Border Closure: Talon Throws ECOWAS Building Into Darkness To Embarass Visiting Nigeria Ministers As Benin Youths Carry Placards

By Stephen Ubanna

  The Beneinsese   government  appears  to  have prepared well  in advance to embarrass the Nigerian government ministerial Team and Kayode Oguntuanse, the  Ambassador to   the French speaking country when information  filtered out that they would be visiting the  Seme/Krake Joint  Border Community   on Monday, November 25, 2019.  The visit may have been approved by President Muhammadu Buhari  in order to carry out on the spot assessment of the Border closure.

The Authorities may have  taken  opportunity  of the media tour embarked upon  by the ministers and the   other top government functionaries  including Journalists  to evaluate  the 3-mnoth old border closure  starting with the  Seme/Krake   operations to register their protest . The next Borders   to be visited of the Team , according its schedule are  Ogun 1, Idiroko, on Thursday, 28, 2019 and Katsina, December 2, 2019.

 Eyewitness account  disclosed that when the Nigerian Air Force , NAF, Helicopter carrying  Geofrey Onyeama , the Foreign Affairs  minister, Babagana Munguno, a retired Major General and National Security Adviser and others and minister of State , Finance, Budget and National Planning , landed at the Border Community, it gave the security operatives  and  stakeholders hope that the visitation was real.

Note that the first attempt by   a Team led by Munguno, the National Security Adviser, NSA, failed as the Helicopter could not land  due to alleged  bad weather , forcing  the pilot to divert the flight  to Port Harcourt, Rivers state, thus dispersing the crowd who had waited  under rain and sunshine to receive them.

 The ministers and the invited guests  may  have been greeted with a horrible situation  as  there was  no light  at the Conference room. The Beninese Authorities may have  deliberately  taken the light to embarrass the ministers  over the Border closure.  Those who were conversant with the style of politics of Patrick Talon, the country’s President believe that  there is no way the  power providing agency in could ha Benin  could have tampered  with  the light  without getting a signal from the  approving Authorities who are at the becks and call of the President  .  The management of the ECOWAS building  were said to have made a temporary  arrangement  to ensure that the  standing FAS in the Conference room work pending when the power would be restored.  

 The situation was so bad that the ministerial Team and the guests  were forced to leave the Conference  room  after  Lai Mohammed,  the minister of Information  and Culture had  read out the first Paragraph  of his prepared speech: we are here to assess, consult and inform the world why  Nigeria took  the decision to  close the Borders with the neighbouring countries of Republic of Benin and Niger’’ to give room  to the Beninese power providers to put their axe together and do  the right thing.

 The short break  was said to have provided opportunity for  the visiting ministerial team members  to interact with  the stakeholders  and to ask questions.  The minister of Foreign Affairs, particular, may have taken advantage of  his  ability to speak French to  ask the Benin Customs Administration Comptroller at the Joint Border  certain questions , without an interpreter, to which she  was said to have  provided answers.

The minister who was however curious to know why  there  were  so many  truck laden cargoes at the Benin side of the Joint border but  was  said to have  been told that the  importers of the transit cargoes  could not remove it from the Beninese Customs owned  Atlas park  to the temporary site provided for them  on the Nigeria side of the Border  because of the closure.

He was said to have also asked questions on the truck laden cargoes found on the Nigerian side of the Border, but was  said to have been told by Muhammed Uba Garba, the  Seme Command  Comptroller, that they were mostly ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation goods, ETLS goods, which could not be released to the  agents of the importer  because of the Border Drills exercise.

He was also said to have been informed that  most of the transit cargo owners had  paid their duties  into government coffers but that was how far he could go. The large turnout of Importers with their agents  including local Community leaders at the Seme/Krake Border  is speaks volume.

 Aliyu  Mohammed, Comptroller Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone, A,  was said to have mobiilised  the Command  Operations and Patrol Teams  to accompany him to Seme , in order  to beef up the security arrangement that had been  put in place at the Border Community  by  Muhammed, his Counterpart at the Brder Community   the  Border Drills,  and Deputy Comptroller and  Yahaya Usman led Comptroller General Of Customs , CGC, Strike Force, including the   Nigerian Immigration service, NIS and the Police.

 Many believe that the  security situation at the Sem/Krake Joint Border Community may have been  tightened  up to avoid a break- down of Law because of the tense situation at the Seme Border Community as the agents and labourers were poised for action over the lack of  job  to do at the  Border.

Insiders informed The magazine that when the meeting eventually reconvened after the short break  due to the human induced power failure , Muhammed , the minister  of Information and Culture,  continued his temporarily suspended  speech .He had attributed  the closure of the borders  across  the country to  the refusal of the neighbouring countries  to comply with the  International Law  on transit cargoes code and the ETLS.

In a voice laden with emotion, the minister who could not hide his  feelings  had  said that , ‘’ it is disturbing  that some neighbouring  countries  circumvent  the ETLS Protocol  and  transit cargoes’’ Code’’.  He had alluded to the two West African countries of Republic of Benin and Niger. According to him , the lnternational Law on  transit cargoes which was domesticated by the regional Economic bloc  demand  that  when a Containerised  transit cargo arrives  at a neighbouring country’s seaport, the receiving country is mandated by law to escort same  without tampering with the Seal to the border of the destination  country. The Nigerian had expected the Beninese government to comply with the Law but  it was never done.

 That much was said by the minister.  ‘’ They  break the Seals of the  Containers at their ports and trans load goods destined  for Nigeria’’, he had said.

