Customs: Hope Rises As Nigerian Borders With Benin Republic, Others To Reopen For Business

 By Stephen Ubanna

 Barely one month after President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, now  hairman, Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS  told Patrice Talon, his Beninoise Counterpart , at  the summit on the New Global Finance Pact summit  put together by President  Emmanuel Macron of France  that he has appointed one Adewale Bashir Adeniyi to replace Hameed Ali , a retired Army Colonel, as acting  Comptroller  General of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, for their close working relationship.

The Lagos state born Nigerian President may have had at the back of his mind that the neighbouring West African countries of Benin Republic, Niger , Chad and the  Central  African country of Cameroun, Customs Administrations, did not find it easy working with Ali, the immediate past Comptroller General.

The Beninose President may have seen the appointment of Adeniyi as the NCS, new helmsman   as a ‘’renewed hope for the sub-region’’, pledging to provide support   on trade and security’’ at the borders between the two countries. The Beninoise President was said to have tried to work with the former President Muhammadu Buhari’s Administration to ensure that whatever is prohibited in Nigeria will also be banned in Benin Republic but that was how far he could go.

The World Bank had reported in 2016, that  an astonishing  N1.45 trillion  worth of assorted  prohibited  goods  are smuggled into the Nigerian  market  through Benin Republic  alone every year but the Senate Committee on Customs , Excise and Tariff  in its investigating on foreign rice and other prohibited goods smuggling into Nigeria from Benin and other neighbouring countries  into the Nigeria  market yearly was overN 7tn  and must be stopped.

It was therefore tot surprising why the Nigerian new Customs boss had lamented when he visited the President recently at the Villa that the challenge of smuggling across the borders, particular, foreign  parboiled rice , vehicles, textiles and fuel, hoping that the new economic policies of the government: removal of subsidy and unification of the country’s multiple exchange rates system on the long run  would diminish the smuggling of the prohibited commodities into the Nigerian market.

May believe that the persistent smuggling of the vital items may not be unconnected to the closure of the borders across the country that had forestalled the movement of goods and services. Aware that there are ongoing processes to review the border closure situation, the Nigerian President quest to achieve border security and regional integration may have informed why the Nigerian Comptroller General has begun consultations with the Beninoise Customs Administration to address thorny issues.

Wale Adeniyi: Acting CG, Customs

 On Monday, July 24, 2023, Adeniyi, the Customs Comptroller General was said to be in Benin Republic to rub minds   with  Romauld  Wadagni, the country’s  Senior Minister in-charge of Economy  and Finance and Alain  Hinkati, the Director General of the Customs Administration, on some unresolved issues including Border security .

The Nigerian Customs boss may have used the opportunity of the working visit to Benin Republic, preparatory to planned reopening of the closed borders across the country to address the issue of multiple charges on Nigeria-bound transit cargoes along the Abidjan corridor. There are indications that the Nigerian transit cargo importers currently    pay  about  CFA2.2 million  as charges  on a ‘’40’’ Container as against  CFA500,000 paid by  Burkina Faso , Niger  and other neighbouring countries  to move their Consignment  out of their port. 

The Leadership of the Association of Nigerian Licensced Customs Agents, ANLCA, Seme Chapter including the Representatives of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, NAGAFF, National Council of Managing Diectors of Licensed Customs Agents and other Associations were said to have at various time met with the Beninoise government officials on the mater but wee diappoined at the Beninoise government’s position on the matter.

Given President Talon’s assurance to support trade between the two countries  and enhance security at the borders  given the soft landing  that had been provided to the country by Tinubu,  may have informed why  the country  to harmonise  its import prohibition list  policy  to ensure that whatever is banned in Nigeria  would also be banned in Benin Republic.

Adeniyi  who has seen it all,  may have gladdened the heart of  the Nigerian   based Transit cargo importers with their agents  that there was no cause to worry any longer  as measures   have been taken  ‘’to ensure   good working relationship  between the countries  that was on the low side during the Buhari’s Administration.

The situation is so bad as Nigerian Manufacturers have continued to suffer loses over the last six months as their Containerised cargoes remain trapped at the Benin Republic side of the Seme/Krake Joint Border Community awaiting to be handed over to the Seme Customs Command.

The situation was even worse in 2021, at the height of the border closure  as the government  of Benin Republic  had imposed   an import duty of CFA9  million or N6.5 million  per transit truck  laden with Nigerian –bound Containerised cargoes  which ought to be exempted  from all forms of duty  under the ECOWAS protocols on transit cargoes.

Adeniyi, the  Customs acting Comptroller, who may have found reason to pay a working visit to Benin Republic at the instance of the Nigerian President  was  said to  have agreed with his Beninioise  Counterpart   ‘’to promote the ECOWAS Trade Libealisation Scheme and the facilitation  of the movement of   goods,  manufactured within the sub-region.

Acting  on the mandate of their respective Countries’ President, they were said to have also agreed to the removal of  trade barriers and other o obstacles  to Legitimate trade between the two countries and the establishment of Customs units  when the need arises. At present, trade between Nigeria and Benin Republic, Compt.Dera Nnadi, Area Controller Seme Command  had reportedly said was less than two percent.  

The NCS, Chief Executive Officer, CEO, may have sent a message to  the Nigerian based Transit cargo  importers with  their agents to be prepared to enjoy a new lease of life at the Land border areas across the country but must  ‘’ensure strict compliance  with  transit cargo import  rules  and approved  harmonised  list  of products  prohibited by the two countries to avoid a return to the old Order.

He was said to have assured them of rapid  integration  of Nigeria  into the interconnected  system  for the Management  of Goods  in Transit , IGMAT, comprising of the  Customs Administrations  of the West African countries of Benin Republic,  BurkinaFaso,  Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo.

Perhaps to ensure that all the vital decisions reached at Cotonou, the Capital of Benin Republic  during his recent visit to the country which were   aimed at ‘’promoting trade between the two countries and  ensuring that  that the country’s border that were closed  since August 2019, are opened  on terms that are comparatively favourable to both countries, they were said to have agreed  to the  reactivation the  aborted  joint Committee for monitoring  trade  and movement of transit cargoes  across the Land border areas. 

  Adeniyi, who may have acted out a script of the Nigerian government which ultimate goal, according to a source at the a ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning is’’ to establish a Nigeria/Benin Joint Commission expected to be achieved on or before the end of this 2023, Fiscal year that may herald the reopening of the closed borders across the country.

Many fears that Adeniyi, the Nigerian acting Customs Comptroller General’s visit to Benin Republic where he was said to have held useful discussions   with the country’s Ministry of Economy and Finance officials and the  Director General, of the Customs Administration    may  be wasted efforts if the Beninoise Director General of Customs fails to  pay a return visit  to Nigeria ‘’to follow up on the discussions initiated at the CCotonu  meeting last Monday.       

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *