Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
The Federal Government, yesterday, gave conditions for the reopening of the nation’s borders.
This is even as the Nigeria Customs Service said the nation’s borders may open before the January 2020 date if an agreement is reached before the date.
This is even as the Federal Government maintained that member countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), must as a matter of necessity, respect the Rules of Origin.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, while speaking in Abuja ahead of the Third Inter-Ministerial Meeting Preparatory to the Tripartite Anti-Smuggling Committee Meeting by Nigeria, Benin and Niger, said that henceforth, Nigeria will no longer tolerate the repackaging of goods coming into the country.
The meeting was attended by the Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola; the Minister of State, Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Zubairu Dada, the Comptroller-General of Customs, Col Hameed Ali (retd); the Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ahmed Rufai Abubakar, amongst others.
He further said goods imported primarily for the Nigerian market must be escorted directly from the port of member states directly into the Nigerian borders.
Onyeama said: “We have had a meeting under the directive of Mr President regarding the border measures that have been taken, the border drills that has been undertaken by Nigeria. And of course, repercussions of those and the desire of Mr President that the issues that are being addressed that caused the drill to take place on our borders should be addressed as quickly as possible.
“So, in this context, within the next two weeks, a tripartite committee is to be convened and hosted here in Nigeria comprising a delegation, a committee of Benin Republic, from Niger, and from Nigeria.
“So, each country will come with the heads of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Interior, Finance, the Customs, Immigration and NIA, the security segment. So, this meeting will take place within the next two weeks.”
Speaking further, Onyeama said the Nigerian Committee met to look at the situation and agreed on a set of conditions.
According to Onyeama, “These conditions or conditionalities are as follows: That it is an absolute requirement of the Government of Nigeria that any imports coming through the land borders, our land borders, when those imports are transit in goods, that is to say when they are coming outside the ECOWAS region and imported into an ECOWAS member state, that those goods should retain their original packaging. There should be no modification whatsoever to the packaging on those goods imported into an ECOWAS member state destined for Nigeria. So, the original packaging and they must be escorted from the port directly to the entry point, designated entry point on Nigerian borders, so presented to Nigeria Customs, with the packaging intact and those goods escorted. This is an absolute precondition that will not be compromised.
“So, any transit in goods coming to this country than those transit countries, ECOWAS member states, must ensure that.”
Onyeama added that goods predominantly produced in ECOWAS member states, the Rules of Origin must be satisfied.
Onyeama stated: “So, we have to avoid any possibility of dumping. So, if goods are produced in ECOWAS member states, those goods must be in majority produced in those countries or if they are coming from outside ECOWAS, the value addition made by an ECOWAS country must be over 30 percent for it to be accepted within the framework of the Economic Trade Liberalisation Scheme that ECOWAS countries have to promote trade amongst ourselves.”
The value addition of 30 percent, Onyeama further said, was to avoid situations where countries outside the ECOWAS region will merely export goods into ECOWAS member states, repackage as coming from ECOWAS member states with little value addition and exported to Nigeria.
“So, we will absolutely insist on the respect of the ECOWAS Rules of Origin, ensuring that they actually do come from within an ECOWAS member state in large part,” Onyeama stated.
The Federal Government further insisted on the dismantling of all the warehouses along the common borders within a certain distance from the Nigerian borders.
Onyeama also said on the transportation of goods within ECOWAS and across borders, the Federal Government will henceforth insist on proper recognised packaging of the goods.
“No longer will we have goods, all shapes and sizes just going through the borders. We are going to have an accepted conditions for the packaging of goods that will be transported by road across our borders to maintain best practices in the packaging of those goods,” Onyeama disclosed.
On the free movement of persons, Onyeama added that the Federal Government will now absolutely insist that all persons coming into the country through land borders, must present themselves at recognised entry points first and foremost and must have recognised travel documents which is the officially recognised passport.
Also speaking, the Comptroller-General of Customs affirmed reports that the January 2020 date for reopening of borders was not sacrosanct.
Ali said: “The issue of 31st January is an operational programme. What we do in operations like this is that you set time for logistics and other tactical requirements.
“So, the issue of 31st January is not a terminal date. If all these things are put together and we reach an agreement, we could even relax all these things before 31st of January. So, it is not sacrosanct, but it is not a terminal date. We can also surpass January 31st and still hold on to what we are doing,” Ali said.