Border Closure:ANLCA Raises The Hope Of Nigerians As Soldiers Take Over Customs Anti-smuggling Operations In Borno And Yobe States

By Stephen Ubanna

Barely a week that The Value News, online, published a story,’’ Border Closure: Buhari  Set To fulfill His Promises of Implementing the ECOWAS Tripartite Committee Report on Nigeria’s Border Closure with neighbouring  countries of Benin Republic and Niger, particular, and the Central African country of Cameroon, the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, under the close watch of Tony Iju Nwabunike, a seasoned Clearing Agent  has  given a further insight into the reopening of the   land borders soon.

The Nwabunike led Association, which  had been at the forefront for the reopening of the closed borders across the country by President Muhammadu  Buhari  over alleged smuggling of Foreign rice, small and light weapons into the country  had said  that it had received government  assurances of reopening the borders soon to facilitate the free movement of goods and services within the member countries of the Economic Community of  West African Sub-region, ECOWAS.

In pursuant for the reopening of the closed borders  which had entered its  two years and tthree months duration, going by the time the decision was taken by the Katsina state born Nigerian President, ANLCA had said that the take-off of African Continental Trade Agreement, AfCTA, which is a wider market in the African Continent  which is expected to take -off on   1, 2021 had made the reopening of the  country’s landborders  necessary .. According a ministry of Foreign Affairs source, the Continental trade bloc, aims to unite the 1.3  billion people in the Continent by creating a $3.4 billion annual volume of trade among member countries.

 As  a prelude  for the take -off of the Continental market,  the African Union, AU, was said to have secured an operating Secretariat for economic bloc Accra , Capital of the West African country of Ghana. Nwabunike, the President of the 66-year old ANLC, fears that ‘’Nigerian businessmen and Companies, who are already playing key role in the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme, ETLS, would  be at a disadvantage  if the nation’s borders remained  to trade’’.

Until the Nigerian President signed the AfCTA document as the 53 member nation, there are over 2, 400 Companies in the country which manufactured products are part of the 6,900 traded  products  in the region. It is record that  between 60 – 70 % of the products  are pmanufactured  in Nigeria alone, an indication that since the government closed the borders across the country, with the neighbouring countries, such goods had been cut off from the sub-regional market.

 The message  was very clear that the situation may be worse for the country if the borders remain closed  as the country ‘’will be shut out   of trade with  the neighbouring countries ,Benin Republic, Niger, Tchad and Cameroon.

The strong argument  that was said to have been put  up by the Association, which is one of the  intermediaries between the government and the importer  as members collect   import duties for it may have informed why the  Buhari led All Progressive Congress , APC, government has given his words  ‘’to effect gradual reopening  of the closed Land Borders across the country   with  focus on rules of origin  to prevent  abuses  of  incentives  like the ETLS, where the Asian country of China  manufactured products were repackaged as if they were produced within the region.

Ali: CG OF Customs

Many believe that the measures if fully  implemented without being  sabotaged by security operatives, Customs and their  agents Collaborators,  it will help curb smuggling activities  across the country through the approved and unapproved routes.

 Recall that  Abba Moro, a former minister of Interior, a ministry currently under the close watch of Rauf   Aregbesola , a former  governor of sun state,   had  confirmed that there are  1,499 illegal and 84  legal routes,  officially approved by the government as entry points  into the country.  This confirms the very porous state of the country  borders  which permits the   illicit   transnational  arms trafficking

. This may have informed why the government is not in a hurry to quickly throw the borders open.  Given the porous state of Nigeria’s borders with the neighbouring countries, particular, Benin, Niger, Cameroon an Tchad, it is reported that over 70% of about eight   million illegal weapons  in the West African sub-region  are in Nigeria.

Indeed,  the proliferation  of SALWs, in the oil-rich Nigeria,  is indexed by the intermittent   seizure  of various  types and caliber  of arms  by Customs personnel   and Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS,  border Control   officers, particular, in the north east states of Adamawa, which have 25 illegal border routes, Borno and Yobe.

During the  Libyan  uprising, the state armoury  were thrown open by late President  Moumar Gaddafi, which were looted  by rebel forces and Mercenaries and most of these weapons were never recovered. Terrosit groups like AQUIM based in North Africa, were said to have acquired  heavy weapons  such as SAM-7, anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles, transporting them back to the SAHEL region . The arms were said to have been  surreptiously  obtained by those posing as Gaddafi’s supporters  or indirectly  purchased from the Mercenaries who had acquired  these  arms  from the Libyan territories.

