Border Closure: Benin Republic And Other Countries Under Pressure To Comply With The ECOWAS Trade Protocol To Facilitate Reopening of The Borders By Nigeria

By Stephen Ubanna

Borisis Johnson, the British Prime  minister,  believes  in stimulating Africa  economic growth. It was  not not surprising why he  championed an the recent  UK-Arica Investment  Submit   which brought  together  African leaders, International  Business  Chief Executives  and Heads of International Organisations in order  to create new partnerships   that will deliver   more investments and jobs in the African Continent.                                     

 President Muhammad Buhari,  was said to have  used the Opportunity  provided by the Investment  Submit  to meet with a selected group of the Nigerian Community in London who  were said to have taken him   up on the issue of the closure of the Borders across the country   with the neighbouring countries of Benin Republic , Niger and the Central African country of Cameroon  wh spread in four geo-political regions  of the Federation excluding the north east because of the activities of Boko Haram in the region .

The Katsina state born Nigerian President  was said to have  used the opportunity provided by the International Investment  Submit  to  explain to the Nigerian Community  the reasons for   the Border closure  with the neighboring  West African countries and Cameroon.

He noted that ‘’it  was  not initiated‘ intentionally to punish the countries ’’ but to  strengthen the country’s security and economy’’ from the activities  of  informal  traders of illicit goods  who are using these countries as their operational base to smuggle into the Nigeriaan market.

 Recall, that Buhari   had  severally  talked things over  individually with Presidents  Patrick Talon, Mohammad Issoufou and  Paul Biya of Benin, Niger and Cameroon , respectively in his first term in office on the need  for them to join forces in   tackling  the  informal  traders leaving among them   in their respective countries in order  to stop  the  smuggling  such illicit  goods into the Nigerian market but  that  was  how far he could go.

From the Border Communities in   Kwara , Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Ogun, Oyo,osun, Lagos,, Ekiti, Kano, Jigawa, Sokoto, Zamfara,  Kebbi  to  Katsina, the President  home state, the story was the same: increased smuggling of Contraband including arms and ammunition  from Benin, Niger and Cmeroon into the Nigerian market.

CGC Strike Force, Intercepted Container Load Of Vegetable Oil

The situation was so bad  that  the country was losing billions of naira  to the these countries annually. This is evident going by a Statement by  Joseph Attah, a  Deputy Comptroller and Customs Spokesperson  showing that the Service daily revenue  generation has shot up from the normal  N4 billion –N5 billion to N5 billion and N7 billion  since the Border Drills, popular, Operation Swift Response , was initiated last gAugust  which had resulted into the partial closure of the Borders  across the country.

 Indeed, the Border Closure may have become biting in these Countries  as  most of the informal traders who could no longer find it easy  to access the Nigerian market with their illicit goods through the  illegal routes  were said to  have relocated to Nigerian ports to take delivery of their goods.

  An elated Buhari  had told the Nigerian Community in London,   that the country is using  the period of the Border Closure  for’’stock taking  on threats to the nation’s security and economy’’. He may have gladdened the heart of the Nigerians in diaspora ,  when  the he revealed  some of the positive effects of the policy on the economy.

  He had said that the   rice  farmers who had almost lost  the local   market  to the Asian country of Thailand  par boiled rice farmers  have been celebrating  the Border Closure  which has drastically reduced the smuggling of  foreign agricultural  products  as well as arms and ammunition into the country

   Note that the Katsina state born  the Nigeria President,   Zainab Ahmed, minister of Finance, Budget and National planning  as well as other top government officials including Hameed  Ali, a retired Army Colonel and  the Customs  Comptroller General , had severally  told those that cares to listen that Nigeria will not reopen  the Borders  until Benin , which serves  as a major   gateway  to the smuggling of Contraband into the country and Niger, another country in the West African sub-region ,  complied with  the  Economic Community of West African States , ECOWAS , Trade  Protocols ,   agreement and various   other Memorandum of Understandings  ,MoUs,  signed and agreed over the years.

The  fifteen Heads of State and Government of the member countries of the ECOWAS, had in 1975, had  signed and agreed on  a Trade protocol. The countries were said to have also signed and agreed on several trade agreements and Memorandum of Understandings, MoUs, with a promise to respect it, to avoid  flooding the regional  market with foreign manufactured goods and  agricultural products.

. The Nigerian government, according to the ECOWAS Secretariat source, had  respected  the  trade protocol and also, expected   the West African neighboring countries, particular, Benin and Niger to  comply with the  trade protocol.

 Nigeria  further expected the  countries to respect the trade agreements and the various MoUs  signed and agreed  including   Cameroon  but the countries   were not ready to do so turned  as undocumented  informal trade of Contraband   across the Borders became a thriving business to the economic advantage of the eneighbouring  countries.

