By DAPO OLAWUNI
The Nigeria Customs Service on 20th of August 2019 announced the flag-off of a joint border security exercise, codenamed “Ex-Swift Response in collaboration with the Armed Forces of Nigeria (AFN), Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) as well as the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) and other security and intelligence agencies.
In a press statement issued by the Customs spokesman, Joseph Attah, the joint exercise was coordinated by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) and it took place in 4 geopolitical zones, namely; South-South, South-West, North-Central and North-West.
At the time the joint border drill started, the expectation was that it would promote interagency cooperation and increase preparedness to address trans-border security challenges such as terrorism, armed banditry, smuggling, proliferation of small arms and light weapons, amongst others.
Fast forward one year after, taking a look at Nigerian economy, there are indications that the border drill have not added any value to the system. This is even as experts have said that the negative effects of the border closure is more than the gains the Federal Government proclaimed it recorded.
Apart from unquantifiable billions of Naira that has been lost by the Federal Government, genuine importers and business men have now been rendered jobless and reduced to paupers. Investigations by DAILY TREND NEWS revealed that several of their cargoes and loaded trucks are still trapped at the borders after one year.
Many of the trapped consignments have been contaminated, some have perished, even though they have all paid the required duty to the Federal Government.
Due to the border closure policy of the government, more than 1000 Customs Brokers and about 200,000 employees have been forced out of jobs. Many of the Nigerian importers are now being dragged to prison in Republic of Benin due to non payment of demurrage on their cargoes trapped.
On the aspect of national security, President Muhammadu Buhari recently raised an alarm that despite the border closure, illicit weapons still flood the country and gets into the hands of terrorists.
The President was speaking at a high powered security meeting with Governors of the six geo political zones, as well as security service chiefs.
He expressed concern that in spite of the fact that borders with neighbouring countries had been shut, bandits and terrorists continued to have access to small weapons.
“These terrorists are in the localities. How is it that they are not short of small arms?” he queried the security and intelligence chiefs.
During various investigations carried out around the borders in the last one year since the border drill commenced, operators at the borders alleged that the security agents were compromising with smugglers.
On the number of vehicles being smuggled into Nigeria daily, one begins to wonder why smuggling of vehicles was still thriving despite the border closure? An inside source confirmed that the smugglers now “book” ahead of time before crossing their vehicles. They allegedly give bribes to the security operatives and they are given a particular time, usually at night, to clear their smuggled vehicles.
While the movement is ongoing, the Customs and security officers allegedly look the other way.
“Whenever the cars are to be moved, the Customs and joint border drill operatives must be aware, you must have gone ahead to settle them before you move, and once they start counting the vehicles, it must not surpass the amount you have booked for”
“The ones you see them parading as seized vehicles are those ones that failed to settle them, they would engage you in a gun battle” a reliable source told our correspondent.
The border drill has equally claimed the life of several Customs officers in the last one year. The latest being a young, newly married officer who was killed by vehicle smugglers around Sarki area of Oyo State on 12th of August.
This is because, die-hard smugglers are fashioning out new routes everyday, and ones they are accosted, it results into a bloody gun battle, most times claiming the life of innocent customs officers.
The only area customs made little achievement is in the aspect of rice smuggling, the level of smuggling of foreign rice has reduced to a barest minimum. Taking a look at major Nigerian markets, there is a dominance of “Nigerian rice” in circulation now, compared to last year before the border drill
A lot of rice have also been intercepted on the waterways by the customs, marine police and the Nigerian Navy.
However, despite the border drill, foreign parboiled rice are still in the market. One expects that with the border drill, it would have stopped completely. The smugglers take advantage of every lacuna to smuggle the foreign rice, some stuff the commodity into motorbike fuel tanks, petroleum tankers and so on.
In the area of fuel smuggling, since the closure of the border one year ago, both private and commercial vehicles have resorted to smuggling of fuel across the border communities to make a living.
The smugglers now siphon fuel in 25 to 50 litres jericans across the borders since Nigeria has banned fuel tankers from supplying to neighbouring countries.
Despite the fact that the number of customs operatives, police checkpoints have also increased, the smugglers still find their way and the business continues to thrive.
Similarly, smuggling of fuel through the waters is said to be a big business for smugglers in the last one year of the border closure. They smuggle fuel in both big drums and big jerrycans to sell to the neighboring countries.
In a chat with DAILY TREND NEWS, National President of Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) Mr. Tony Iju Nwabunike gave his assessment of the joint border drill in the last on year, saying that it has not benefitted the economy in any way.
He lamented that in the last one year, several trucks loaded with cargoes are still trapped at the border post, some of which have already paid their duty to the government.
“For one year now, the clearing agents have nothing doing, to worsen the case scenario, all the trucks trapped at the border posts are still there, even though all the duties have been paid, you can imagine the high level of economic wastage in that area”
“Check the vehicles that have stayed for one year, check the goods they have carried for one year, check the quantum of economic stand of those who have used the border for import or export, we cannot quantify it ”
While suggesting the way forward, the ANLCA President said “This is why we are asking the federal government through the Nigeria Customs Service to know what to do about the border closure, immediately after this Covid-19, let them allow these cargoes to come in because most of them have already paid duty, and the goods which government has collected duty upon are not being allowed to go out, and I am sure that most of these goods are either expired or contaminated”
“We are talking about the total loss on Nigerian economy either import or export, we cannot quantify it, I dont think it has added value on our economy, except they want to talk about in terms of arms and ammunition or national security, but in terms of economy, I dont think the economy has done so well” he says
The ANLCA President regretted that Nigerian would have been a hub for other countries surrounding her, but rather she has given all the economic powers she was supposed to have into the hands of other countries and they are now enjoying what Nigeria was supposed to be enjoying.
“Nigeria should understand what we want, I agree that security must be of topmost importance, but now that we are even talking about AfCFTA, how do we continue to close the borders under principles of AfCFTA when everywhere is expected to be borderless, it is going to be a decision that has to be reviewed” he said