Nigeria: Experts List Gains As Govt Reopens Land Borders

Seme Border (file photo).
17 December 2020

Following the directive by President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday that the country's land borders should be reopened, experts and stakeholders have enumerated the gains of the government's policy decision.

The four borders approved for immediate reopening 16 months after they were closed to all commercial activities with neighbouring nations include Seme (South-west), Ilela (North-west), Maitagari (North-west), and Mfun (South-south).

The minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, disclosed this to State House correspondents after the federal executive council (FEC) meeting presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo at the presidential villa.

President Buhari joined the council meeting from his country home, Daura.

The minister, however, said restriction on the importation of some commodities, including rice and other products, would continue to be enforced.

She said, "I am here to just report that His Excellency, the president, approved the recommendations of the committee that I chaired with the minister of Trade and Investment as member, minister of Interior as member, minister of Foreign Affairs as member, National Security

Adviser as member and Comptroller General of Customs.

"This committee was mandated to review and advise on the reopening of

the Nigerian borders and after recommendations, the president approved the reopening of four land borders namely: Seme in the South-west

part of the country, Ilela in the North-west part of the country, Maitagariin the North-west part of the country and Mfun in the South-south part of the country.

"So, these four land borders will be reopened immediately while

the remaining borders are directed to be reopened on or before 31st of

December, 2020.

"Mr. President has also directed on the reopening of the borders that

while others are being reopened, the ban on importation of rice, poultry and other banned products still subsists and will be

implemented by border patrol team.

On his part, minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Otunba Niyi

Adebayo, said the border closure had given the security agencies an

opportunity to access the problems at the borders particularly with

regards to smuggling.

He said, "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 closure has created a situation that has tactically stopped that, they have been able to calculate the

amount of petroleum products being smuggled out by calculating the

amount that is being lifted now compared to what was being lifted

before".

He stated that the issue of smuggling of rice to the country has reduced drastically, saying "we are hoping that our agencies will be

able to sustain that, so also is the issue of poultry smuggling.

"Also very important is the issue of importation of small arms and

weapons into the country that also has stopped," the minister added.

He expressed hope that the security agencies would ensure that

smuggling of small arms and weapons doesn't reoccur again noting that

"These are the issues that caused the closure of the borders in the

first place and we have been able to put a stop to them," he noted.

Speaking on the development, an importer, Jude Anozie, said government left it too late before reopening the land borders, saying goods worth over N300 billion have perished in the last one year".

He said the federal government decided to reopen the borders because

of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, which will take off

in January next year, saying that if the government had failed to reopen

the border before the implementation of the trade agreement, the country would have been at a disadvantage.

He said, "Aside that, ECOWAS could have sanctioned Nigeria for failing to reopen the border when the Free Trade agreement implementation takes off. But we appreciate the efforts of every stakeholder who mounts pressure on the government to reopen the borders.

"The negative effects of the closing of the border are more than the

results. Do you know how many businesses and lives that have been lost

in the last one year? I lost my clearing agents at Seme border due to

the closure of the border. But we thank God that the government is

taking the right decision now but it was too late before they realized what we have been telling them".

Similarly, the director-general, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Muda Yusuf said that it was a welcome development. "It would be beneficial to the economy and in consonance with the recently ratified AFCFTA," he said.

He noted that many small businesses depend on cross border trade for

survival, saying many manufacturers also leverage the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS) to boost their businesses, and that many of them also source their raw materials from countries in the sub region.

Yusuf said, "There is need to strengthen the border policing and management mechanisms to avoid a relapse into the conditions that led to the closure in the first place. The biggest challenge with the border management is an institutional issue. We need to demand

accountability from the institutions that have the responsibility for

border policing and management."

Also, chairman of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANCLA), Seme border chapter, Bisiriyu Fanu, commended the president on the decision, noting however that it was coming late.

He said, "For the fact that it is very late, we still thank God for him

to make the federal government reopen the land borders because if

the government didn't open the border, there is nothing we can do. We

appreciate the federal government."

On how the border closure had affected people living around the border areas in the last one year, Fanu said whatever that has happened before now doesn't matter anymore because the borders have been reopened, saying that businesses and activities will return around the borders.

Also reacting, the president of National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Mr Lucky Amiwero said the federal government has taken the right decision by reopening the land borders, adding that the border is a legal entry point, just like seaports and airports.

He said, "The goods coming from the borders are not usually smuggling goods. Although some of them are smuggled, the majority of them are

cleared normally. I believe that the decision the government has taken

is the right one but it came so late because a lot of people has lost

their goods.

"Nigerian importers have suffered with the decision because we are yet to see the essence and results of closing the border. But, otwithstanding, it is never too late than never."

According to him, the kind of trade going on through the borders can survive following the reopening because Nigeria is a contracting party

to African Continental Free Trade Agreement, ECOWAS Treaty on Common External Tariff and others.

He said, "You don't close borders; what you do is to go into mutual

administrative assistance, which America and every other country have

done. What the government has done in reopening the border is commendable but it is quite too late because a lot of people have incurred losses in the whole exercise. Many goods had perished and people were not properly informed about the closure."

