By DAPO OLAWUNI
The Nigerian Shippers Council at the weekend gathered relevant stakeholders in the maritime sector, as well as importers, exporters and traders at the border areas to look at the gains of the border closure and suggest to the government on how to strengthen Nigeria’s economy.
Executive Secretary of the Council, Barr Hassan Bello who presided over the meeting said that closure of the border is temporary, and that it would help the federal government to take stock of what is happening to Nigerian economy.
He said that the Council is more concerned about what is happening at the port after the partial closure of the land borders.
He informed the stakeholders that the meeting is at the instance of the government, adding that all their suggestions would be taken back for implementation.
Bello lamented that for a long time, Nigeria has been taking things lightly with its neighbours, he said that even though Nigeria is often referred to as the ‘Big Brother’, she has become the dumping ground by other African countries.
“Nigeria is looking inwards to see what can be done to boost its economy, the reality has set in now that our source of revenue which is the crude oil, is no longer sustainable, we have also found out the need for serious diversification”
“The closure of the border has caused pain, but if there is no pain, there is no gain.It is our duty to support what the customs is doing, it is also our duty to proffer solutions, our concern is about trade, we are trade facilitators just like the customs, we are in charge of managing the Lagos-Abidjan trade corridor, we have presence at the Seme border and we know all the issues going, we know that we are being taken advantage of and we support what is going on now”
“Before the border is opened, Nigeria has certain obligations, we need to look inwards and build capacity”
“Nigeria cannot remain as an import economy alone, it’s about time we start exporting, if we don’t export we would perish, we need to have factories and insist on our rights on international trade”
Also speaking, Chairman of Nigerian Ports Consultative Council, Otunba Kunle Folarin commended the federal government for closing down the borders, saying that the exercise goes beyond international trade, but also about security of the country.
He said that going by the ECOWAS protocols signed, neighboring countries are not keeping to the terms and agreement, rather, they are making nonsense of Nigeria.
According to him, there are thirteen treaties between Nigeria and other West African nations, not only on the borders but also on inspection of vessels.
Otunba Folarin advised the Shippers Council to reestablish strategic alliances with her counterparts in Benin, Ghana and Togo, so that they would know what Nigeria wants and where she is going with its economy, he said government also has to do this at its level.
“Why are the neighboring countries crying that we closed our borders, they should stop crying more than the bereaved.
We should be concerned that a country of 11million is importing 200 million rice”
National Vice President of Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) Dr. Kayode Farinto advised that the Government should take advantage of the border closure and build industries, adding that with the closure, the level of importation would increase.
Farinto said the integration of the port system and access to the port has been a total failure and there is need for a permanent solution to the call up system for trucks entering the port.
“This is the best time the government should start taking records, the border closure will increase level of job creation, they should start giving us statistics of the level of employment that is generated”
“We commend government for giving Incentives to local rice producers, there is also need for Nigerians to have an attitudinal change by making sure we embrace Nigerian rice, they are cheap and affordable”
“There is need for Customs at this time to review its mode of operations, let us remove all the blockages we have on the road to the port. Government should also try to review the auto policy, 70% of new vehicles are smuggled into Nigeria, the government should make new vehicles attract lesser duties, if these are not reviewed Nigerians will go back to Cotonou”
Chairperson of Women in Maritime (WIMA Africa) Hajia Bola Muse advised that the government should take advantage of the increased volume of cargoes at the port and compel shipping lines and terminal operators to reduce port charges.
On his part, founder of National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) Dr. Boniface Aniebonam said the border should not be reopened until the neighboring countries have complied with the ECOWAS treaties and protocols.
He however lamented that there was lack of communication with stakeholders before the borders were shut, he said the government agencies ought to have explain to stakeholders on the need for the border closure.
“Anyone that is not supporting government closure of the border is because they are not informed or not patriotic” he said
Managing Director of Inland Container Nigeria Limited (ICNL) Mr. Ismail Yusuf supported government on the border closure.
He however called for strengthening of the security agencies at the border posts.
“I am in support of the closure of the border, it has a lot of advantages, but the treaties and agreement signed, who is supposed to implement it? we have our security agencies at the border, If our neighbouring countries want to violate the agreement, they have the right to turn them back”
“Before such decisions are taken, notice should have been given to stakeholders so that they would have been prepared for it, not to take them unawares”
“The closure caught everyone unawares, I was at Niger Republic when the closure was announced, 300 Dangote trucks could not come into the country and this has affected their business, so also other traders were affected” he said
On his part, Mr Anniette Basset, representing NACCIMA export group, said that closing the border is a signal that Nigerian security agencies at the border are not doing their job.
He said Nigeria is only telling the international community that she does not have a strong security that can man her entry points.
He advised that “There should be a deliberate projection plan of where the country I heading in the next three years. First, government should help subsidize local industries and farmers to grow more produce, especially rice, at a lower price as it is done in other countries”
“Secondly, you don’t close borders, you can only raise the tariff, if government should increase the tariff, everybody would walk away from importation and embrace locally made goods, but what happens if we walk away from importation and locally made goods are not available, do we expect Nigerians to die”