The Nigerian government insists that the ECOWAS Protocol on transit of goods must be respected by its neighbours before its land borders will be re-opened.
Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, who briefed State House correspondents on Wednesday after the weekly cabinet meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari, said violation of the protocol has led to increased smuggling activities in the region.
“All Nigeria is saying is, please, let’s respect the protocol on transit. ECOWAS set up a protocol on transit of goods which is very simple.
“If a container meant for Nigeria is dropped in Cotonou, the authorities in Benin Republic should escort the container to customs in Seme border, and that way, proper duty will be levied and will be paid.
“And the protocol says you cannot break the seal, you cannot open the container, but what has been happening over the years is that our neigbours, will trans-load the container, put about five containers on one truck and drive it to the border as if it is only one container that they are going to pay duties on.
“Worse still, less than even 50 percent of what is meant for Nigeria will come through the approved border.
“So, what we have done and it has a very salutary effect is ask our neigbours to respect the protocol on transit.
“If they do that the borders will be open.
“But you cannot continue to play the big brother at the expense of national security at the expense of our national economy.”
He disclosed that there was a meeting on Tuesday between Comptrollers-Generals of the three countries affected by the border closure, which has not led to any agreement on the issue.
He said: “channels have been deployed, everything is going on but our insistence is that we must all respect the ECOWAS protocol on transit goods, we must respect the various MOUs we entered into, so that there will be freedom of movement of goods from one country to the other provided those goods are manufactured in the states that are exporting it.”
The minister said that the benefits to Nigeria of the border closure surpass the slight increase in inflation that has resulted from it.
“The border closure frankly speaking is what we needed to do and we had to do it. We cannot continue to subsidized the rest of West Africa.
“And the benefits for border closure for me, I think ,far surpasses the very little increase in inflation.
“We have been able to save about 30 percent from our fuel consumption which means that over time we have been subsidizing the fuel consumption of other countries.
“Within the last three months we have been able to increase by 15 percent duties collected from Import.
“Within the same period and this is very important, we have been able to drastically reduced the volumes of arms and ammunition that have been coming into the country through smuggling, ditto with illicit drugs.”
Necessary for AfCTA
Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, who was also at the briefing, said the closure of the border was necessary for effective implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area, AfCTA, agreement which Nigeria has signed.
“What we are doing is important for our economy. We signed up to the African Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA) agreement.
“We have to make sure that we put in place checks to make sure that our economy will not be overrun as a result of the coming into effect of the ACFTA.
“That is why we have this border closure to return to the discipline of respecting the protocols that we all committed to.”