  the road Map  for the Abidjan-Lagos corridor, it  would take three phases. According to him, the phase one of the project would take one to two years,while phase two would take three to five years to be completed.

. The phase three, he had said, would take another four to seven years. Mene, the AfCTA , CEO, may want the Abidjan –Lagos corridor Contractor to hasten up in the completion of the projects to advance trade facilitation in the ECCOWAS Sub-region to make its goods competitive.

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