Expert speaks on how to stop Customs, smugglers clash says no less than 500 vehicles illegally enters the country daily - THE LIVING GUIDE

Expert speaks on how to stop Customs, smugglers clash says no less than 500 vehicles illegally enters the country daily

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By Lekan Lisoye

When In August 2019, the Nigerian government took border communities and West African trading partners by surprise by announcing the closure of its land borders with several neighbouring states, a retired Supritendent of Customs, Alhaj AbdulFatai Aremu Adegbite has said no fewer than 500 vehicles are illegally shipped into the country daily . 

Speaking to Journalists at  Iwe-Iroyin, Abeokuta, Ogun State, a former Supritendent of Customs, AbdulFatai Adegbite called on President Muhammad Buhari- to reconsider his stand on the banning of second hand vehicle into the country and go back to the tripartite pact with Nigeria, Benin Republic and Niger, saying that the policy, rather than assist Nigeria, it has added to the suffering of the masses and loss of revenue for the country.

It could be recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari while announcing the closure of the border, said the policy was to prevent the smuggling of rice and other food items into Nigeria, which the government claimed diminished local agricultural production. 

The government said the policy will encourage Nigerians to purchase local agricultural products, especially rice, in a boost for long-suffering domestic farmers. 

But in December the government finally reopened border posts, while keeping in place some restrictions on rice, second hand vehicles and other goods, after it became clear that the closures had not achieved any of its goals.  

The reopening came shortly after Nigeria ratified the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement, which is designed to tear down trade barriers across Africa and usher in a new era of continental free trade.

The border control policy failed in several ways. While the primary aim of the closures was to curtail food imports into Nigeria, they blocked other vital imports and exports from and to Benin, Niger, and Cameroon. Communities along the border and small and medium-sized businesses that trade over the boundaries lost their livelihoods overnight and saw their operations hampered by bureaucracy. 

AbdulFatai Adegbite, former member,  joint committee of commerce, between Nigeria and Benin Republic, claims that smugglers merely rerouted their operations to avoid the closure of formal border posts, emboldening the black market at the expense of legal traders. 

He opined that the policy rather than it achieving its aims, has added to the incessant face off between the Customs Service men and the people.

"Corrupt security officials were helping in the movement of vehicles into the country illegally through the porous borders, and found evidence of continuing smuggling activities on the Nigeria-Benin border.

“The closure removed that stop-gap or margin that importation has always satisfied. When that happens, you begin to see shortages and Nigeria begins to lose billions of naira to illegal importation of vehicles.

The solution to this was to go back to the 2003 agreement between Nigeria and Benin Republic when former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Mathieu Kerekou of Benin were Presidents.

The agreement gave room for any vehicle coming into Nigeria to pay full custom duty, thereby given the revenue that may be been diverted into the Federal government purse. There was no room for diversion then, and no crisis between Customs Service and the people.

"We were able to convince the people that game have changed, it is no more like what you use to do then, no more bush".

"Go to Seme, you pay your duty, go to Idiiroko, you pay your duty. This was done for some time before it was stopped. Now we are loosing a lot of money, the money generated from duty from Tokunbo vehicles then was very high.

"Though the border is open now, but the people are seriously suffering, government should be responsive to the yearnings of the people, most especially those at the border towns and other stakeholders.

"As I am talking to you now, the Benonines people are ready because President Talone is fighting corruption to the zero level. We should face how to improve our economy, and stop smugglers, Customs clashes which often times result into killing of innocent people".

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