By Elizabeth Chukwuma
For years, Nigeria has been losing billions of naira to Republic of Benin, Niger and the Central African country of Cameroon in informal trade . This is because of the activities of Clandestine smugglers who were provided safe passage to carry out their nefarious activities of smuggling prohibited items such as foreign par boiled rice ,used clothing, second hand clothing and foreign processed vegetable oil into the country.
Going by the country fiscal policy , these items are not allowed to be imported into the country. President Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling All Progressive Congress had come clearly on January 1, 2017, to ban the importation of foreign par boiled rice and second hand vehicles into the country through the land border.
The Katsina born Nigerian President had expected Presidents Patrick Talon, Muhammad Issofou, and Paul Biya of Republic of Benin, Niger and the Central African Republic of Cameroon whose countries have liberal economic policies that allows these foreign goods to be imported into their to adequately police its distribution to dealers avoid being smuggled into the Nigerian market.
It was learnt that the Katsina state born Nigeria Nigerian President was said to have spoken to them individually to montor the activities of smugglers who use their countries s base to smuggled offensive goods, particular, the Asian country foreign produced par boiled rice into the country through the porous borders.
It is instructive to note that the smuggling activities are carried in border Communities in the in the 21 local government areas spread in Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ekiti, Lagos, Cross River, Akwa-Ibom, Sokoto, Kebi, Zamfara, Katsina, Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states. Customs anti-smuggling officers may not have done much in the past to contain the activities of the cross –border smugglers messing up the country’s economy because of the difficult terrain. This is the situation in Chikanda, a Community in Baruten local area of Kwara state, thus making it a haven for cross border smugglers who understands the terrain to carry out their nefarious activities unrestrained.
Talon and his counterparts may have refused to Cooperate with the Nigerian government to bring the activities of the Cross-border smugglers under control and save the nation’s economy because the huge revenue their governments were making from the informal trade.
The recent closure of the borders with the three neighboring countries: Benin, Niger and Cameroon , to stop the informal trade may have exposed the countries as being a curse to Nigeria rather than a blessing because of the billions of naira which could have earned by Nigeria as revenue with proper documentation but lost to the countries to service their economy.
Signs that Nigeria has been losing billions of naira to these neighbouring countries began to manifest when Customs yearly revenue rose astronomically to a trillion naira bracket in 2017, because of the Customs tight policing of the cargoes coming into the country from the seaports, airports and land border areas.
Note that 41 items have been removed from accessing the official foreign exchange market to ensure they were not imported into the country. The policy was later extended to the importation of foreign par boiled rice and textiles into the country. Buhari may have made bold a Statement by closing the nation’s borders with these three African neighbouring countries last August to prove a point.
The closure of the land borders appear to have made it difficult for these smugglers to carry out their nefarious activities as usual across the country. This may have forced the importers who patronise Cotonou Terminal and Bollore port in Benin Republic to take delivery of their cargoes which were smuggled into the Nigerian market through unapproved routes to relocate to the Nigeria ports to do their business.
Those who have remained unrepentant would not forget their experience in the renewed anti-smuggling war in the last one year. TThe service was said to have seized 30,906 assorted items with a Duty Paid Value of N62 .23 billion. Going by Customs records the seizures include arms, ammunitions, illicit drugs , used clothing, Vegetable Oil, frozen poultry products and foreign rice among others.
Importers who may have read their hand writing on the wall that there is no end in sight to the border closer may have realised quickly the need to relocate to Nigerian ports to take delivery of their cargoes. APM Terminal and other Terminal operators could attest to the fact that there have been an increase in cargo throughput at the ports which reflected on the revenue collection of the Nigerian Customs Service, NCS. This may have informed why the revenue generation of the service shot up significantly in 2019.
A Statement by Joseph Attah, a Deputy Comptroller and Customs Spokesperson shows that before the commencement of the Border Drills in the four geo-political regions: south west, south east, north central and north west last August, the Service daily revenue generation was between N4 billion and 5 billion but has risen to N7 billion in the recent time.
The fallout was that the service generated N1.34 trillion in the 2019 trading year. According to Attah, the amount generated by the revenue generating agency was about N969. 831 billion over the 2019 set target and N139.24 billion over the sum of N1.202, generated by the service in 2018, showing that these neighbouring countries have been feeding fat from Nigeria..
An elated Hameed Ali , a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General who had attributed the improved revenue collection in 2019 fiscal year to’’ resolute pursuit of what is right, rather than being populist by Compromising national interest on the altar of individual or group interests’’ is optimistic that the service revenue generation this 2020 would be much better.
He noted that the’’ strategic deployment of officers strictly using the standard operating procedure, strict enforcement of extant guidelines by the Tariff and Trade Department and automation of the Customs process which had eliminated the vices associated with the manual process of clearing cargoes at the port played a key in the enhanced revenue generation of the service over the last four years.
The Customs Comptroller General further attributed the improved revenue collection during the period under review to the sensitization carried out by the service to ensure that importers with their agents do the right thing. He disclosed that this has resulted to the more informed and voluntary Compliance by importers with their agents in their declarations at the port.
Given an insider information on the government decision to close the borders with the three neighbouring African countries which are already feeling the economic pain, Ali, the Customs Comptroller General, said disclosed that ‘’it was a decisive action taken against the challenging issue of trans-border crime and Criminalities , fueled by non- compliance to the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, Protocol on Ttansit cargoes by the countries.
A source who spoke to The Value News at the Federal ministry of Finance, Budget and Economic Planning disclosed that with the acquisition of Rice Milling machines, by Millers to destine locally produced rice, the President may not be in a hurry to reopen the closed Borders cross the country with the neighboring countries
. But Ali, the Customs boss, may have gladdened the heart of Nigerians when he said that all hopes are not yet lost. He was said to have told those that cares to listen that there are hopes of reopening the borders going by the ongoing discussions between the government and the countries at the center of the crisis.
He is optimistic that the discussion would yield permanent solution to the challenges of border security with the countries. The Customs helmsman, has repeatedly said that that the service is ever ready to’’ strictly implement the outcome of the ongoing Diplomatic engagements’’ . this good news to Nigerians who are looking forward to the day the borders would be opened for free movement of goods and services within the Wet African sub-region.