By Samson Echenim
Despite a loud outcry from importers and their clearing agents, whose goods have been trapped in the neighbouring Port of Cotonou and the trade region, the Nigeria Customs Service has insisted that all land borders remained closed for 28 days, risking a possible loss of about N1.05 billion, which it ought to have raked in within the period from Nigeria’s two busiest land borders at Seme and Idiroko.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS), last week, suffered a setback after the Nigerian government shut the country’s land borders with her West African neighbours.
The Customs said the action was part of measures to curb growing insecurity in the country.
Importers and exporters operating in Nigeria, especially those that ship under the ECOWAS ETLS, are currently groaning under the sudden decision by the government.
The closure is also coming two months after Nigeria ratified the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCTA).
Joseph Attah, Public Relations Officer of the Nigeria Customs Service, commenting on the closure of the land borders said, “As part of measures to secure Nigeria’s land and maritime borders, the Nigeria Customs Service and the Nigerian Immigration Service NIS, in collaboration with the Armed Forces of Nigeria, as well as the Nigeria Police Force and other security and intelligence agencies will be conducting a joint border security exercise, codenamed ‘EX-SWIFT RESPONSE.”
The Customs spokesman, who issued a statement on behalf of Hameed Ali, comptroller-general of Customs further stated: “The joint exercise is being coordinated by the office of the National Security Adviser, ONSA, and will take place in four geopolitical zones, namely; South-South, South-West, North-Central and North-West. It is expected that the exercise will promote interagency cooperation and increase preparedness to address trans-border security challenges such as terrorism, armed ban ditry, smuggling, the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, amongst others.
“The exercise will also involve the movement of personnel, vehicles and equipment within the affected parts of the country. Therefore, we call on members of the public not to panic and should continue to engage in their normal duties. The overall objective is to ensure a peaceful and secure country in the interest of our national security”.
Information obtained from Customs sources indicates that while the services rake in approximately N21 million daily from the Seme border, yielding a total of N588 million for the 28 days, about N16.5 million is earned by the service at the Idiroko border, which accumulates to N462 million in 28 days. For the period, the Nigeria Customs would be losing as much as N1.050 billion.
Competent sources at one of the multinational manufacturing companies operating in Nigeria, which exports some of its finished and semi-finished products to West African countries under the ETLS scheme, said many of the manufacturing firms cannot export their products to neighbouring countries due to the sudden closure of the borders.
It was further gathered that if not urgently and carefully handled, the closure of the borders might negatively affect the nation’s economy, as it might increase stock of inventory at the warehouses of the affected companies and ultimately lead to loss of jobs.
Investigations also showed that apart from the big manufacturing firms, other itinerant importers and exporters whose consignments were at the point of transiting through the borders were equally caught up by the sudden closure, as the consignments were neither allowed to come in or go out of the country, leaving them stranded.
Meanwhile, clearing agents operating at the Seme and Idiroko border stations have started counting their losses as transit cargoes remained trapped due to the joint military operations embarked upon by security agents and intelligent gathering operatives. The stakeholders argued that the closure of borders was not in line with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) protocol agreements.
Movement of persons was partially allowed for those who had valid documents, passport and valid identity card at the weekend, but cargoes were not allowed to move while clearing agents are not allowed in and there are no clearing activities at the borders, which relatively affected small traders as well.
Commenting on the development, Lucky Amiwero, national president of the National Council of Managing Director of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), said closure was not necessary as the country was not at war.
He said, “We signed an ECOWAS protocol for free movement of people. Has Nigeria complied with the procedures of ECOWAS protocol? You don’t just close borders like that because the borders are actually entry point. It is just like you are closing your airport or closing your seaports.
“Nigeria has three entry points, which are the airport, seaport and border stations and all these are legal stations in line with the provisions of the law and we have ECOWAS protocol and the protocol is talking about free movement of persons and goods and you have signed this protocol. If you want to do any closure, it must be a country-to-country negotiations and the issue should be done according to information, which is contained in World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements.”