The estimated monetary value of the apprehended items is about N1.4 billion

The border closure exercise by the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) known as ‘Swift response’ has already impacted positively on revenue generation of the government which in turn will be used to build more infrastructures and develop critical sectors of the nation’s economy. The border exercise has also curbed diversion of petroleum products from Nigeria to neighbouring countries, says Colonel Hameed Ibrahim Ali (Rtd.), Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Service (NCS).

Nigeria has been confronted with numerous trans-border economic and security challenges. These challenges range from banditry, kidnapping, smuggling, illegal migrants and proliferation of light weapons, among others. The estimated monetary value of the apprehended items is about N1.4billion.

Meanwhile, in line with the overarching Federal Government strategic priorities, the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget And National Planning ably maned by Mrs. Zainab Ahmed has keenly been focusing on five Priority Areas: Enhancing Revenue Generation, Collection and Monitoring; Accelerating Fiscal Consolidation by Optimising Priority Capital and Recurrent Expenditure; Optimising Management of both Domestic and Global Fiscal Risks; Increased Coordination of Fiscal, Macroeconomic, Monetary and Trade Policies; and Integrating Annual Budgets and Medium-Term Fiscal Strategies into rolling Medium and Long-term National Plans. If only the numerous trans-border economic and security challenges would allow.

Speaking at a joint press briefing in Abuja on the impact of  the exercise on the Nigerian economy, Ali said that the partial closure, which is aimed at better securing Nigerian borders in order to strengthen the economy and address other trans-border security concerns, 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 Rice Miller Association of Nigeria (RMAN), 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,” he also said.

In the area of security, The NCS boss disclosed that the ongoing exercise has recorded a number of seizures and arrests that would have had grave security consequences. According to Ali: “So far, 317 suspected smugglers and 146 illegal migrants have been arrested. Also, some items seized include: 21,071-50kg bags of parboiled foreign rice; 190 vehicles; 891 drums filled with PMS; 2665 Jerri cans of vegetable oil; 66,000 litres tanker of vegetable oil; 133 motorcycles; 70 Jerrycans of PMS and 131 bags of NPK fertilizer used for making explosives. The estimated monetary value of the apprehended items is about N1,429,562,315.00.”

Ali noted that 95 percent 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 the terrorists and criminal elements were using are finding it difficult to gain access into the country. In addition, the drugs which affect the health and the wellbeing of Nigerians have equally been reduced,” he stated.

According to Ali, it has however been disturbing that some neighbouring countries circumvent the Economic Community of West African States (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”, he said.

Consequently, the FGN, through diplomatic channels, has decided to continue to engage the neighbouring countries to agree to comply with the ECOWAS Protocol on Transit. Goods that are on the prohibition list to Nigeria, such as rice, used clothing, poultry products and vegetable oil ought not be exported to Nigeria. As a result of the border 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”, Ali disclosed further. 

Ali noted that overtime the preference for foreign goods, especially food items like rice, has continuously impoverished the farmers and adversely affected domestic government policies supporting the agricultural sector to enhance food security. The Federal Government, as a result of the problem, has appealed to the Nigerian business community to see exercise ‘Swift Response’ as an opportunity to further create a conducive environment for local businesses to thrive in the interest of national security and economic development.

Ali said: “While we call on Nigerian local rice consumers to be patriotic by patronising Nigerian rice, as this will further help the country in reaching self-sufficiency in local rice production and boost our economy, we equally appeal to the business community to see the exercise as opportunity to further create a conducive environment for local businesses to thrive in the interest of national security and development.”

On her part, the Honourable Minister of Finance Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, re-iterated her resolve to work with all revenue generating agencies to coordinate and block all leakages and bank all revenues for an all inclusive and transparent process  

Ali also noted that the border closure exercise has provided a unique platform for the various participating agencies to jointly operate together thereby strengthening inter-agency collaboration and reducing animosity. “It is also necessary to place on record that this is the first exercise in recent times, that military, paramilitary as well as intelligence and security agencies have come together to conduct such an exercise which is akin to a National Security exercise.” The exercise is being coordinated by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA).

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