…Tripartite committee works on agreeable date for border reopening***
The Federal Government on Thursday convened a Tripartite Anti-smuggling Committee meeting in Abuja, with a view to resolving the irregularities and smuggling activities that led to partial closure of the nation’s land borders.
Members of the committee were Nigeria, the Republic of Niger and the Republic of Benin.
Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr Geoffrey Onyeama said that the meeting was convened on the directives of President Muhammadu Buhari, “who wants the issues that led to the partial border closure resolved quickly”.
According to Onyeama, the meeting is to serve as a forum for Nigeria, Benin, and Niger to rub minds and agree on concrete modalities and enforce sustainable measures to curb smuggling activities and other crimes along Nigeria’s borders.
“The mandate of the joint anti-smuggling committee is to, among other things, adopt measures that will enhance the suppression of rice smuggling and other illicit items along the borders of the three countries.
“The committee will prepare and put in force the necessary bilateral agreements to combat smuggling along the common borders, as well as initiate anti-smuggling sensitisation and awareness programmes to the populace of the three countries.
“Establish a tripartite anti-smuggling joint border patrol team with the power to arrest and handover any person arrested to the appropriate authorities in the three countries for investigation and prosecution.
“To put in place modalities for the establishment of a Joint Inspection Task Force comprising Customs of the three countries for the purpose of inspection and excursion of transit goods at the point of entry to their destination.
“The Customs Administration of the three countries must ensure strict adherence to the implementation of various agreements entered into, pursue vigorously the escort and handing over of goods in transit from Customs to Customs.
“Sharing of information and intelligence on the movement of goods, services, and people among the three countries, and sensitisation of stakeholders on the decision of the three counties to set-up anti-smuggling operations and cooperation.
“Enlightenment on sanctions upon infraction of anti-smuggling measures and prohibition laws and creation of a framework of consultation among the stakeholders of the three countries over the implementation of the anti-smuggling measures.”
The minister said that prior to Nigeria’s partial land-border closure, the Federal Government in 2016 banned the importation of rice through the land borders.
He said that in spite of the ban, imported rice continued to flood the Nigerian market.
He added that although Nigeria had signed various memoranda of understanding with its neighbors, implementing such agreements had been difficult and challenging.
Onyeama said that the partial border closure executed on Aug. 20 was informed by the prevailing massive smuggling activities taking place across the various corridors against the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS).
He noted that a lot of the smuggled goods were accompanied by other illicit items such as drugs, small arms, and light weapons which had caused great damage to Nigeria and its people.
He said that it was important to note that the proliferation of small arms and light weapons within the region posed severe security threats to the economic development of all member states.
The minister reiterated Nigeria’s commitment to the consolidation of regional integration as enshrined in the various ECOWAS protocols and regulations toward enhancing the free movement of persons, goods, and services.
He urged the participating delegates to the tripartite meeting to transmit the outcome and resolutions of the convention to the various implementing agencies in their countries for enforcement.
Also speaking, Mr Aurelien Agbenonci, Benin Republic’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation pledged the commitment of his home government to upholding the terms of the agreements reached at the meeting.
In his remarks, Mr Mohammed Bazoum, Senior Minister of Interior, Niger Republic praised Nigeria for convening the meeting which he said would further strengthen regional integration.
According to him, smuggling activities across the borders of the three countries have had a negative impact on his country.
Meanwhile, Nigeria, the Republic of Benin and Niger, have established a joint border patrol team comprising the Police, Customs, Immigration of the tripartite countries to recommend a date for the reopening of the borders.
The three countries agreed in a resolution on Thursday in Abuja at the end of the Tripartite Anti-Smuggling Committee Meeting of Nigeria, Benin and Niger.
Reading the communiqué at the end of the meeting, Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, said the meeting took note of all concerns raised and agreed to establish a monitoring and evaluating committee of the three countries.
Onyeama said that the committee will comprise of Ministers of Finance, Trade, Foreign Affairs, Customs, Immigration and National Security Adviser.
He said that the Committee is with a mandate to ensure actions that would facilitate and enhance the suppression of smuggled goods and other related matters.
“The meeting agreed that the monitoring and evaluation committee will ensure the full implementation of the adopted mandate of the Joint Anti-Smuggling Human Trafficking Committee.
“Nigeria, Benin also agreed on the establishment of trade facilitation committee among the three countries, comprising of Ministers of Finance and Trade.
“To promote intra-regional trade among the three countries, as well as put in place, sanctions against smuggling of goods.
“The governments agreed to ensure persons from the three countries to enter/exit each other’s state with valid ECOWAS recognised travel documents through recongnised controlled posts.
“Establishment of Joint Border Patrol Team comprising the Police, Customs, Immigration of the three countries.
“The team is to hold its first meeting in Abuja from Nov. 25 to Nov. 27, 2019.
“The patrol team is to agree on the modality to carry out its operation and recommend a date for the opening of the borders,” Onyeama said.
On the anti-smuggling issues, Onyeama earlier said the meeting deliberated on the myriad of challenges faced by the three countries.
Onyeama added that more importantly, the meeting dwelt on the areas of smuggling of goods and services that were not approved under the Protocols on ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme.
He said that the meeting also proffered to address issues as regards Free Movement of Persons without valid ECOWAS travel documents, as well as plethora of illegal warehouses along the border corridors.
“In this regard, the meeting acknowledged smuggling of goods, as well as human trafficking as collective violation of ECOWAS Protocols on ETLS and Free Movement.
“That pose severe eononomic and security threats to intra-regional trade and free movement,” Onyeama also said.
Onyeama said that Niger and Benin Republic however appealed for the reopening of the land borders.
Responding to the attack of Nigerian traders in Ghana, Onyeama said that the Nigerian High Commission was engaging with the Ghanaian government and the leadership of the Nigerian traders in Accra.
Onyeama said that there was however no threat to the physical safety of Nigerian traders in Ghana, adding that the tripartite meeting have agreed on modalities for the way forward.