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What Benin, Niger must do to get borders reopened — FG

Our neighbours must meet commitments signed several years ago — Finance Minister
No imports, exports through land borders — Customs boss, Alli
Adds: Border shutdown to enhance national security
Nigerians lament closure as prices of food items soar— P.6

By By Emma Ujah, Abuja Bureau Chief

ABUJA — The Federal Government has commenced negotiations with the nation’s neighbours, especially Benin Republic and Niger, with a view to re-opening Nigeria’s borders with them.

Minister of Finance, Budget, and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, disclosed this at the 2020 Budget briefing, in Abuja, yesterday.

She said that once the neighbours demonstrated enough commitment to past deals, the borders would be re-opened, adding that Nigeria’s interest was uppermost in the border issue.

Administrator urges FG to allow truck with legitimate goods
Closed Nigerian border

Meanwhile, the Nigeria Customs Service said it has seized N1.4 billion worth of goods since the enforcement of  partial closure of the nation’s borders.

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Responding to a question on the border closure,  the Minister said: “It is not forever. There will be an end to it. The government of Nigeria is currently in discussions with the governments of neighbouring countries, including Niger and Benin Republic.

“We are negotiating to make sure that the challenges that brought about closure of the borders are addressed on both sides but especially, we want our neighbours to meet the commitments we signed unto several years ago.

“Once those discussions are concluded, the borders will be opened again.”

Borders remain shut, till…

Reiterating the minister’s stance, Comptroller-General (C-G) of Nigerian Customs Service, Col. Hameed Ali, retd, yesterday, insisted that the borders would remain shut until neighbouring countries committed themselves to respecting past agreements with Nigeria.

He spoke in Abuja yesterday at a press briefing on the joint border patrol, codenamed “EX-SWIFT RESPONSE.”

He disclosed that operation EX-SWIFT RESPONSE had yielded tremendous results as, according to him, goods worth N1.4 billion have been seized since it started in August.

He added that 146 illegal immigrants had been deported; 317 smugglers arrested; and 21,071 bags of 50kg parboiled rice impounded.

Other items seized are, according to the Customs CG, are 190 vehicles, 891 drums of petrol, 2,665 Jerry cans of vegetable oil, 66,000-litre tanker of vegetable oil, 133 motorcycles, 131 bags of NPK fertilizers used for making explosives, among others.

‘It’s in national interest’

The C-G maintained that the decision to close the borders were in the interest of the nation’s security and would not be compromised for any reason.

Col. Ali advised all importers and exporters to use the sea and airports where the government was sure to effectively monitor all goods coming or going out of the country.

He said: “For now, all goods, whether illicit or non-illicit, are banned from going and coming into Nigeria at the land borders.

“Let me add that for the avoidance of doubt that we included all goods because all goods can equally come through our seaports.

“For that reason, we have deemed it necessary for now that importers of such goods should go through our controlled boarders where we have scanners to verify the kind of goods and how healthy to our people can be conducted.”

The Ex-SWIFT RESPONSE is coordinated by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) comprising the Nigerian Police Force, Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), the Nigerian Armed Forces and other security agencies to address trans-border security issues

He insisted that despite the rights for movement of persons the enabling ECOWAS protocols, there must be primacy of security over such rights.

Responding to critics who accused the Federal Government of breaching the ECOWAS protocol on free movement of people and goods, the NCS boss said, “when it comes to security, all laws take back seat.”

He explained further: “We want to make sure that our people are protected. You must be alive and well for you to begin to ask for your rights. Your rights count when you are well and alive.

“Go and ask the people in Maiduguri, when Boko Haram was harassing their lives, the only question was survival, there was no question of right. This time, Nigeria must survive first before we begin to ask for our rights.”

‘People must travel where there are Customs, Immigrations’

On his part, Comptroller-General, Nigeria Immigrations Service, Musa Babandede, in his remarks, said the border closure also affected movement of people, adding that ECOWAS Protocol on Movement of People had rules which must be obeyed.

His words: “There are rules of this operation in ECOWAS protocol, which says you must arrive or depart via a recognized port with the right travel documents. You must travel where there is Customs and Immigration.”

He disclosed that President Muhammadu Buhari has approved amnesty for over-stayed migrants to register from now till January 19, 2020.

He said: “Foreigners have latched on this opening. 60% of those coming forward have irregular papers. After this window, anyone caught will be deported.”

Brigadier-General Aliyu Ndagi from the Office of the National Security Adviser, described

border security as critical to national security and urged local communities to volunteer information of illegal activities of cross-border criminals.

Half year budget performance

The Finance Minister in her briefing also disclosed that N450 billion had been provided to cover fuel price under-recovery as a cost for the operations of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC.

She said: “We have a provision for under-recovery. N450 billion has been provided for the NNPC because it is a cost of its operations.”

According to her, the Federal Government is expected to recover the sum of N237 billion from looted funds and channel them to fund the budget.

The overall revenue performance at the end of the first half of the year, according to the minister, stood at N2.04 billion (58 per cent of the target), which she blamed on some items, such as the N710 billion expected from the Oil Joint Venture Asset restructuring which were yet to be actualized.

She added that fiscal deductions by the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation for federally funded projects also exceeded target.

The breakdown of the various sectors showed that only Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, which collected N184.10 billion exceeded its target. It recorded 100.47 per cent performance.

Oil revenue at N900 billion was 49 per cent; Companies Income Tax yielded, N349.11 billion (86 per cent); Value Added Tax, VAT, stood at N81.36 billion (71 per cent).

Giving an update on the Executive Order 007 on Infrastructure Tax Scheme, the minister said many private investors had shown interests in 19 roads, and that the first request had been made by the Dangote Group and the Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas, NLNG, which were being considered by the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS.

Mrs. Ahmed noted that considerable success had been recorded in containing the insurgency in parts of the North-East, with economic activities picking up in that area.

She, however, observed:  “Recurring conflicts between farmers and herders in some parts of the country as well as incidences of flooding have affected agricultural production.”

In order to shore up its revenue, the minister said the Federal Government was considering new taxes but did not give details.

On increasing tax revenue, the minister disclosed that the Federal Government would deepen the VAT database; extend VAT automation at source where possible; and extend withholding VAT to include Public Interest Entities, PIEs.

She added that the government was planning to deploy a single trade platform aimed at easing trade through trade touch-points.

Mrs. Ahmed added that the Treasury Single Account, TSA, implementation would be optimized, as well as, the payment gateway system for government revenues; while moving to a system of quarterly remittances of operating surpluses by Government Owned Enterprise, GOEs.

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