By Elizabeth Chukwuma
This is not the best of times for the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, Authority of Heads of State and Government, plenary ordinary sessions .This is because of the the foot dragging of the member countries of the economic bloc, particular the French- speaking countries who appear to be unhappy with president Muhammadu Buhari over the closure of the Borders with the neighbouring Benin republic, Niger and the central African country of Cameroon as it has adversely affected the free movement of goods and services in the sub-region. The Authority Of Heads of State and Government of the Economic bloc, over the last four months. According to Diplomatic sources, the economic plenary sessions provide an opportunity for the leaders of the member countries to discuss about the economic problems of the sub-region and the way forward.
With the the Katsina state born Nigeria President closure of the Borders with the neighboring countries and the recent threat to disconnect Benin, Niger and Togo, over a $16 million outstanding power supply debts, many had expected Presidents Patrick Talon of Benin Republic, and Faure Gnassingbe of Togo, to to team upoufou Mohammadou, President of Niger and Chairman of the Authority, to resolve the problem with Buhari at the summit level in the presence of the other invited leaders from the sub-region.
The good news was that Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank, ADB, Yakubu Gowon, a retired Army General, and a one-time Nigerian Head of State and incidentally one of the founders of the economic bloc, still alive were at the meeting.
President may have set the agenda for discussion at the 56th plenary ordinary session, when he expressed the government ‘’ commitment towards devising new strategies and initiatives for inclusive economic growth among the people of the region’’, noting that the greatest problem facing the sub- region for now was terrorism. He was said into have cited the killing of 70 soldiers by terrorists in Niger.The terrorist may have been hit by Nigeria’s country’s border closure to turn their weapons on the Nigerien soldiers.
The ECOWAS Authorityof Heads of state and Government were said to have taken far reaching decision at the meeting which has to do with the establishment of the ECO common currency for the region and the Continental Free Trade Area, CfTA.
The french speaking countries of Benin, Burkina Faso , Guinea-Bissau, Coted’Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo may have read the handwriting on the wall that the era of continued economic attachment is over.
Last saturday, the french- speaking countries which had been reluctant to support the sub-regional common currency expected o come on stream in 2020,agreed to change the name of their currency to ECand also severed the CFA’s links to France, the former colonial master.
The announcement was said to have been at the recent visit of Emmanuel Macron, President of France recent visit to Cote d’Ivoire. Given the decision by the french speaking to severe to se CFA links with France, they were said to have agreed to stop keeping 50 percent and the ”withdrawal of French governance in the country’s treasuryof their reserves related to the new currency” in any aspect and the withdrawal of French governance
The coming on steam of the ECO and CfTA, is next year is instructive because of the continued Border closure with the neighbouring countries. of Benin, Niger and Cameroon, which had turned their countries as dumping ground for the Asian anand European countries manufactured goods and agricultural products, particular, the Thai produced par boiled rice, which were smuggled into the country through unapproved routes. The french -speaking countries may have known that continued atatchment to France would not help their case as they do not have the market compared to Nigeria and the other English-speaking countries.
Mohammad Sanusi, a former governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, and now Emir of Kano may have called the bluff of Talon, the Benin Repblic President when he said the continued Border closure would protect the country’s productive sector. He is right. At present, the country’s rice could now be found in the market , though at at a very exorbitant price per”50” bag, an indication that the government has to intervene to force down the price.
Only recently, the Adamawa/Taraba Command Enforcement officers with the support of other security operatives raided the Mubi market, a Commercial hub of Adamawa state . Its proximity to with Cameroon ma was said to have made it a centre of smuggling activities. The Customs Command Enforcement officers were said to have raided the market in search of foreign rice and other Contraband goods.
Hundreds of ‘’50’’ bags of rice were said to were said to have been evacuated from many shops from the Adamawa state Commercial hub centre. The big –time foreign rice distributors in the Border Community who were said to have gotten an insider information about the planned operation , were said to have locked up their shops and watched the operation from the sideline.
Kamardeen Olumoh, the Area comptroller said the raid on the Mubi market was at the instance of the Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General , Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, to ‘’mop up all smuggled items from the country, particular, foreign rice’’.
Business analysts believe that what Comptroller Olumoh had done at the Mubi market may not be different from what Muhammed Uba Garba, Comptroller , Seme Command, has been doing at the Seme Border Community market and surrounding bush at intervals where hundreds of ‘’50’’ bags of foreign rice had been impounded and transferred to the Government warehouse.
The seizures made at the different raids , were said to have formed part of the over 28,000 ‘’50’’ bags of rice reported to have been made by the Command between January and November , 2019.Meanwhile, Babagano Munguno, a retired Army Major general and National Security Adviser, NSA may have dampened the enthusiasm of Nigerians about reopening the Borders with the neighbouring countries anytime soon.
Munguno, who is the Chairman , of the on-going Border Drills , ordered by the President last August was said to have told those that cares to listen that the Borders would remain closed till the objectives of ‘’freeing the country from criminal activities, smuggling as well as enhance the economy are achieved’’.
Appealing to the neighbouring countries for their Collaboration and Cooperation, to ensure the smooth operation of the Border Drills exercise which was also aimed at securing the country’s state of livelihood, he noted that the issue of the country’s porous Borders with the neighbouring countries gave room, for the smugglers to carry out the nefarious activities of smuggling foreign par boiled rice and other Contraband goods into the country.
Security watchers believe that the only thing that Talon, the President Of Benin , could do to actually convince his Nigerian counterpart that he is ready to Collaborate and Cooperate with him on the Border Drills exercise would be to eitherto collect the revenue from such Contraband goods imports, particular, foreign rice the rice and turn it in to the Nigerian government for destruction. This may be a hard decision for Talon, the Beninese President to take as the country rely heavily on informal trade for its revenue generation.
There is no gain saying the fact that Talon would rather support the informal trade than join the Nigerian government to fight the smugglers in order to sustain the revenue generation of the country to be able able provide basic infrastructural facilities for the people.
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