By Stephen Ubanna
Between August, 2019 and December, 2020, Patrice Talon, President of Republic of Benn ,, whose country economic survival depends on duty collected from transit goods, had suffered major economic losses. The situation was so bad in the neighbouring West African country that the Beninois President was forced to engage the services of Nana Kuffo-Addo, the Ghanaian President to plead with Muhammadu Buhari, a retired Army Genera to reverse the decision.
Prior to the involvement of the Ghanaian President in order to facilitate the reopening of the closed Nigerian Borders with the neighbouring countries comprising of Benin, Niger and the Central African country of Cameroon, on Talon was said to have made several efforts to talk to the the Katsina state born Nigerian President to reverse the decision which had somewhat distabilised the country’s economy. On Thursday, January 9, 2021, the duo met behind closed doors at Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, to rub minds on how to handle the issue to avoid a repeat in the future. Because of the activities of Smugglers operating between the two countries.
Aware that most of its Nigerian Transit cargo importer Customers have abandoned the Autonomous port of Cotonou and Bollore port, the toe two seaports in the country traditionally used and relocated, to Ghana, Coted’Ivooire and Togo, all member countries of the Economic Community of West FRICAN States, ECOWAS, seaports, to take delivery of their imports meant for the Nigerian market may have forced the Benin government officials to go back to the drawing board to decide on how to collect duties from the Nigerian bound Truck laden cargoes.
Note, that the Nigerian Manufacturers, also export their ECOWAS, Trade Liberalisation Scheme, TLS, goods, manufactured goods t through the Seme and Ilakoji border from Nigerian to other West African countries by road, and which must pass through Seme and Ilakoji, a border Community between Benin and Togo.
The fallout, according to an informed source was the decision by the Beninois government to impose a new import duty of CFA 9million, equivalent of N6.5million on each transiting truck, whether from the country’s seaports or Ghana, Cot d’Ivoire or Togo passing through the country or cleared from the country port or manufactured from the local Industries.
Talon may have sent a message to Buhari, with the outrageous duty imposed on each transiting Truck laden with goods through the country borders to prove to the Nigerian President that that Benin may Small but it can bite. He was said to have told those that cares to listen that the country generated more revenue during the border closure than now that it has been thrown open
The country officials had claimed that the transit cargo importers who had relocated to these other West African countries to take delivery of their cargoes are not doing the right thing as they import foreign goods , claiming t that they were ETLS goods. The implication of the accusation of the Beninois Government officials was a clear indications that this was what the Transit cargo importers were. doing in their country but were covered by the Customs Authorities.
This is because of the revenue accruing to the country from the deal to the disadvantage of the Nigerian government.. Many believe that the Beninos government gave room to the Nigerian Transit cargo importers to relocate in large number to these other ports in the West African sub-region with the new imposed Tariff on each transiting truck laden with cargo passing through the country.
A top official of the ECOWAS, Secretariat, at the Seme/Krake , joint BoRder , between Nigeria and Benin Republic, who is worried about the action of the Beniinois Authorities to make things difficult for Nigerian Transit cargo owners disclosed that that what Talon and his Customs Authority personnel is bad. The official noted that there was no basis for the Beninois government to have imposed such outrageous duties on each truck laden cargo passing through the country into the Nigeria side of the border for proper documentation because the goods are exempted from all forms of duty under the ECOWAS, which is an economic bloc, protocols on Transit goods.
The situation is so bad that the Leadership of the Association of the Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, had taken up the matter with Yusuf Tkur Buratai, a Lt. General , rtd, and a former Chief of Army Staff and now, Nigerian Ambassador to Benin , about the plight of the Imports and exporters, who are mostly , Nigerian , Manufacturers in the hands of the Beninois Authorities who are desperate to collect duties on their transit Trucks laden with goods both within and outside their country. The ANLCA, officials were said to have also met with the Beninoois Customs officials at the ECOWAS Secretariat to discuss the issue but were told that it could be resolved at a government to government level. Many see it as President Talon , partial closure of the border with Nigeria as economic and social activities have been grounded to a halt at the land border. ‘’There is no activity going on at the border Community ‘’, an officer remarked.