 The fallout was  that the government  initiated  a process that facilitated the launching of Border Drills, popular, Operations  Swift response, which  was  placed under the  Control and Supervision of Babagana Munguno, a retired Major General and National Security Adviser, NSA, who  is one of the members of the  Kitchen  Cabinet of the President . Ali, was made the  Deputy National Coordinator of the Border Drill, in his Capacity as the Comptroller General of  Customs, the lead agency.

Investigation by The Value shows that since the launching of the Border Drills Operation, Talon, the Beninese President and his counterparts in Niger and Cameroon have been under pressure  from within and outside their respective countries to comply with the ECOWAS trade protocol,  agreements and MoUs  signed and agreed with Nigeria to acilitate the reopening of the  closed Borders because of the negative effect on their  economies.

 Indeed, the Border Drills Operatives my not have succeeded in stopping the informal trade as expected by Critics  but  the Customs Comptroller General, who was  armed with reports  from  the  Border Drills regional Coordinators could  confirm that smuggling,  banditry  and Kidnapping have reduced to the barest minimum in the country over the last five months.

 It is also instructive to note that the  era where bandits  could easily over run a whole Community  in the north  and take over  has become a thing of the past   as Aliyu   Mohammed,  an  acting Assistant Comptroller General, ACG,  of Customs and sector 4, Border Drills Coordinator, overseeing  the north west  geo-political  Comprising of Kaduna, Katsina, Kno, Jigawa, Sokoto, Kebbi, and Zamfra and his men  were said to  have  effectively blocked   the region that big time smugglers  are no longer finding funny.

 His counterpart in sector 3, in-charge of the north central geo-political region comprising of Kwara, Niger, Kogi, Benue, Nasaraawa and Plateau states,  Muhammed Uba Garba, and who was incidentally a former Comptroller of  Seme Command his men   were  said to be doing the same  in the north central  where smugglers  in the Border Communities of  Baruten local government Area of Kwara state, particular, and other  Border Communities in the   region were said to have been driven  underground as they could  no longer carry out their nefarious activities.

  Those who were said to have tried to test the will of the Border Drills personnel  in the Aliyu  or Muhammed controlled  regions in the recent time  would never forget their experience in a hurry as their illicit goods had fallen into the awaiting hands of the Border Drill Operatives strategically positioned in the two regions.

Another major major   fallout of the Border closure, according to security sources, was the resort by  importers of Contraband  goods   through Benin Terminal , Cotonou and Bollore port, both  in Republic of Benin,  to resort to plan B: shipping  Contraband in Containers through Nigerian ports and then use their   contacts in Customs  and other security agencies to take delivery of it.

 They may have resorted to ship such Contraband  through the Nigerian ports  because of the  large of Border Drills personnel and other resident Customs personnel  including the Federal  Operations Unit, FOU, and  the Comptroller General of Customs, CGC, Strike  Force  personnel, at the land Borders and     their regular  illegal  illegal routes.

 Take for instance the  Vegetable importers who were said to have  attempted to use the Lagos ports of Apapa or Tin Can Island ports  to ship such Consignments into the country  who are now  counting their loses as their  goods hwere said to fallen into the waiting hands of  the CGC Strike Force, Lagos Zonal Office and FOU, Zone A, Operations and Lagos Roving Teamsin the south west.

Only recently,  Usman Yahaya, acting Comptroller,  FOU, Zone A, Command and his men , had intercepted and impounded  a ‘’40’’ Container  loaded with over 2,600 ‘25’ Jerry Cans of Vegetable Oil  allegedly imported from the Asian country of Malaysia.

 Not many  people  were surprised over the seizures  as he was said   to have made  similar seizures  while still  Heading the  CGC Strike Force,  Lagos Zonal office.  At the last count , he was said to have made two to three ‘’40’’ Containers loaded with the  Malaysian processed Vegetable Oil, which  were promptly seized.

U Yahaya , appears to have  made a bold Statement with the seizures  that Contraband  importers are free  to load such  items into Containers and ship it  through Nigerian ports but their ‘’worry should be whether the Consignment would get to their destination’’, he had said.

Hameed Ali: Customs Comptroller General

He averred  that  releasing  officers at the ports and Bonded Terminals  are free to Compromise and release such Contraband  but  the CGC  Strike Force  and FOU officers   are on the  road to intercept and transfer it to the government  warehouse  to be Confiscated. He appears to have sent a signal  to  the  contraband importers  and others  who indulge in shortchanging the government that it is no longer going to be business as usual. ‘’Action speaks louder   voice’’, he reportedly said.

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