Shippers Kick As Haulage Cost Rises From N300,000 To

N1.8m

Meanwhile, Shippers have condemned the high cost of haulage at Lagos port as truckers within one week jerked up their costs of moving a container from the Tin Can Island Port, Lagos to any other part of the city by 50% from N1.2million to N1.8million.

The truckers alleged that extortion by security officials on the port

access road, which has continued unabated, is responsible for the

hike.

Barely a year ago, cost of trucking from the Tin Can Port was about N300,000.

The haulage cost from Tin Can Port is now three times the cost of

haulage from the Apapa Port, which has remained at N600,000 since the

beginning of this year.

Many truck operators attribute the escalating cost of haulage services

at the Tin Can Port to extortion by security operators including NPA

security officials, police and the presidential task team on Apapa

gridlock.

Many truck drivers, who spoke with journalists weekend, said they pay

more than N200,000 per truck to gain access to the port.

However, several promises by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and

the Nigerian Shippers' Council (NSC) to curtail extortion on the port

access road and embark on repair of the roads to enable free flow of

traffic have remained unfulfilled.

Last week, NPA, in a press statement promised to curtail "rent

seeking" on the port access road after the Maritime Workers Union of

Nigeria (MWUN) threatened to go on strike due to the harrowing

experience suffered by its members in accessing the port.

Also on Wednesday last week, the House of Representatives asked the

federal government to disband the Presidential Task Team on Apapa

gridlock, saying the task team has outlived its usefulness, was

participating in extortion and contributing to the congestion of the

Lagos ports.

The lawmakers also urged government and other relevant security

agencies to immediately put an end to extortion of truck drivers by

their operatives on the port access roads.

"Concerned that in addition to the poor condition of the port access

roads, extortion by officials of the Nigerian Ports Authority security

department, Police, and the Presidential Task Force remain the major

cause of unending gridlock along the port access roads, with

stakeholders such as importers, clearing agents and truck owners

alleging that they are forced to pay as much as N250,000 to N280,000

per truck for entries and exits to the ports.

"These apparatus milking the stakeholders at the expense of the nation

should be held accountable, while the task force, which has

demonstrated it has outlived its usefulness, should be disbanded

forthwith," one of the lawmakers, Leke Abejide, who sponsored a motion of "urgent national importance" on the issue, said.

Hon. Abejide said that businesses, commuters, and residents along the

access roads, "see hell on a daily basis as they are subjected to

nuisance, pollution, and emissions to the environment".

According to him, due to the challenges of inaccessibility to the ports in Lagos, it now takes an average of 60 days to turnaround a vessel as against the five days it used to be.

At present, no fewer than 40 ships calling at the Tin Can Island Port are stranded at anchorage due to lack of space to discharge new cargoes at terminals in the port, as cargo evacuation from the port has been hampered by multiple toll points mounted by security

operatives including men of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) security department, Nigeria Police Force, Nigerian Army and officials

of the Presidential Task Team on Apapa gridlock.

The situation has negatively affected port operation as cargo delivery

has been considerably slowed down, leading to astronomical rise in

haulage and shipping cost, thereby fuelling inflation in the country.

Speaking on the development, the managing director, Port & Cargo

Handling Services, John Jenkins, on Tuesday expressed frustration over

the near total collapse of cargo delivery along the Mile 2/Tin Can

Island port access road.

He said, "Transfer of containers by road is almost not in existence

because the road is blocked and you can't get containers out. The

problem is the road. If the problem of the road is solved, the problem

inside the port will be solved. Before we never had block stack

containers because the cargo used to move freely but not anymore now.

"There are in excess of 40 vessels at anchorage. At Port & Cargo, we

could only bring seven alongside now. Last month, we kept one of the

MSC vessels there for four days because they could not discharge and

this month, we have kept vessels for more than two days already

because we don't know where to put the containers.

"I have worked in this port industry all my life; I have never seen

roads like this. We could form a palliative solution. We are not

happy; we got people losing their means of livelihood every day because

of the poor condition of the road."

Also speaking, chairman, Association of Maritime Truck Owners

(AMATO), Chief Remi Ogungbemi, said, "what is happening at Tin Can is

a situation of the more you look, the less you see. Business is still

going on as usual and the Task Team has refused to leave because they

are benefiting from the chaos. They have formed a cartel and if you

are not in that group, they will not pass your truck no matter who you

are."

A clearing agent operating at the Tin Can Island Port, Ojo Akintoye,

said there are more than four road blocks between Tin Can Island Port,

first and second gates, set up by the Presidential Task Team, Police

and NPA officials where each truck is expected to part with money

before being allowed passage into the port.

He said, "The extortion by NPA (security officials) and other security

agencies who claim to be controlling traffic on the road is the cause

of the impediment we are experiencing daily along the port access

road.

"From first gate to second gate, we have about four road blocks

mounted by the security agents and the trucks must part with money

before they can move."

The national vice president, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs

Agents (ANLCA), Prince Kayode Farinto called for the disbandment of

the Presidential Task Team, which he said has become "a money-making

machine".

According to him, clearing agents lose an average of N300million

weekly to illegal collection by NPA security officials, Police and

members of the Presidential Task Team, adding that to enter the port,

truck operators pay as high as N280,000 to security operatives on the

road.

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