How ECOWAS Protocol Promotes Smuggling

Nwangwu Uba

Worried by the increased rate of smuggling of foreign parboiled rice and other prohibited goods through the nation’s land border’s into the country, President Muhammadu Buhari appears to have taken up the matter with Patrice Talon, his counterpart in Republic of Benin on how to tackle the problem.

As a prelude to curbing smuggling activities in the Lagos -Abidjan corridor, Paulete Yekpe, the Republic of Benin Ambassador to Nigeria has confirmed a planned meeting between the governments of Nigeria, Niger and Republic of Benin, to establish a framework on how to address rice smuggling in the sub-region.

Yekpe disclosed that the smuggling of rice  and other profited items into the Nigeria market through unapproved route posed a threat  to the relationship between the three ECOWAS  member countries.

There is no gain saying the fact that over 70 percent of the foreign rice and other items smuggled into the country through the land border routes came from Republic of Benin .  Take for instance in Ogun state, David Paradang, a former Comptroller General , Nigeria Immigration Service, NIS, had identified 83 illegal routes in Ogun state alone through which smuggled goods  from Republic  of Benin could gain entry into Nigeria which the government no longer find funny .

A visitor to the country revealed that smuggled foreign rice and prohibited items from the Francophone country could also be smuggled through Jabba, in Niger state from where it would be taken to Suleija and other parts of the state.  In two months, Seme Command, according to Muhammed Uba Garba had seized 16,729 bags of 50 Kg foreign parboiled rice, equal to more than 27 trailers in two months.  The Command patrol team officers had continued to make seizures of rice , a   source confirmed. The Command patrol team officers were said to have effectively taken control of the Owode axis  , leading to Baji, the only route , that could be used  by the smugglers to  gain entry into Lagos market with the smuggled goods.

Heineken Lokpobiri, the minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, may have spoken the mind of  Buhari when he accused the government of Republic of Benin of allowing the Asian country of Taiwan to dump  parboiled rice in their country which are then packaged as though they were produced in the country and smuggled  into the Nigeria market through unapproved routes in Ogun, Lagos, Oyo,Osun, Kwara and Niger states among others.

Buhari may have opted to take up the matter with Talon, his counter in Republic of Benin to save the Nigeria rice farmers who are gradually been pushed out of the market by the foreign rice smugglers because of the unfair competition with the foreign rice farmers who are dumping their produce at Republic of Benin .

Lokpobiri, may have found an answer to the smuggling of prohibited goods into the Nigeria market from neighbouring countries in the West African sub-region to the abuse of Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS , Protocol. Under the Protocol, any agricultural products or goods manufactured within the sub-region could have free access to any market  within the sub-region.

The Protocol, which allows  citizens  of member countries of the sub-regional body to enter the territory of any other member countries for a period not exceeding 90 days through the entry point free of VISA requirements, may have opened the floodgate for smugglers to gain entry into Republic of Benin to practice their nefarious trade.

Mohammad Babadende: Comptroller General of Nigerian Immigration Service

The ECOWAS  Protocol may have made it difficult to expel any citizen found wanting  in any of the member country of the sub-regional body.  Going by the Protocol , a decision  to expel any of the Community from the territory of any member country should be notified to him as well as the government  of which  he is a citizen and the Executive Secretary of ECOWAS.

The Protocol made it clear that the expenses incurred  in the expulsion of the Community citizen must be  born by the country, which  Republic of Benin may not be willing to bear for now. Yekpe,Republic of Benin Ambassador to Nigeria may have agreed with Lokpbiri, the minister of Agriculture and Rural Development  when she said that ECOWAS Protocol   paved way for free movement of persons within the sub-region and which created room for smugglers to operate  the Community member countries to operate without restraint in the region.

The Ambassador had noted that when they came into the country, hiding under the cover of the ECOWAS Protocol, ”we could not have rejected them because  the country had been fined at different times for daring to repatriate some Community citizens, mostly Nigerians, found wanting . She revealed that that the suspects had always claimed in the petition to ECOWAS that they were travelling to Republic of Niger, forcing the Community to fine them. She noted that once  they are somewhere in Bardi, they turn to go to Kebbi or Kano with their smuggled goods.

Appealing to the governments of Nigeria and Republic of Benin to sensitise their citizens  more  about the dangers of smuggling, an aggrieved Yekpe, the Beninois Ambaassador, stated that it is the only way  to ”keep away from smuggling”.

Already, Ita Enag,  Senior Special Assistant to  the President on the National Assembly matters (Senate), said Nigeria relationship  with Republic of Benin is needed  to tackle smuggling activities which dragged the names of the two countries to mould.  ”I think it has been conducted in a matter  that does not dare us to say  what will Nigeria do”, noting that it was perpetuated by a few Nigerian businessmen in that country.

The Cross river state born politician  and Senior Special Assistant to the President has said that Buhari, he knows would do everything within the ambit  of the law to tackle smuggling  and cross- border and transnational crimes. Hamid Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Service,  NCS  and Mohammad Babadende, Comptroller, Nigeria Immigration Service, NIS, have mobilised their Border officials to step up their anti-smuggling operations as well as curtail  trasnational crime. Their efforts appear to be yielding result going by the human trafficking and rice syndicate that had been busted at Seme in the recent time. The Headquarters’ Strike Force team under Commander Salisu Shuaibu, an Assistant Comptroller , were said to have left their job of going after smugglers to swoop on the human traffickers along the Lagos -Seme road, which was basically the responsibility of the NIS Border patrol team to adequately police the Seme  border axis from such transnational  crimes.

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