Of course the continued closure of Nigeria’s borders with her closest West African neighbours has continued to generate reactions within and outside the country.
However, the exercise, which was a joint operation coordinated by the Office of the National Security Adviser and involving Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) and Nigeria Police Force, as well as other security and intelligence agencies in the country, would soon take a new dimension, following the resolve at the recently held Tripartite Anti-Smuggling Committee Meeting in Abuja of Benin, Niger and Nigeria.
According to Mr. Joseph Attah, the Spokesman of the NCS, the closure was aimed at checking the unbridled influx of smuggled goods, small arms and ammunition, as well as illegal immigrants, to Nigeria. Although it was not the first time that Nigeria moved to check the activities of smugglers at her borders, but this time the Federal Government of Nigeria had deemed it necessary to act in order to boost local production of food items and manufactured goods. In line with this, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) drew up a list of 41 items whose importation would no longer be welcomed in the country. Rice and other food items featured prominently on the list.
Prior to the closure of Seme and Idiroko borders, the Federal Government had stopped the issuance of Form M to importers willing to bring in goods by sea. As a result, no goods were imported to the country through the seaports since 2016.
Even lawmakers who expressed their opinion on the joint security exercise across Nigeria’s borders spoke the minds of many Nigerians. Senator Solomon Adeola, representing Lagos West Senatorial District, for example, described the exercise as commendable. However, he wondered if the closure was a permanent solution to the problem of smuggling.
While Senator Tolu Odebiyi, of Ogun West Senatorial District, had urged Federal Government to give the people enough time to think about possible effects and make arrangements for alternatives before embarking on such initiative in the future, former Governor Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State, on his part, called for a permanent solution to smuggling, instead of leaning heavily on border closure to check the social malaise.
Now the solution seems to be in sight with the decision at the tripartite meeting by Nigeria, Republic of Benin and Niger to establish a joint border patrol team comprising the Police, Customs, Immigration, and to recommend a date for the reopening of the borders.
At the end of the meeting, the three countries had taken a number of decisions stipulated in a Communiqué on Thursday in Abuja. Present at the meeting from Nigeria were Mrs. Zainab S. Ahmed, Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Geoffrey Onyeama, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, Minister of Interior, Mr. Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information, Culture and National Orientation, Amb.U. Dada, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, and Hajiya Mariam Katagum, Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment. Also there were their counterparts from the other two countries.
From a communiqué at the end of the meeting Onyeama said the meeting took note of all concerns raised and agreed to establish a monitoring and evaluating Committee of the three countries, adding that the Committee would comprise Ministers of Finance, Trade, Foreign Affairs, Customs, Immigration and National Security Adviser.
He said that the Committee has a mandate to ensure actions that would facilitate and enhance the suppression of smuggled goods and other related matters. “The meeting agreed that the monitoring and evaluation committee will ensure the full implementation of the adopted mandate of the Joint Anti-Smuggling Human Trafficking Committee.”
“Nigeria, Benin also agreed on the establishment of trade facilitation committee among the three countries, comprising Ministers of Finance and Trade, to promote intra-regional trade among the three countries, as well as put in place sanctions against smuggling of goods.
The governments agreed to ensure persons from the three countries to enter/exit each other’s state with valid Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) recognised travel documents through recognised controlled posts”.
Onyeama states: “Establishment of Joint Border Patrol Team comprising the Police, Customs, Immigration of the three countries; the team is to hold its first meeting in Abuja from Nov. 25 to Nov. 27, 2019; the patrol team is to agree on the modality to carry out its operation and recommend a date for the opening of the borders.”
On the anti-smuggling issues, Onyeama earlier said the meeting deliberated on the myriad of challenges faced by the three countries.
According to Onyeama, more importantly, the meeting dwelt on the areas of smuggling of goods and services that were not approved under the Protocols on ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme. He said that the meeting also proffered to address issues as regards Free Movement of Persons without valid ECOWAS travel documents, as well as plethora of illegal warehouses along the border corridors.
“In this regard, the meeting acknowledged smuggling of goods, as well as human trafficking as collective violation of ECOWAS Protocols on ETLS and Free Movement. That pose severe economic and security threats to intra-regional trade and free movement,” Onyeama also said. He disclosed that Niger and Benin Republic have, however, appealed for the reopening of the land borders.