By Stephen Ubanna
Abubakar Amajam, an Assistant Comptroller General, ACG, of Customs is a happy man. Amajam source of happiness, was that the Joint Security exercise, code named ‘’Ex-Swift Response’’, which had resulted in the closure of the Borders between Nigeria and Republic of Benin, Niger and Chad as well as that of the Central African country of Cameroon is making an appreciable impact.
From Okada riders, Transporters, money exchangers to Cross-Border traders ,the story is the same, biting economy. There are fears that if the Border closure continue, the Bennoise, Nigeriens and chadians may turn against their leaders. It may be worse in Republic of Benin where the people are not happy with Patrick Talon, their President for allowing President Muhammadu Buhari to close the Borders without doing anything about it.
Security watchers believe that Talon may have given the Katsina born Nigerian President the room to initiate the Joint Border security Operation to Protect the country land and Maritime Borders because of lack of respect for trade Agreements. Talon may not be alone in disrespecting bilateral Agreement with Nigeria as past Administrations had done it.
. The situation had been made worse as the country had taken advantage of the their business relationship with importers from Niger and Chad, both land locked countries , to allow their transit cargos, particular, foreign parboiled rice, which pass through Benin Terminal, Cotonou and Bollere seaport but ended in the Nigeria market, thus making nonsense of the government foreign importation into the country and created a window for local rice production.
Note that Benin had seen a rise in its rice imports which are handled by four multinational Companies and between 20 to 30 Smaller small rice importers. The multinational rice importers include African Agro Foods which is Headquartered in Pan Lebanese Group, Dubai, United Arab Emirate, UAE, Di Fezi Fils, Sonam linked to the Stallion Group in Dubai, which also have an Operational base in Lagos. The last but the least is ABC Enterprises.
Going by the Beninoise rice fortification policy African Agro Foods Imports 360, 000 MT or 30 percent of the rice needed in the country, Di Fezi Fils, 300,00 MT or 24 percent, Sonam, 240,00 MT, 20 percent ABC enterprises, 10,000 MT or one percent while other rice importers bring into the country 290,000 or 24 percent of the total rice imports of the country.
Since June 2015,rice imports in that tiny West African country of Benin had soared , when the Central Bank of Nigerian, CBN, under Godwin Emefiele created a list of 41 products, which were later increased to 44 with the addition of textiles for which importers do not have access to discounted foreign exchange.
It is instructive to note that virtually all the parboiled rice imports into the Republic of Benin are smuggled into the Nigerian market through unapproved routes.
Investigation by The Value News shows that the situation appears to have been bad to the importers and their distributors as there are no markets to sell the parboiled rice in Nigeria because of the closure of the Borders which the government had denied through Garba Shehu, senior Special Assistant to The President on Media and Publicity.
Sources disclosed that some shipload of bulk rice cargoes that had arrived to the Benin terminal and Bollere portsare still awaiting to discharge. This is because there are no available ware Houses to stock the items as the Warehouses are filled with rice awaiting for evacuation by distributors who had deposited money from Nigeria and other parts of the country, particular the north.
.Indigenes of the Border Communities in the north west and north east are the worst hit. From Matamaye, Magarya, Babura, Mai mujiya, Tikim, and other Border communities in Kano and Jigawa states which fall within the Zandar region directly linking Niger and Nigeria in the south, are now a shadow of itself: low economic activities of buying and selling of traded goods.
the Nigerien traders’ major worries was that between Wednesday, August 23 and now, they have not been able to access the ancient City of Kano, described as the Commercial nerve center of the north to buy goods because of the tight security. Maritime analysts believe that it is only from this Border Communities that transit cargoes from Benin could be supplied Niger.
The people may have been put in the dark as the Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS, Authorities had refused to carry them along by explaining the reasons for the closure of the Border but only allow travellers with valid documents to enter the country.
Lawal Musa, an Okada rider , who wore a painful look when he spoke to The Magazine lamented that out of 10 percent of them that are still doing the Okada business at the Border between Nigeria and Niger, only one percent could feed their families as the rest are hungry looking for what to eat.
This could be said of the money exchagers. Gilli, who is a resident of Amaimujiya, Border Community , and who exchanges foreign currency at the Border parallel market said his business had been at the lowest ebb since last Wednesday when Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, Mohammad Babandede , Comptroller General, NIS , and Heads of other security and Intelligence agencies including Magaji Bichi, Director General , Department of State Security, deployed their men to the Borders , business had never been the same again. ‘’My Bureau de Change business has virtually closed because of lack of patronage’’, he had said.
Perhaps, what is giving the people much concern at present is the biting inflation. It was learnt that the prices of goods ,, rice, wheat, including petroleum products among others have skyrocketed beyond the reach of many .
Efforts to speak to a Police Officer At Prefecture Police Station in Matamaye Border Community, was rebuffed. The Officer who spoke in French but was interpreted to my hearing by a by bystander, who understands that they have been warned by the Authorities not to talk to the Nigerian press since their President has the mind to close the Border without considering the adverse effect on other economies that depend on the country to survive.
The Nigerien , Beninoise and Chadian press appear to have taking advantage of the Border closure to make caricature of the government in their Editorials. The Nigerien press may be taking it hard on the government because it is a landlocked country, an indication that for the one month that the Joint Borders Security Operations are likely to last, life of people in the Border Communities would be a sorry one.
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