The Federal Government on Monday said seizures made by security agents at the country’s land borders indicated that the republics of Benin and Niger were not addressing issues that led to the border closure.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, stated this when he led a government delegation to the Seme border on Monday.
He explained that from the magnitude seizures made and the number of illegal immigrants apprehended in the last two weeks, it was obvious that “nothing is being done yet by both countries – Benin and Niger – to address the challenges.”
Nigeria had in August closed its land borders, saying smuggling of goods from its neighbouring countries was hurting its economy.
On November 4, the Federal Government listed five conditions for reopening of the country’s land borders.
As one of the conditions, the Federal Government said Nigeria would not accept imported goods that were repackaged by neigbouring countries and brought to Nigeria.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, during a meeting of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on the Temporary Partial Closure of Land Borders in Abuja, also said that the only travel document allowed for anybody coming into the country through the land borders is the passport, stressing that the country would not accept any other documents such as the identity card.
Mohammad said that since the border closure, “local consumption of fuel had dropped by 30 per cent apparently due to the reduction in smuggling of petroleum products to neighbouring countries.
“The partial closure has so far curbed the smuggling of foreign rice into the country, in addition to other prohibited items. Our series of interactions and engagements with the Rice Miller Association of Nigeria since the commencement of this exercise, has shown that the border closure has enhanced more production and milling of Nigerian rice.
“Patronage of Nigerian rice has increased and farmers are expanding their farms as well as engaging more hands. Furthermore, the border closure has impacted positively on revenue generation of the Federal Government which in turn will be used to build more infrastructure and develop critical sectors of the nation’s economy.
“The border exercise has also curbed diversion of petroleum products from Nigeria to neighbouring countries”, he explained.
Among those in the government team were the foreign affairs minister, Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola; Minister of State (Finance, Budget and National Planning), Clement Agba; National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, and the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Immigration Service, Muhammed Babandede.
N3.5bn goods seized
Mohammed also put the estimated value of all the seized items at about N3.5bn billion. He said, “As we speak, we have ships loaded with rice waiting to be discharged (in Benin) and the target market is Nigeria (for Christmas). We have MV Africana Jacana with 40,000 metric tons of rice, MV Zilos with 20,000 mts and MV Sam Jarguar with 45,000 MTS and others.
Benin, Niger not addressing our complaints – FG
“The magnitude of seizures and the number of illegal immigrants recorded in the last two weeks alone indicate that nothing is being done yet by both countries, the Benin and Niger, to address the challenges.
Benin’s $30m rice import will end up in Nigeria – Minister
“In addition, Benin (Republic) has concluded arrangements to get rice to the tune of $30m. This is a country with just 12 million people, it is clear that this rice will end up in Nigeria.
“In the area of security, the ongoing exercise has recorded a number of seizures and arrests that would have had grave security consequences. So far, 296 illegal immigrants have been arrested. Also, some items seized include; 38,743-50kg bags of parboiled foreign rice; 514 vehicles; 1,012 drums filled with PMS; 5,400 jerrycans of vegetable oil; 346 motorcycles; 10, 553 jerrycans of PMS and 136 bags of NPK fertilizer used for making explosives. The estimated value of the apprehended items is about N3.5 billion.
“Over time, Nigeria has been confronted with numerous trans-border economic and security challenges. These challenges range from banditry, kidnapping, smuggling, illegal migrants to proliferation of light weapons, amongst others.
“Meanwhile, the preference for foreign goods, especially food items like rice, has continuously impoverished our farmers and adversely affected domestic government policies supporting the agricultural sector to enhance food security.
W’African countries violate ECOWAS protocol
“It is, however, disturbing that some neighbouring countries circumvent the ECOWAS protocol on transit. For clarity, the ECOWAS protocol on transit demands that when a transit container berths at a seaport, the receiving country is mandated to escort same without tampering with the seal to the border of the destination country.
“Unfortunately, experience has shown that our neighbours do not comply with this protocol. Rather, they break the seals of containers at their ports and trans-load goods destined for Nigeria.”
95% illicit drugs, weapons come through land borders
“It is important to note that 95 per cent of illicit drugs and weapons that are being used for acts of terrorism and kidnapping in Nigeria today come in through our porous borders. However, since this partial closure, the acts have been drastically reduced. Our conclusion is that, the arms and ammunition these terrorists and criminal elements were using no longer gain access into the country. In addition, the drugs which affect the health and the wellbeing of Nigerians have equally been reduced.”
The government also explained that it would continue to use diplomatic channels to continue engaging its neighbours to agree to comply with the ECOWAS protocol on transit.
Mohammed said, “Goods that are on the prohibition list to Nigeria, such as rice, used clothing, poultry products and vegetable oil should not be exported to the country. As a result of this closure, Niger Republic has already circulated an order banning exportation of rice in any form to Nigeria.
“In addition, the National Assembly has supported the executive directive on the border closure and the efforts of security agencies in executing the task.”
Fishermen protest, lose N5bn to border closure
Meanwhile, a group of businessmen, under the aegis of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents and Coconut/ Fish Farmers Union, on Monday at Seme border protested the closure of the nation’s borders by the Federal Government, saying it had impacted negatively on their business.
The protest occurred during the visit by the Federal Government delegation to the area.
While protesting the seizure of their goods, which had been paid for before the border closure, they said it was wrong of government agencies to seize coconuts and fishes harvested in Nigeria with the notion that they were not got from Nigeria.
The protesters carried placards with inscriptions such as “Nigeria is a signatory to ECOWAS trade liberation. Why closing the border for importing legitimate goods?”; “Mr. President, we borrowed money from banks, our goods are perishing. We are in debt”, “Mr. President, our duty-paid coconuts from Ghana are trapped and destroyed. Locally produced ones not allowed into our market”, and “The land borders are places of livelihoods. Closing it amounts to creating unemployment and killing people’s businesses.”
The Chairman of ANLCA Tax Force, Samuel Igbowu, told journalists that they had lost an estimate of over N5 billion since the closure of the border.
He said, “We are here to show our displeasure over what is happening, if you look back, you will see a lot of trucks parked; they are carrying imported goods and those goods have been paid for, duties have been paid. We have lost an estimate of over N5billion since the closure of the borders.
“They have been trapped here for over three months now, they did not allow them to go in. Most of us got loans from the bank to import and up till now, the goods are not allowed to go in, we cannot sell and we cannot return the money we borrowed.
“So, we are here to show our displeasure and plead with the government to allow those that have already paid duty on to go in. We have paid the normal customs duty and we have all the documents processed.
“A single truck here paid over N4 million as customs duty and we have over 900 trucks. We are pleading to the government to please allow those that have paid duty to go in and deliver to our warehouses. We are losing money day in day out. Bank loan was there and interest is accumulating on a daily basis.”