By Stephen Ubanna
Borisis Johnson, the British Prime minister, believes in stimulating Africa economic growth. It was not not surprising why he championed an the recent UK-Arica Investment Submit which brought together African leaders, International Business Chief Executives and Heads of International Organisations in order to create new partnerships that will deliver more investments and jobs in the African Continent.
President Muhammad Buhari, was said to have used the Opportunity provided by the Investment Submit to meet with a selected group of the Nigerian Community in London who were said to have taken him up on the issue of the closure of the Borders across the country with the neighbouring countries of Benin Republic , Niger and the Central African country of Cameroon wh spread in four geo-political regions of the Federation excluding the north east because of the activities of Boko Haram in the region .
The Katsina state born Nigerian President was said to have used the opportunity provided by the International Investment Submit to explain to the Nigerian Community the reasons for the Border closure with the neighboring West African countries and Cameroon.
He noted that ‘’it was not initiated‘ intentionally to punish the countries ’’ but to strengthen the country’s security and economy’’ from the activities of informal traders of illicit goods who are using these countries as their operational base to smuggle into the Nigeriaan market.
Recall, that Buhari had severally talked things over individually with Presidents Patrick Talon, Mohammad Issoufou and Paul Biya of Benin, Niger and Cameroon , respectively in his first term in office on the need for them to join forces in tackling the informal traders leaving among them in their respective countries in order to stop the smuggling such illicit goods into the Nigerian market but that was how far he could go.
From the Border Communities in Kwara , Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Ogun, Oyo,osun, Lagos,, Ekiti, Kano, Jigawa, Sokoto, Zamfara, Kebbi to Katsina, the President home state, the story was the same: increased smuggling of Contraband including arms and ammunition from Benin, Niger and Cmeroon into the Nigerian market.
The situation was so bad that the country was losing billions of naira to the these countries annually. This is evident going by a Statement by Joseph Attah, a Deputy Comptroller and Customs Spokesperson showing that the Service daily revenue generation has shot up from the normal N4 billion –N5 billion to N5 billion and N7 billion since the Border Drills, popular, Operation Swift Response , was initiated last gAugust which had resulted into the partial closure of the Borders across the country.
Indeed, the Border Closure may have become biting in these Countries as most of the informal traders who could no longer find it easy to access the Nigerian market with their illicit goods through the illegal routes were said to have relocated to Nigerian ports to take delivery of their goods.
An elated Buhari had told the Nigerian Community in London, that the country is using the period of the Border Closure for’’stock taking on threats to the nation’s security and economy’’. He may have gladdened the heart of the Nigerians in diaspora , when the he revealed some of the positive effects of the policy on the economy.
He had said that the rice farmers who had almost lost the local market to the Asian country of Thailand par boiled rice farmers have been celebrating the Border Closure which has drastically reduced the smuggling of foreign agricultural products as well as arms and ammunition into the country
Note that the Katsina state born the Nigeria President, Zainab Ahmed, minister of Finance, Budget and National planning as well as other top government officials including Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and the Customs Comptroller General , had severally told those that cares to listen that Nigeria will not reopen the Borders until Benin , which serves as a major gateway to the smuggling of Contraband into the country and Niger, another country in the West African sub-region , complied with the Economic Community of West African States , ECOWAS , Trade Protocols , agreement and various other Memorandum of Understandings ,MoUs, signed and agreed over the years.
The fifteen Heads of State and Government of the member countries of the ECOWAS, had in 1975, had signed and agreed on a Trade protocol. The countries were said to have also signed and agreed on several trade agreements and Memorandum of Understandings, MoUs, with a promise to respect it, to avoid flooding the regional market with foreign manufactured goods and agricultural products.
. The Nigerian government, according to the ECOWAS Secretariat source, had respected the trade protocol and also, expected the West African neighboring countries, particular, Benin and Niger to comply with the trade protocol.
Nigeria further expected the countries to respect the trade agreements and the various MoUs signed and agreed including Cameroon but the countries were not ready to do so turned as undocumented informal trade of Contraband across the Borders became a thriving business to the economic advantage of the eneighbouring countries.