The minister may have observed that it  was through the trans loading  after examination   of such  Nigerian bound cargoes that  arms and weapons  may have  been  smuggled into the concealed in the truck laden cargo destined  for the country which enter  through the porous borders. He has  every  reason to think so. This is because when the land locked countries , particular, Niger, which uses Republic of Benin  ports to take delivery of their transit  cargoes, release  the truck laden   cargoes  after  collecting  their  revenue it  give rooms for the goods to develop wing as it was no longer being monitored to ensure that it gets  to border of the destination country.

The Border Drills Operations  across the four geo-political rgions: south-south, south west, north central and north west, comprising  about 19 states, may have  shown that some  of the arms  and ammunition that at  terrorists and Bandits  are using for their operations  in the  north east and north west geo-political regions, particular,  were exported  from the neighbouring countries . This is evident going  by the drop in terrorist attacks and Banditry in the two regions in the recent time.

Security watchers told The Magazine that   the first battle which Muhammed, the Seme Comptroller faced on deployment to  the Area Command in 2018, was  the enforcement of the International Law on transit cargoes. He was said to have made it  clear to his Beninese counterpart that   all transit cargoes meant for Nigeria  must be escorted in the Container form by the receiving country to the Joint Border where it would be handed over to the  Nigerian Customs for proper documentation.

 The decision  was said to have led to stopped Nigerian transit cargo importers from using the  Beninese Atlas Park  to Keep their   transit cargoes as he Command quickly  opened a temporary  truck park for hem at no cost.  It was a big blow to the Beninese Customs Authorities  Authorities  who were  sucking the    Nigerian transit cargoes  importers as they battled  the Seme Customs boss  but could not change his mind as he insts on   enforcing  the  International Law on transit cargoes. He had his way.

Perhaps, what may have  emboldened  the Nigerian government to  close the borders with the neighboiring countries  was the use of their ports by some   far flung countries, particular, the Asian countries of China, India, south Korea and Thailand, including some European countries  to turn Nigeria into a third party goods  instead of complying with the ETLS Protocol .

Benin Placard Carrying Youths At Seme/Krake Joint Border

An aggrieved Mohammed  had said  that ‘’goods on the prohibition  list  to Nigeria , such as foreign parboiled rice, second hand clothing, poultry products and vegetable oil  that should not be exported  to the country are found in Nigerian markets. He  cited  the   ships that were said  to be  carrying over 100 metric tons of  foreign par boiled rice which  had  berthed at the Benin terminal, Cotonou and Bollore port , awaiting to discharge  and sail back to base in Asia but   which would find their way into the Nigerian market through illegal routes.

 The minister  may have gladdened the heart of the  Stakeholders  when he disclosed  that  Issoufou Muhammad, the President of Niger has already   banned  the exportation  of rice in any form to Nigeria. Business analysts had expected the   Republic of Benin to follow suit  to facilitate the reopening of the  closed Borders,  but the country   may not have be ready to do so  because of the huge revenue the country  was making from  rice imports and other transit cargoes and .

Stake holders had expected the meeting  with the ministers would give give them  opportunity to ask questions  but got it wrong. They were dismissed from the Conference room as soon as Mohammed, the minister of Information and Culture ended his speech.

   Investigations  by The  Magazine  shows that the road to the closure of the land borders started in 205 during the Administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo .  It was quickly followed by a  meeting between Nigeria and the two neighboring West countries  to  make to them  see reasons why they should  comply with  the International  law, on transit cargo codes and the ETLS Protocol  in 2014.

It was learnt that   a Memorandum of Understanding, MOU, was signed by the parties  with a promise to comply with the transit cargo codes and ETLS Protocol.  A similar meeting was said to have been held  in 2015, 2017, and 2018 but Beninese  and Nigerien Authorities  were said to have failed to comply  with  it.  

It was gathered that  Nigeria government had    donated  six vehicles to the Beninese  Customs Administration  and another  seven of such operational vehicles to Niger Customs to support their operations. Many believe that if the two neighbouring   countries  had used the operational vehicles as agreed  , the situation may not have been so bad that  transit cargoes from Benin or Niger could easily develop wings on the road if let lose . 

Chidi,a Customs, Deputy Comptroller General,  DCG, who spoke on the sidelines,  had lampooned  the  Nigerian  importers who patronise the neighbouring  seaports of Benin, insisting that they have ulterior motive    to smuggle their transit cargoes into Nigeria, thus denying the country the need vital revenue to develop basic infrastructural facilities in the country. He noted that if they were really doing genuine business , their best bet would have been to use the  entral African country  of Cameroon port to take delivery of their cargoes because it is closer to Nigeria.

An agent, popular, ‘’ Chairman’’ may have given room to Customs DCG  to  open up when  he disclosed that  hat they have been forced to reroute their  clients transit cargoes  through Lagos ports to beat the border closure but  on their approval. This may have prompted the Customs DCG , to tell those that cares to listen the daily revenue generation of the Service has increased from N4 billion to over N10 billion as the cargo traffic at the ports have increased. From Lagos ports, Port Harcourt Area 1, Onne port, Onne Oil and Gas Free Zone to Calabar port, the story is the same: Improved cargo  traffic  which have translated to improved revenue generation.

Chidi, the Customs DCG, may have come out openly to declare himself  as one of the cabal in Customs who had masterminded the on- going Border Drills which had resulted into the partial closure of the Borders  in order to have effective  control of the anti-smuggling Operations of the Service going by his comments and  always making reference to his days  at the Seme Border when things were done the wrong the way. He should be told that  lot of things have changed in Customs under hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General , Nigerian Customs Service, NCS,  particular, at Seme, where  importers and  agents now play to the rule under the current management led by Comptroller Muhammed  as the Scanners are quickly fixed whenever there  is problem with the  support of the Customs CG.

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