By Stephen Ubanna
Ahead of the take- off of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, AfCTA next January, the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, MAN,has joined the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, under the close watch of Tony Iju Nwabunike, and other Nigerians to call for a review of the border closure policy. The AfTA, economic bloc is projected to boost trade across the Continent to a total population of about 1.2 billion and a combined Gross Domestic Product of $2.4 trillion.`
MAN fears that if the country’s borders remain closed until the take-off of the Continental Trade Agreement, the fate of the over 2, 400 Manufacturing Companies, which products are making appreciable impact in the Economic Community of West African states , ECOWAS, Sub-region , would be in the hang as they may be displaced by other Companies producing similar products from other countries within the Continent.
It is on good records that of the 6,900 products traded on the, ECOWAS, Trade Libralisation Scheme, ETLS, market, Nigerian Companies alone , manufactures between 60 -70% of it , leaving the rest to other member countries in the economic bloc. The Association believes that the earlier the government take another look on the border closure policy, the better for the country.
The closure of the borders across the counry with the neighbouring two West African countries of Benin Republic, Niger and Cameroon a country in the Central African sub-region,, on August, 2019, which was said to have been on the advice of Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, and Babagana Munguno, a retired Major General, National Security Adviser had remained till now.
The duo, who, many believe have the ears of President Muhammadu Buhari, may have been worried over the alleged smuggling of transit imported Foreign par boiled rice from the Asian country of Tahiland, Small and light arms including illicit exports of locally subsidized petroleum product, to these neighbouring countries, that they encouraged the Katsina state born Nigerian President to cue into the border closure suggestion to stop the mess.
But Ahmed Mansur, President, MAN, who could not hide his feelings, noted that’’ while the border closure was necessary at the time it was announced in August 2019, it was time for the government to review the policy as the reasons no longer hold water’’.
He has his reasons. Smugglling of the Foreign par boiled rice shipped to Cotonou port, Benin, Bollore port, both in Benin Republic and Doula port, Cameroon,, have not stopped the smuggling of fairly used vehicles, Foreign rice, small and light arms into the country but had rather made the situation worse. This is because the smugglers who have become more daring and have developed new strategies to confront the Customs anti-smuggling officers and other security Operatives standing on their way on the road.
Take for instance the attack on a Patrol Team of the Ogun 1 ,Command, along Olurunlere village, near Alapoti, Ado-Odo Ota , the Commercial nerve centre of Ogun state i on Thursday, December3, 2020.. The Ogun I, Patrol Team , had intercepted some vehicles loaded with 50Kg bags of foreign parboiled rice, which the smugglers did not find funny.
Chado Kolo the Command, Area Comptroller, who had received his first baptism of fire from the dire hard smugglers in the notorious smugglers route, had said that the smugglers who had regrouped sensing their loss on sighting the Patrol Team stated shooting sporadically at them to evade arrest, resulting in exchange of fire. The Patrol Tam, according to the Comptroller were overwhelmed due to the numeric strength of the smugglers and hoodlums, forcing the Team to tactically withdrew , awaiting the arrival of the reinforcement Teams to resume operations.
The bad news was that before the arrival of the military personnel and other Units of the Usman Yahaya led Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, described as fearless, to the scene, the smugglers, with support of the hodlums , who had joined them in the attack to frustrate the Ogun I, Patrol Team, had shattered one of their official vehicles .
Taiwo.J. Odeyemi, a Customs Inspector I, and a driver attached to Team, and four others was said to have been kidnapped by the smuggllers during the operation. T It was alleged that he may have been killed by the smugglers. But the Kolo, the Area Comptroller has promised the smugglers harder times ahead. The Customs Comptroller has made it clear to those that cares to listen that the incessant attacks on officers and men of the Command doing their Legitimate duties would leave them with no option but ”to use appropriate force to deal with this wave of Criminal attacks on his men.
An emboldened Customs Comptroller had said the attacks by the Criminal elements on his officers would deter them from doing their job but would push them ”to intensify the anti-smuggling war against these economic saboteurs whose interest is to make profits at the expense of the nation.
Determined to clear Idiroko axis of the Criminal elements, he has vowed to ensure that the killer smugglers and thir sponsors face the full weight of the Law as a deterrence to others who might want to perpetuate such wicked act in the future.
Note thatMansur, who is not happy over the continuous closure of the borders across the country , and the incessant attacks on Customs officers doing their Legitimate duties, had said that’’ the border closure had been far enough’’. Given an insider information of the position of MAN, on the border closure, he stated that’’ after one year , of the border closure, these malpractices, particularly trade malpractices, with the neighbouring countries, which indeed to a large extent had contributed to the problem, ought to have been resolved but this was not done.
The MAN President insists that the normal thing for the Katsina state born Nigerian President to do now ‘’will be to reopen the borders across the country with the neighbouring countries and allow normal, trading to resume’’.
Mansur, the MAN President, who could not hide his feelings stated that ‘’reopening the borders would only be in Compliance with ECOWAS trade liberalization treaty, which Nigeria is a part of’’. Even Christian Kabore , President of Burkina Faso, who had Headed a Committee, set up by the Authority of Heads of States and Government of the regional economic bloc, to look into the Nigerian Border closure were said to have made its recommendations to the highest decision making body for approval. The report, according to sources, had favoured the reopening of the Nigerian closed borders for normal trading to resume with the neighbouring countries.
