Abuja — The governments of Nigeria, Benin and Niger Republic have set up a joint committee to curb smuggling of goods at their common borders.
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.
However, following a tripartite meeting held in Abuja thursday, the three countries set up anti-smuggling committee as part of the efforts to curb the influx of foreign goods into Nigeria.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, revealed that the meeting was convened on the directives of President Muhammadu Buhari who wanted the issues to be resolved quickly.
He explained that the mandate of the joint anti-smuggling committee, among others, include: to adopt measures that would enhance the suppression of rice smuggling and other illicit items along the borders of the three countries.
Onyeama added that the committee would prepare and put in force the necessary bilateral agreements to combat smuggling along the common borders, initiate anti-smuggling sensitisation and awareness programmes to the populace of the three countries.
The committee, he said, would also ensure the establishment of a tripartite anti-smuggling joint border patrol team with power to arrest and hand over any person arrested to the appropriate authorities in the three countries for investigation and prosecution.
Onyeama stated: "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 to Customs.
The committee will ensure the "sharing of information and intelligence on the movement of goods, services and people among the three countries, sensitisation of stakeholders on the decision of the three counties to set-up anti-smuggling operations and cooperation."
It was also mandated to carry out "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 (MoU) with its neighbours, but lamented that there have been difficulties and challenges in fully implementing these MoUs.
The minister argued 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 to Nigeria and its people.
He said also worthy of 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.
On his party, Niger's Senior Minister of Interior, Mr. Mohammed 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.
Also, Benin Republic's, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Mr. Aurelien Agbenonci, assured that his country would adhere to the agreements reached at the meeting.