The refusal of the Nigerian Transit cargoes importers and exporters to pay the outrageous duty imposed on each of their trucks laden cargoes may have forced them to abandon over 3,7000 Nigerian bound Trucks, which they claimed were loaded with ETLS goods at Ilakoji, a border Community between Benin and Togo but the Beninois government would not agree. ‘’The goods were not produced in West Africa’’, Beninois Customs Authorities insist.
An agent who spoke to The Value News disclosed that if its possible for Aliko Dangote, President Dangote Industries to find alternative route of delivery the Company Cement to its Togo, Niger, Ghana and other West African countries, without his Trucks passing through Ilakoji border to be harassed by Beninois Customs personnel for payment of the CFA 9 million, on each of his Company export cement Trucks
Until the Benininois Authorities came up with the outrageous Transit cargo import and export duties, Dangot Industries, alone had dominated the xport market in the West African subregion. Virtually every week, scores of Dangote Trucks laden with cement line up the Badagry –Seme route heading to Ilakoji Border enroute to Togo, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire while some of the Tucks ended up at Benin.
Take for instance , btween January and March alone, Mohamed Jibo, Comptroller, Seme Command, overseeing what ought to be African busiest border had revealed that the Command recorded a Trade volume of 348,827,775 metric tons exported goods with a Free On Board, FOB, value of about N4.3 billion. The country export volume was said to have grown in the second quarter of 2021, but forced to drop with the Beninois government imposed CFA9 million on each transiting Truck laden with cargoes passing through Ilakoji border enroute to Togo, Ghana and Coted’Ivore. There have been mixed reaction over the Beninois government action.
Kayode Farinto, National Vice President, ANLCA, who has been in the News in the recent times, had appealed to Nigerians criticizing the Talong government action to do a rethink.
He believes that the Law of reciprocity, meaning that whatever you give, you get in return from your neighbor may have forced the country to impose the bill on the Nigerian Transit cargo importers and exporters. He noted that that when the Nigerian government implemented the border closure policy in 2019, it did not take into consideration that it was a signatatory to the ECOWAS Protocol and Convention. Nigerians had shouted that it should not exceed one month but it lasted over a year, forcing the People of Benin, Niger and Cameroon, to cry out.
Farinto, who could not hide his feelings had said that if the Beninois Customs personnel at the instance of Talon, are now stopping Nigerian bound Trucks laden cargoes from passing through ILakoji, a border Community with Togo, enroute to Nigeria, ‘’we should not Complain’’.
Maritime analysts believe that the subtle war that had been declared on Nigerian by Talon has opened people’s eye to the rot that had been going on at the Seme border over the years with the active connivance of the Beninois and Nigerian Customs personnel.
This may have informed why Hameed Ali ,a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, has promised to investigate the allegations of the Beninois Customs Authorities that what the Nigerian Transit importers claimed were goods manufactured within the West African sub region were actually Foreign goods, mostly manufactured from the Asian country of Nigeria but repackaged in these countries. For the Nigerian market.
Lucky Amiwero, President , National Council of Managing Director of Licensed Customs Agents , NCMDLCA, may have differed with Farinto, the ANLCA, Vice President. He had said that the Beninois government decision ‘’ to block Nigerian bound laden Trucks with cargoes from transiting through Ilakoji, border with Togo, violates all ECOWAS Protocol on free trade, particular, on the ETLS ,goods.
He haad alluded to the fact that the Nigerian Leader may have initiated the war when it closed the border with the neighbouring countries of Benin, Niger and Cameroon for over one and half year, describing it as’’ a big mistake’’. According to him, Benin Republic’’ rely on Nigeria to survive’’ insisting that ‘’there is something that may have forced Talon, the Beninois President to approve the CFA9 million or N6.5 million Transit import and export duties on each Transiting Truck through the country.
Muda Ysuf, a former Director General, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, LCCI, on his part, described the stoppage of the over 3,700 Nigerian bound Transit cargoes from Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Togo, at Ilakoji border, enroute to Nigeria, as a ‘’threat to economic integration in Africa’’.