Many believe that the reopening of the borders would the reduce the pressure on the economy and reduce the incessant attack on Customs Patrol Team s and other security operatives by smugglers/hoodlums.
There are indications that the Nigerian President , wh ois not ready to jump the gun, is awaiting for the Mohamadou Issoufou, Chaired of Authority of Heads of States and Government of the Sub-regional economic bloc to deliberate on the recommendations of the Kabore report and also address the issue of security before reopening the borders across the country.
Aware that many Nigerian Companies manufacturing, particular, the cement and other Consumer products manufacturers have large quantities of unsold export stock in their warehouses rotting away, may have informed why the Nigerian President recently gave approval for the two big players in the ETLS market, Dangote Industries, which have Aliko Dangote, a multi-billionare business mogul as the President and BUA Group, which has Abdul Samad Rabiu, as the Group Chairman, to export some of the manufactured cement to Niger and Togo, two West African countries, in the third quarter of 2020, for the first time in ten months.
The government may have used the authorisation to the Dangote Industries and BUA Group, to export cement to Niger and Togo, to test the waters for normal trade to resume with the neighbouring countries after a prolonged blockade.
Michel Puchercos, Chief Executive Officer of Dangote Cement, reportedly said that the Company may have resumed the export of cement through the land border but with restricted volumes as’’there are plans by the Management to grow the trade using the sea channels’’.
The Nigerian government may have seen the folly of closing the borders across the country with the three neighbouring countries that Babagana Munguno, a retired Major General and National Security Adviser, NSA, and Chairman of the Operation Swift Response, popular, Border Drills, overseeing the Border Closure, at the instance of the Nigerian President, has given the nod to Ali, the Customs Comptroller General, to release the over N130 billion worth of transit cargoes trapped at Seme border between August 2019 and now. The approval letter was said to have been conveyed to the retired Army Colonel, led Customs Management Team by one E.A. Ndagi, a serving Army Major General, in the office of the NSA ,on November 13, 2020.
But the Customs boss may have be dillydallying in in releasing the trapped trucks laden goods at the Seme/Krake lander border because of his believe in the border closure as there had been an increased patronage of Nigerian ports, particular, the Lagos ports.
This is because most of the importers who had relocated to Benin Republic ports and other ports in the West African sub-region, because of the high cost of doing business at Nigerian ports have plotted their way back into Nigerian ports in order to remain in business which have translated to improved revenue collection for the government from non-oil goods.
Take for instance, the Lagos port of Apapa Command , which has AP Moller, one of the biggest Container terminals in the West African sub-region, as one of its terminals, under it, according Abba-Kura, the Area Comptroller, generated N227.3 billion in the first half of this year, despite the Wuhan Town, in Hebei Province of China emerged coronavirus, popular, COVID 19.
He confirmed that it was a 10.59% over the 2019 collection as Port Multi-services Terminal, popular, PTML, another major port in Lagos, the nation’s Commercial centre, under the close watch of Festus Okun, generated N87.8 billion, compared to N75.7 billion generated in the first half of 2019. Comptroller Okun, was said to have described the 2020 half year collection as the highest ever to be made by the Command. He had attributed the impressive revenue collection to the intelligence of the Command Operatives who had refused to be Compromised.
Auwal Mohammed, who had just resumed as the Comptroller of Port Harcourt Are II Command, Onne, not too long ago, had said that within the month of September, which was his first month of fully supervising the operations at the port, the Command generated N13.106 billion , described as the highest monthly revenue to be made by the Command under any Comptroller since its establishment about 37 years ago.
Insider sources told The Magazine, that the amount that had been collected by the Command in the subsequent months of October and September far outweigh the collection of the month September that is being celebrated by the Port Harcourt Area II Area Comptroller.
The Onne Customs Comptroller had attributed the impressive monthly collection, in this era of COVID 19, to the unrelenting efforts of the officers in the discharge of their duties. Mahmood Ibrahima Deputy Comptroller, incharge of the exit gate, serving both the Port Harcourt Area 11 and the Oil and Gas Free Trade Zone Command, and his officers were said to have been very outstanding in the scrutiny of Containers released from the West African Container Terminal, WACT, to ensure that the right is done.
Abdullahi Musa, popular, MBA, Comptroller, Tin can Island Command,, said it generated close to N118 billion within the first five months of the year 2020.
Note that the global pandemic had erupted in the country in March 2020, which adversely affected importation through the port as many multi-national shipping Companies withdrew their vessels from the participating in International trade to avoid exposing their Crew members to danger. The situation was made worse as many countries banned vessels from the most pandemic infeestested countries, particular, China, from coming to their country. The fallout was that it affected the volume of cargo traffic tp the TINCAN Island port, which adversely affected the revenue collection of the Command. The Command, has a monthly target of NN47.7 billion , which translates to a target of N540 billion for theyear.
With the gradual easing of the global pandemic and the resumption of International trade , which had resulted in improved cargo traffic to the port in this this last quarter of the year, there are indications, that the Command made may make for the loses in the previous months.