How Border Closure Forced Benin Republic And Other Neighboring Countries To Comply With ETLS Trade Potocols As Buhari Urges Nigerians To Support Customs To Benefit From AfCTA

   By Stephen Ubanna

Those who think that President  President Muhammadu Buhari had bowed to pressure from local and International quarters to reopen the borders across the country with the neighbouring countries of Benin Republic, Niger and the Central African country of Cameroon, on January 1, 2021,  would be disappointed. 

 Information emerging from Presidency sources  reveals that the planned take-off of the African  Continental Free Trade Agreement, AfCTA,  and the Commitment of  Benin and Niger, particular, to comply  with the Economic Community of West African States  , ECOWAS, Trade Liberalisation Scheme, ETLS, protocols  on transit goods may have  encouraged  The Katsina state born Nigerian President to reopen the borders with the eneighbouring countries.

The Nigerian President was emphatic on the AfTA, as he had called on the Nigerian business Community ‘’ to support  the  Nigerian Customs anti-smuggling  personnel at the land borders in order to benefit  from the trade agreement and other border activities’’.

 Until he signed the trade agreement on behalf of the Nigerian government as the 54th member nation, Nigerian Companies manufactured products ranging from cement, drinks to Confectionaries had dominated the ETLS market. There are indications that over 2,400 Nigerian  Companies are registered to participate in the economic bloc trade activities while of the 1900 products traded in the market, between 60 -70% are manufactured in the country. This may have informed why the Nigerian President is optimistic that  the  business Community  would benefit from the trade agreement  and other  cross-border activities  going by their performance in the ETLS. 

Customs Foreign Rice And Vegetable Oil Seizures

 Recall that prior  to the border closure the Nigerian President  had consistently   accused  the neighbouring countries  particular, Benin Republic ,of not complying with the ECOWAS   trade protocols on transit goods, thus resulting in  Contraband cargoes  being smuggled into the Nigerian market  through the  porous borders .

The border closure may have achieved its desired objective  going by   the Statement by Hameed Ali, a retired army Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, when he disclosed  that the countries  have agreed’’ to operationalisation  of joint border patrol  at both sides of the border Communities between the countries to contain the activities of the dare devil smugglers, described in political circles as’’ economic saboteurs’’.

The Joint  border teams, according Joseph Attah, a Deputy Comptroller and the service spokesperson, in order   to  do their work as it ought to be done are  requested to  share intelligence  to ensure  the  prevention of   prohibited transit  goods from Benin Republic and the two other neighbouring countries from coming into the Nigerian market.    

Customs seized Vehicles In 2020

Ali, the Customs Comptroller General had listed the items that are  usually smuggled into the country through the porous borders  to include  small and light arms, illicit drugs, used clothing, vegetable oil,  frozen poultry products foreign rice, textiles among others. He had said that the  service efforts  to prevent  the entry  of these items  through the country’s 84 legal   and 1,499 illegal border routes with the neighbouring countries had,  resulted in the seizures  of 4,304 assorted goods  across the country in 2020 alone.  Valuation experts had put the Duty Paid Value, DPV, of the seized goods from the cross-border smugglers   at about N28.3billion.

the Customs Comptroller General, who could not hide his feelings may have  seen the 18 months partial border closure with the neighbouring countries  as a good thing to the economy. According to him, prior to the border closure in August 20, 2019, the service daily revenue generation  from the land borders and the seaports was  between N 4 billion and N5 billion.

He disclosed that with the border closure, the service daily  revenue  generation now range between N5 billion and N9 billion, even without any  revenue coming from the land border areas .  disclosed  that the  partial border closure  had forced  the transit cargo  importers who could have engaged the services of smugglers to bring  prohibited imported   goods into the country through inappropriate routes to ship  it through  the seaports and airports.

 Indeed, the Nigerian President may have taken advantage of the border closure to  support the Ali led NCS, which had embarked on the introduction of the e-Customs  which components include  installations of scanners at all entry points of the country including the land border area to acquire the facilities.

Customs Arms Seizures in 2020

  He may have seen it as the only way to boost national trade facilitation with the reopening the borders across the country. Godwin Emefiele, governor, Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN,  may have seen the importance of scanner equipment to facilitate  cargo clearance at the seaports and land the  border areas  that the apex bank has expressed its commitment  to purchasing  four scanners  for the service. It was said to have also  promised’’ to establish  a control center for  monitoring all the scanning sites in their bid to   boost the national economy, particular,  the agricultural sector’’.

This may have given the  Ali led Customs Management  team , the optimism that within the next six months  the service will have about seven functional scanners to be mounted at strategic entry  points across the country  even before the full deployment  of the e-Customs Components which ,insiders said  will see to the deployment  of 135 modern scanner equipment

FG Equip The Ports With Scanner To Ease Customs Personnel Examination of Cargoes

. The CBN,  promise to purchase  four  scanning  equipment to support Customs operations may have informed  why the Customs Comptroller General has given kudos to the leadership of the apex bank, for their strategic intervention  to  support the operations of the Service to boost its revenue generation with the drop of oil price in the International oil market.

Perhaps what may have shocked Nigerians   was the huge amount paid into the Federation account in the 2020 fiscal year , despite the Asian country of China, emerged coronavirus, popular, COVID 19, which took the greater  part of last year. The service was said to have generated  the sum of  about N1.58 trillion which was paid into the Federation account.  Attah, the Customs spokesperson had said  that  the amount generated by the service  within the period was over the N1.84 trillion target set for it by the  government and more than the N1.34 trillion generated by the Service in 2019.

Given an insider information of the improved revenue generation of the Service in 2020 , despite the COVID 19, Pandemic, Attah, attributed it’’to the strategic deployment   of officers  strictly  using the standard  operating culture and strict enforcement of  extant guidelines  by the tariff and trade department’’.

He noted that the automation  of the Customs process , which had helped in eliminating  the  areas of revenue leakage  associated with the manual process had contributed in no small measure to the  increase in the Service revenue generation in the 2020 fiscal year.

He further stated that ’’the robust stakeholders sensitization  Campaign  embarked  upon by the Service had resulted  in more informed, voluntary compliance  by importers with their agents at the seaports and airports  to make correct declarations  and accurate payment as ’’the increased disposition of the officers and men of the Service  to put the national interest above selves  in the discharge of their duties played a major role in boosting the revenue of the service at thesea ports and airports during the year.    

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