Customs: Joint Border Security Operation Cripple the Economy of Benin, Niger and Chad

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.

Hameed Ali: Comptroller General, NCS

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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