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.
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.
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.
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.