By Victoria Ojeme
The Governments of Nigeria, Benin Republic and Niger have set-up a committee to combat the illegal passage of the goods at their common borders which is negatively affecting the economy and security situation in Nigeria.
The tripartite anti-smuggling committee came up as a result of the pressure on Nigerian economy and security situation due to the high influx of foreign goods from these neighbouring countries’ land borders.
Mr Geoffrey Onyeama, Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs said that the meeting was convened on the directives of Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari who wants the issues that led to the partial border closure resolved quickly.
Nigeria had recently closed its borders to goods from its west African neighbours citing smuggling of rice and other banned commodities which has affected the local economy.
The mandate of the joint Anti-smuggling committee among others include: to adopt measures that will enhance the suppression of rice smuggling and other illicit items along the borders of the three countries.
“The committee will prepare and put in force the necessary bilateral agreements to combat smuggling along the common borders, initiate anti smuggling sensitization and awareness programmes to the populace of the three countries.
“Establish a tripartite anti-smuggling joint border patrol team with power to arrest and handover any person arrested to the appropriate authorities in the three countries for investigation and prosecution.
“To put in place modalities for the establishment of a Joint Inspection Task Force comprising of Customs of the three countries for the purpose of inspection and excursion of transit goods at the point of entry to their destination.
“The Customs administration of the three countries must ensure strict adherence to the implementation of various agreements entered into, pursue vigourously the escort and handing over of goods in transit from Customs ton Customs.
“Sharing of information and intelligence on the movement of goods, services and people among the three countries, sensitization of stakeholders on the decision of the three counties to set-up anti-smuggling operations and cooperation.
“Enlightenment on sanction upon infraction of anti-smuggling measures and prohibition laws and creation of a framework of consultation among the stakeholders of the three countries over the implementation of the anti-smuggling measures”.
Onyeama said that prior to Nigeria’s land borders security drills, the Nigerian government in 2016 banned the importation of rice through the land borders but despite the ban, imported rice continued to flood the Nigerian market.,
He said that the Nigerian Government had also signed various Memoranda of Understanding with its neighbors but there have been difficulties and challenges in fully implementing these MOUs.
The Minister said that the partial border closure on Aug. 20 was however informed by the prevailing, massive smuggling activities taking place across the various corridors against the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS).
Onyeama disclosed that a lot of the smuggled goods were accompanied by other illicit items such as drugs, small arms and light weapons which have caused great damage Nigeria and its people.
He said that it was also important to note that the proliferation of small arms and light weapons within the region pose severe security threats to the economic development of all Member states.
Onyeama said that Nigeria remains committed to the consolidation of regional integration as enshrined in the various ECOWAS protocols and regulations to enhance the free movement of persons goods and service.
He urged the participating delegates to the tripartite meeting to transmit the outcomes and resolutions of the meeting to the various implementing agencies in their countries for enforcement.
Also speaking, Mr Aurelien Agbenonci, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Benin Republic pledged the commitments of Benin Republic to adhere to the agreements reached from the meeting.
In his remarks, Mr Mohammed Bazoum, Senior Minister of Interior, Niger Republic commended Nigeria for convening the meeting which he says would further strengthen regional integration.
Bazoum said that the illegal activities of smuggling across the borders of the three countries also have a negative impact on Niger.
He said that Niger would make positive contributions to the deliberations to resolve the problems emanating from illicit activities in the common borders or the economy of Member States to thrive without constraints.