…Why we have not started operations – Immigration
…’Closure claimed lives, killed businesses’
…Concerns over AfCTA
By Godfrey Bivbere
More than two weeks after the Federal Government’s directives for the reopening of Seme, Ilela, Maigatari and Mfum land borders, men of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, at Seme border, are yet to receive official communication for the commencement of trade, findings by Sunday Vanguard revealed.
Consequently, official trade hasn’t commenced at Nigeria’s foremast land border with Benin Republic.
The Minister of Finance and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, had said the land borders would be fully reopened before December 31, 2020.
But a visit to the border last Wednesday revealed that apart from a few individuals crossing the border, vehicular moment was almost none existent.
This was in contrast with the heavy vehicular and human traffic the place was known for until it was shut in October 2019.
Government had claimed the borders were shut to checkmate smuggling and illegal trans-border movements.
At the office of the Customs Area Comptroller, CAC, Bello Jibo, officials said he was said not on sit while the Command’s Public Relations Officer, Onawo Hussaini, said he could not speak on the issue.
However, a source close to the Customs told Sunday Vanguard that “official commercial activities are not taking place here because we are yet to get the official directive to that effect.”
“It could be that government intended to facilitate movement between both sides but not for trade purposes,” the source added.
However, at the entrance of the border on the Nigerian side, individuals carrying a small number of goods were observed crossing from both sides while travelers were seen coming into the country.
When contacted, Comptroller of Seme Command, Nigeria Immigration Service, NIS, Comptroller Bernard Zipamor, told Sunday Vanguard that after the pronouncement of the federal government on reopening of some borders, the Command also got a directive from NIS headquarters and subsequently commenced processing documents of passengers intending to cross the border.
Zipamor explained that in carrying out their duties, officers and men of the Service comply with COVID-19 protocol.
He said: “The Comptroller General of NIS, Muhammed Babandede,
urged us to focus on synergy with other security agencies in the enforcement of the entry and exit laws as well as ensure that all travellers provide their valid documents like international passport and ECOWAS travel certificate among others.
“He has been very strict about preventive measures. He has provided us with the needed protective gear for the performance of their duties.”
Zipamor also said the Immigration boss insisted that officers and men liaise with other security agencies in the enforcement of Covid-19 protocol.
Apart from the provision for the needed protective gear, he disclosed that the World Health Organization, WHO provided the Service with some Personal Protective Equipment, PPE.
Speaking to Sunday Vanguard on the delay in reopening the border for trade, a Customs Broker, Adewale Abdullahi, said the border was temporarily opened after the federal government’s directive, adding that it was closed shortly after reopening.
He said the border has not been officially opened but expressed hope that it would be done open soon.
Similarly, National President of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, Tony Nwabunike, said he was not surprised that activities have not fully commenced at the border.
The ANLCA boss noted that border closure resulted in the death of some operators and businesses.
He said people are being skeptical and are not willing to return until they get assurances from government.
According to him, “the borders were closed longer than expected. We are talking about trade, buying and selling are not happening. Another angle is the supply and demand for goods and services.
“If people do not find it important to go to Cotonuo because of government policies in that area, then they will find other options. It is a matter of gradual return to normalcy. When people see that confidence is being restored by government, things will change.
“You know that many people lost their lives, lost businesses, and other things to that singular policy. The policy was a very dangerous policy that resulted in people losing their lives, businesses, families and their trucks too.
“It will take some time to restore the confidence of the people in doing business at the border again, especially at this time that we are talking about the African Continental Trade Agreement, AfCTA.”
Sunday Vanguard could not confirm if an official directive has not been given to Seme Customs Command by the Ministry of Finance.
Experts have attributed the current recession to mainly the border closure, which contributed to the rise in inflation to a 30-month high.
The National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, put the country’s inflation rate as at October 2020, at 13.71 percent.
The reopening of borders, according to economists, will help reduce inflation and as well facilitate free movement of goods within Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS.
While announcing the re-opening of the borders, Ahmed said the policy helped government to check smuggling and arms importation.
According to her, “we have many advantages to the border closure. It has allowed security agencies to access the problems at the borders particularly concerning smuggling.
“As you are all aware before the border closures a lot of petroleum products were being smuggled out from the borders to West African countries and the border closures have created a situation that has tactically stopped that, they have been able to calculate the number of petroleum products being smuggled out by calculating the amount that is being lifted now compared to what was being lifted before.”
Meanwhile, the delay in the commencement of official trade may likely affect the smooth takeoff of AfCTA, which took effect on January 1, 2020.
The trade policy signed by 54 African nations aims at creating a single continental market. Of this number, only 33 have ratified the agreement.