By Stephen Ubanna
Hopes of President Muhammadu Buhari giving the nod to Babagana Mungono, a retired Major General and National Security Adviser, NSA , Hameed Ali, Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, and Muhammadu Babadende, Comptroller General, Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS, overseeing the Border Dills, to mobilise their men to return to their Barracks to facilitate the reopening of the closed borders across the country brightens.
This is because Presidents Patrice Talon and Muhammad Issofou of Republic of Benin and Niger respectively, who were initially hesitant to support Nigeria in the anti-smuggling war have finally agreed do so.
The duo may have agreed to do so owing to the pain being inflicted on their people because of the border closure over the last two months. More worrisome was the rising inflation and near collapse of their economies.
The biting economic situation, according to sources, may have become so bad in Benin, particular, that Talon, the Beninese, President, has suddenly become the champion of the anti-smuggling by urging Issoufou, his Nigerien counterpart to join Nigeria to curb the menace of the cross-border smugglers, who are making nonsense of the country’s fiscal policies on the smuggling of foreign par boiled riced rice and other profited items including petroleum products .
The duo may have listened to the cry of their people to plead with Buhari , their Nigerian counterpart to reopen the Borders. They were said to have agree to support the Nigerian government in the anti-smuggling war. Many believe that Benin, particular, may not have been interested in joining Nigeria in the anti- smuggling war because of the revenue the country is getting from foreign rice imports through the country’s seaports which are re-exported to the land locked countries of Niger and Tchad but which found their way into the Nigerian market through unapproved routes.
Ali, the Nigerian Customs Comptroller General may not have been interested on the revenue country is making from such imports but would want the country to hand over the Consignment to Nigeria for necessary action . It was a difficult order for Talon to comply with. Aware that Nigeria government was not ready to bend in its decision to close the borders with the neighbouring countries which is hitting hard on the people he has no option but to bow to pressure from both official and unofficial quarters to support Nigeria anti-smuggling war.
Many believe that if Talon had taken this decision long ago when the Katsina state born Nigerian President had reached out to him and his Nigerien counterpart urging them to block their own side of the borders so that the cross- border smugglers would not be able to carry out their nefarious activities again, it may not have gotten to the point of Nigeria taking a unilateral decision to close the borders with the neighbouring countries of Benin, Niger and Tchad andwhich include the Central African country of Cameroon.
The change of mind by Talon, the Beneinese President and the cry of the people of these neighbouring countries and the other countries in the West and Central African sub-region may have forced Buhari to soft-pedal in order to hold talks with the Benin and Niger government to resolve the crisis.
The fallout was the agreement to establish a Joint Border Patrol Team comprising of three security agencies: Police , Customs and Immigration from the three countries. The Team is expected to hold its first inaugural meeting in Abuja, Nigeria, between November 25, 2019 and November 27, 2019.
The Committee may have given the Team the free hand to agree on the ‘’modality to be used to carry out its operation and recommend a date for the reopening of the closed borders by the Nigerian government’’. This is an indication that it is no longer going to be the sole responsibility of Nigeria to decide on when to reopen the closed borders. Recall, that that the Katsina state born Nigerian President had set January 31, 2020,for reopening the closed borders.
Geofrey Onyeama, minister of Foreign Affairs, who was at the tripartite anti-smuggling meeting comprising of other top government officials from Nigeria, Benin and Niger at Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, on Thursday, November 14, 2019, disclosed that they reached the agreement to set up a Monitoring and Evaluating Committee of the three countries after reviewing all the concerns raised by each of them. The Committee , according to Onyeama, has been mandated to come out with actions that would facilitate and enhance the suppressing of smuggled goods and other related matters across the borders.
The Value News learnt that the Committee also have the powers to ensure the implementation of the adopted mandate of the Joint Ant-smuggling and Human Trafficking Committee. Another Committee that was said to have been set up at the Abuja tripartite meeting was that of Trade Regulation, which would comprise of the ministers of Finance and Trade from the three West African countries.
Giving an insider information, the minister disclosed that one of the duties of the Committee is to promote intra-regional trade among the three countries as well as put in place sanctions against smuggling of goods across the border. It was not surprising why the tripartite meeting dwelt extensively on the area of smuggling of goods and services not approved under the Economic Community of West Africa States Trade Liberalisation Scheme, ECOWAS ETLS.
The good news was that the three countries had acknowledged that smuggling of goods across the border and Human trafficking was a Collective violation of ECOWAS Protocol on ETLS and free movement of goods and services . The ministers at the tripartite meeting had noted that cross-border smuggling and Human trafficking had posed ‘’severe economic and security threats to intra-regional trade and free movement of persons’’. Over the years, the Nigerian government repeatedly had complained about the abuse of the ECOWAS Trade Protocol by Republic of Benin but the country was not ready to change as it opened its ports for all sorts of foreign cargoes imports including foreign par boiled rice from the Asian country of Thailand .
Perhaps, to ensure all the decisions taken at the tripartite meeting as regards to the implementation of the ECOWAS Trade Protocols, the participants at the meeting were said to have addressed the issues as regards to the’’ free movement of persons without valid ECOWAS travel documents as well as the plethora of illegal warehouses along the border corridors’’. They were said to have agreed to ensure that’’ citizens of the three neighbouring countries enter and exit each other’s country with valid ECOWAS Travellers Documents through recognized and controlled routes’’.
Nigeria Representatives at the Abuja tripartite meeting were said to have been emphatic on the use of the valid ECOWAS traveller’s Document to enter and exit the country to avoid abuse of the African Continental Free Trade Area, AfCFTA, Agreement, which had had already been signed between Nigeria and Benin in Niamey , Niger, on July 7, 2019 at the 12th extraordinary Summit of the African Union, AU, Heads of State and Government. The African trade accord was said to have launched on March 21, last year at Kigali, Rwanda.
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