Curtesy of AQIM, these arms  had been transferred  to other terrorist groups such as Ansar Dine, BokoHaram and MUJAO , emboldening them, particular, BokoHaram to mount audacious attacks in the north east part of the country.

 It is not surprising  why  Boko Haram had grown over the years. The porous borders in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states, described s the strongholds of the insurgents, was said to have made it possible  for the Islamic Fundamentalist Group  to smuggle arms into the country with ease.

LT. Gen. Buratai’s Men Deployed To Borno To Fight BokoHaram Insurgents Also Doing Customs Job

The Group were said to have used various methods such as  the use of specially crafted skin, or thatched bags attached to Camels, donkeys and Cows where the arms are connected  and moved across  the borders  with the aid of the nomadic pastroralists or herders. The Value News learnt that the smugglers   sometimes Conceal  the weapons  in bags of grains or carton of manufactured  goods  , loaded in heavy-duty vehicle like trucks, trailers.The sect members   were said to have also  connived  with Merchants Involved  in Cross-border trade to help stuff their arms and weapons in goods .Given  the huge size of the goods loaded on these  heavy duty vehicles, very little  or no routine  checks  are conducted by the Army which had taken over the Customs job in the north east, particular, Borno and Yobe states.

Although, the Customs anti-smuggling officers  are not on the road in Bama  fishing  town in Borno state and other parts of Borno and Yobe states  in the north east, to do their work but the Army which had taken over their Constitutional responsibilities in the region seems to be  doing the negotiation for them both in revenue collection and bookings.

 The arms  traffickers may have taken advantage  of the absence Customs anti-smuggling officers on the road in  monitoring Cross-border trade to exploit the situation   to perpetuate their nefarious activities in the north east states. There was a report that in 2013, a senior Customs officer  was arrested for allegedly  assisting the  Boko Haram insurgents to smuggle  trucks  loaded  with large cache of arms  and ammunition into the country.

Nwabunike Tony Iju: ANLCA President

 Bu the Nigerian government appears to have put strong measures in place  to forestall arms smuggling into the country with the planned reopening of the border. This is by ensuring strict implementation  of the ECOWAS Protocol By member countries. Thee Magazine findings shows that this time around, Benin Republic  and the  other neighbouring  countries which have trade relationship with Nigeria  would be  delivering  all their  transit cargoes  from their respective countries to the NCS at the Land border   Commands directly  and all the necessary documents signed .

 With the measures put in place, ANLCA,had suggested that for  the Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General of Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, Men  to be in tune  with International best practices , the service ’’should allow micro-chip  shoot on every Container along the  ECOWAS route into the country’’.

The  Association, The Magazine was informed had drawn the attention of the government to the fact  that cargoes on transit  and mobile Assets like trucks  laden with goods  worth over N130 billion  belonging  to Nigerian business men and women including Companies that were trapped since August 2018, when the borders across the country with the neighbouuring countries were closed had  been destroyed due to the expiry date of the products, which are beyond redemption  as a result of exposure  to unfavourable conditions. The Association  reported that ’’there had been cases of vandalism,  theft and arson of some of the trucks and their goods, particular, in Benin, Nigeria and Cameroon, thus causing great loses to the  importers.

 More worrisome  was the over 10,000 jobs that were said to have been lost due o the border closure, which the Association insisst  should have been approached and implemented differently without the parties losing anything. Insiders told The Magazine the ANLCA leadership interaction with some top ranking members of the Amad Lawan led Senate  over allegations of the Lawmakers interference  in cargo Clearing  may have solved a major crisis at the port.

 At a closed doo meeting r with the members of the Senate Committee on Customs  and Excise , under the Chairmanship of  Senator Francis Almkhna, Nwabunike led ANLCA NECON,  had told the Senate Committee members that getting involved in cargo clearance at the ports negates the due process  to be involved in cargo clearing. The Committee Chairman was said to have given his words that cargo clearing process  would not  be stalled  due to the Committee oversight  functions.

Appealing to all Customs brokers , Freight Forwarders , Logistics Operators and  haulage Companies to remain Calm  in the event of government  review of its policies,   to accommodate their line of business and expand opportunities for their growth, Nwabunike has assured  members   that ‘’ the Association  would continue to pursue  the interest of members in the areas of operational challenges’’. This  should serve as a cheering news to Agents.  

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