By Stephen Ubanna
Those who think that President President Muhammadu Buhari had bowed to pressure from local and International quarters to reopen the borders across the country with the neighbouring countries of Benin Republic, Niger and the Central African country of Cameroon, on January 1, 2021, would be disappointed.
Information emerging from Presidency sources reveals that the planned take-off of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, AfCTA, and the Commitment of Benin and Niger, particular, to comply with the Economic Community of West African States , ECOWAS, Trade Liberalisation Scheme, ETLS, protocols on transit goods may have encouraged The Katsina state born Nigerian President to reopen the borders with the eneighbouring countries.
The Nigerian President was emphatic on the AfTA, as he had called on the Nigerian business Community ‘’ to support the Nigerian Customs anti-smuggling personnel at the land borders in order to benefit from the trade agreement and other border activities’’.
Until he signed the trade agreement on behalf of the Nigerian government as the 54th member nation, Nigerian Companies manufactured products ranging from cement, drinks to Confectionaries had dominated the ETLS market. There are indications that over 2,400 Nigerian Companies are registered to participate in the economic bloc trade activities while of the 1900 products traded in the market, between 60 -70% are manufactured in the country. This may have informed why the Nigerian President is optimistic that the business Community would benefit from the trade agreement and other cross-border activities going by their performance in the ETLS.
Recall that prior to the border closure the Nigerian President had consistently accused the neighbouring countries particular, Benin Republic ,of not complying with the ECOWAS trade protocols on transit goods, thus resulting in Contraband cargoes being smuggled into the Nigerian market through the porous borders .
The border closure may have achieved its desired objective going by the Statement by Hameed Ali, a retired army Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, when he disclosed that the countries have agreed’’ to operationalisation of joint border patrol at both sides of the border Communities between the countries to contain the activities of the dare devil smugglers, described in political circles as’’ economic saboteurs’’.
The Joint border teams, according Joseph Attah, a Deputy Comptroller and the service spokesperson, in order to do their work as it ought to be done are requested to share intelligence to ensure the prevention of prohibited transit goods from Benin Republic and the two other neighbouring countries from coming into the Nigerian market.
Ali, the Customs Comptroller General had listed the items that are usually smuggled into the country through the porous borders to include small and light arms, illicit drugs, used clothing, vegetable oil, frozen poultry products foreign rice, textiles among others. He had said that the service efforts to prevent the entry of these items through the country’s 84 legal and 1,499 illegal border routes with the neighbouring countries had, resulted in the seizures of 4,304 assorted goods across the country in 2020 alone. Valuation experts had put the Duty Paid Value, DPV, of the seized goods from the cross-border smugglers at about N28.3billion.
the Customs Comptroller General, who could not hide his feelings may have seen the 18 months partial border closure with the neighbouring countries as a good thing to the economy. According to him, prior to the border closure in August 20, 2019, the service daily revenue generation from the land borders and the seaports was between N 4 billion and N5 billion.
He disclosed that with the border closure, the service daily revenue generation now range between N5 billion and N9 billion, even without any revenue coming from the land border areas . disclosed that the partial border closure had forced the transit cargo importers who could have engaged the services of smugglers to bring prohibited imported goods into the country through inappropriate routes to ship it through the seaports and airports.
Indeed, the Nigerian President may have taken advantage of the border closure to support the Ali led NCS, which had embarked on the introduction of the e-Customs which components include installations of scanners at all entry points of the country including the land border area to acquire the facilities.
He may have seen it as the only way to boost national trade facilitation with the reopening the borders across the country. Godwin Emefiele, governor, Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, may have seen the importance of scanner equipment to facilitate cargo clearance at the seaports and land the border areas that the apex bank has expressed its commitment to purchasing four scanners for the service. It was said to have also promised’’ to establish a control center for monitoring all the scanning sites in their bid to boost the national economy, particular, the agricultural sector’’.
This may have given the Ali led Customs Management team , the optimism that within the next six months the service will have about seven functional scanners to be mounted at strategic entry points across the country even before the full deployment of the e-Customs Components which ,insiders said will see to the deployment of 135 modern scanner equipment
. The CBN, promise to purchase four scanning equipment to support Customs operations may have informed why the Customs Comptroller General has given kudos to the leadership of the apex bank, for their strategic intervention to support the operations of the Service to boost its revenue generation with the drop of oil price in the International oil market.
Perhaps what may have shocked Nigerians was the huge amount paid into the Federation account in the 2020 fiscal year , despite the Asian country of China, emerged coronavirus, popular, COVID 19, which took the greater part of last year. The service was said to have generated the sum of about N1.58 trillion which was paid into the Federation account. Attah, the Customs spokesperson had said that the amount generated by the service within the period was over the N1.84 trillion target set for it by the government and more than the N1.34 trillion generated by the Service in 2019.
Given an insider information of the improved revenue generation of the Service in 2020 , despite the COVID 19, Pandemic, Attah, attributed it’’to the strategic deployment of officers strictly using the standard operating culture and strict enforcement of extant guidelines by the tariff and trade department’’.
He noted that the automation of the Customs process , which had helped in eliminating the areas of revenue leakage associated with the manual process had contributed in no small measure to the increase in the Service revenue generation in the 2020 fiscal year.
He further stated that ’’the robust stakeholders sensitization Campaign embarked upon by the Service had resulted in more informed, voluntary compliance by importers with their agents at the seaports and airports to make correct declarations and accurate payment as ’’the increased disposition of the officers and men of the Service to put the national interest above selves in the discharge of their duties played a major role in boosting the revenue of the service at thesea ports and airports during the year.