By Suleiman Umaru
Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, has begun a second round of visits to the Land border Communities across the country on a fact finding mission on the activities on the border drills security operatives which had entered its third month in order to give President Muhammadu Buhari, the true situation reports of things.
His appearance at Maigatari-Niger border, in Jigawa state, on Wednesday, September 24, 2019, was said to have electrified the border Community as information filtered out about his visit. The people, particular, the cross-border petty traders who had been living in pains and agonies since the closure of the borders had anticipated that he has come to broke the cheering news about the reopening of the borders or when it would be reopened in order to gain access to the ancient city of Kano market to restock their market which had gone down considerably.
Ali , who may have been touched by the suffering of the people , with what he saw at Maigatari border Community, may have disappointed them when he tied the opening of the borders to the Republic of Benin, Niger, Chad and the Central African country of Cameroon which share border with Nigeria agreeing tomorrow or next on the existing Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, laws of protocol on transit cargoes and Movement between the neighboring countries transit cargoes and Movement to facilitate its updating and signing of the protocol by the respective countries .
The Customs Comptroller General may have spoken the mind of Buhari when he reportedly said that the neighboring countries, particular, Benin and Niger, had created the room for the country to take the extreme action of closing the borders for now.
An angry Ali, lamented that Benin and other countries that share boundary with Nigeria in the north or southern part of the country have no ‘’reason whatsoever to allow vehicles, vegetable oil, foreign rice and other Contraband items to enter into the Nigerian market through their borders’’. Note that the government has banned rice and vehicles had banned rice and vehicles from coming into the country through the land borders since 2017.
Ali was said to have made it clear to the residents of the Migatari border Community in Jigawa state , north west Nigeria that it was not the wish of the Buhari government to resort to plan B of closing the borders outright. He disclosed that the Nigerian government was encouraged to do so since the neighbouring countries have opened their borders for exportation of vehicles, rice, poultry products and Vegetable oil into the country ostensibly to collect revenue , Nigeria has no option but to close its borders in its own national interest to stop the illicit items from coming into the country.
Note that prior to the border drills across the country, Muhamed Uba Garba, Comptroller , Seme Command, had severally called on the Beninoise Customs Authorities to respect the International Law guiding the transfer of cargo from one Customs Administration to another. The Customs Comptroller, had reasoned that over the years , transit provisions had been modified by a number of international Conventions, most important being the United Nations General Agreement for Trade and Tariff, GATT, on transit cargoes , the World Customs Organisation, WCO, Kyto Conventions and the 1982, Geneva Convention, on the harmonization of their control of goods by the republic of Benin had failed to respect it.
Note that Article V of the GATT provides that freedom of transit cargoes determines that ‘’there be freedom of transit through one territory of the Contracting party,, via the routes that are most convenient for international transit for traffic cargoes to and from the territory of the Contracting parties. It is instructive to note that the Republic of Benin government, particular, had never respected the trade agreement with Nigeria.
He had started a one man riot squad when he closed the Atlas park at the Beninoise side of the Seme-Krake joint border where transit trucks laden with cargoes were warehoused and quickly opened a temporary park for Nigerian transit cargoes, which Patron Talon , the president of Benin, did not find funny This is because of the loss of revenue to the country.
The West African French speaking country was said to have been ripping Nigerian importers off of billions of CFA Franc, on their transit cargoes at the Atlas park annually. Take for instance, the ECOWAS Tarde Liberalisation Scheme, ETLS, transit goods which administrative surcharge was fixed at 5%, but only the Beninoise government, according to sources, collects 7% on such goods.
Given pressures from different quarters, both within and outside the country, there are indications that Presidents Buhari,Talon,Mohammad Issufou, Niger, Idris Derby, and Chad, are likely to meet soon to resolve areas of disagreement on the ECOWAS, trade protocols and freedom of movement. The outcome of the meeting, according to Diplomatic sources would determine when the borders would be reopened.
‘’The meeting would give the Nigerian President the opportunity to make Talon, the Benin President and his other counterparts from Niger and Chad to understand why the country closed the borders and what it intends to achieve: to stop the influx of illicit goods, particular foreign rice into the country and smuggling of petroleum products , particular, petrol, to the neighbouring countries through unapproved routes. Ali described the exportation of Petroleum products to Benin, Niger and Chad as one of the biggest problem facing the country at the border Communities.
A Beninioise source told The Value News that since the closure of the borders, a litre of petrol has risen from N250.00 to N750.00. The situation is the same in Niger, Chad and the Central African country of Cameroon, an indication that the four countries had been dependent on Nigeria for their petroleum Products need over the years. The case of Pashi Community , with a population of less than 3,000 people in the Badagry West local government area of Lagos state with about 19 filling stations sited in the Community speaks volume. The only thing that was said to have separated the Community from Benin was the Lagoon. The question on the lips of most people: who are the Customers of these filling station owners?. This is because they never lacked petrol or diesel for sale on a daily basis, confirming the news making the rounds that the filling station were used for bunkering business.
Recall that the first round of the visit of the Border drill locations which involved Babagana Munguno, a retired Major General and the National Security Adviser, NSA, whose office is Coordinating the exercise, their Helicopter had failed to touch down at Seme, on the excuse of bad weather.The Customs Comptroller General who did not want history to repeat itself as he touched down with his entourage at the Seme/Krake joint border on Thursday, September 27, 2019. Accompanied by Mohammad Babadende, Comptroller General, Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS, Bukar Abubakar Amajam, Assistant Comptroller General, and Coordinator, south west border drills, Mohammed Aliyu, Comptroller, Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, Ikeja and other senior security Operatives including military personnel.
The Customs Comptroller General and his team were said to have met the agents and the security agencies personnel at the land border who presented to him, In apparent response to their demand he said a lot had gone wrong regarding Compliance in the transit of goods , insisting that the border closure was essentially to ensure that the right things were done.
He was impressed at what he saw at the Border Community as there was no flourishing business, no movement of trucks in and out of the border Community for the Beninioise government to collect revenue, which is having a telling effect on their economy, an indication that the exercise has achieved its intended objective to force the countries involved in transit of goods and trade facilitation to adhere to the trade protocol so that the ‘’parties will live and complement each other’’. He may have gladdened the hear of the agents whose clients trucks are trapped at the joint border that the closure was not intended to hurt them but but to strengthen the country’s security and protect our national interest’