The fallout was that the government initiated a process that facilitated the launching of Border Drills, popular, Operations Swift response, which was placed under the Control and Supervision of Babagana Munguno, a retired Major General and National Security Adviser, NSA, who is one of the members of the Kitchen Cabinet of the President . Ali, was made the Deputy National Coordinator of the Border Drill, in his Capacity as the Comptroller General of Customs, the lead agency.
Investigation by The Value shows that since the launching of the Border Drills Operation, Talon, the Beninese President and his counterparts in Niger and Cameroon have been under pressure from within and outside their respective countries to comply with the ECOWAS trade protocol, agreements and MoUs signed and agreed with Nigeria to acilitate the reopening of the closed Borders because of the negative effect on their economies.
Indeed, the Border Drills Operatives my not have succeeded in stopping the informal trade as expected by Critics but the Customs Comptroller General, who was armed with reports from the Border Drills regional Coordinators could confirm that smuggling, banditry and Kidnapping have reduced to the barest minimum in the country over the last five months.
It is also instructive to note that the era where bandits could easily over run a whole Community in the north and take over has become a thing of the past as Aliyu Mohammed, an acting Assistant Comptroller General, ACG, of Customs and sector 4, Border Drills Coordinator, overseeing the north west geo-political Comprising of Kaduna, Katsina, Kno, Jigawa, Sokoto, Kebbi, and Zamfra and his men were said to have effectively blocked the region that big time smugglers are no longer finding funny.
His counterpart in sector 3, in-charge of the north central geo-political region comprising of Kwara, Niger, Kogi, Benue, Nasaraawa and Plateau states, Muhammed Uba Garba, and who was incidentally a former Comptroller of Seme Command his men were said to be doing the same in the north central where smugglers in the Border Communities of Baruten local government Area of Kwara state, particular, and other Border Communities in the region were said to have been driven underground as they could no longer carry out their nefarious activities.
Those who were said to have tried to test the will of the Border Drills personnel in the Aliyu or Muhammed controlled regions in the recent time would never forget their experience in a hurry as their illicit goods had fallen into the awaiting hands of the Border Drill Operatives strategically positioned in the two regions.
Another major major fallout of the Border closure, according to security sources, was the resort by importers of Contraband goods through Benin Terminal , Cotonou and Bollore port, both in Republic of Benin, to resort to plan B: shipping Contraband in Containers through Nigerian ports and then use their contacts in Customs and other security agencies to take delivery of it.
They may have resorted to ship such Contraband through the Nigerian ports because of the large of Border Drills personnel and other resident Customs personnel including the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, and the Comptroller General of Customs, CGC, Strike Force personnel, at the land Borders and their regular illegal illegal routes.
Take for instance the Vegetable importers who were said to have attempted to use the Lagos ports of Apapa or Tin Can Island ports to ship such Consignments into the country who are now counting their loses as their goods hwere said to fallen into the waiting hands of the CGC Strike Force, Lagos Zonal Office and FOU, Zone A, Operations and Lagos Roving Teamsin the south west.
Only recently, Usman Yahaya, acting Comptroller, FOU, Zone A, Command and his men , had intercepted and impounded a ‘’40’’ Container loaded with over 2,600 ‘25’ Jerry Cans of Vegetable Oil allegedly imported from the Asian country of Malaysia.
Not many people were surprised over the seizures as he was said to have made similar seizures while still Heading the CGC Strike Force, Lagos Zonal office. At the last count , he was said to have made two to three ‘’40’’ Containers loaded with the Malaysian processed Vegetable Oil, which were promptly seized.
U Yahaya , appears to have made a bold Statement with the seizures that Contraband importers are free to load such items into Containers and ship it through Nigerian ports but their ‘’worry should be whether the Consignment would get to their destination’’, he had said.
He averred that releasing officers at the ports and Bonded Terminals are free to Compromise and release such Contraband but the CGC Strike Force and FOU officers are on the road to intercept and transfer it to the government warehouse to be Confiscated. He appears to have sent a signal to the contraband importers and others who indulge in shortchanging the government that it is no longer going to be business as usual. ‘’Action speaks louder voice’’, he reportedly said.