Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja

Nigeria and Republic of Benin have agreed on a joint committee to combat smuggling.

This was the outcome of President Muhammadu Buhari‘s meeting with President Patrice Talon of the Republic of Benin at State House, Abuja, on Wednesday.

Modalities of the joint committee to combat smuggling were to be worked out as soon as possible, the two leaders agreed.

Also to be consulted in the workings of the committee is Niger Republic, believed to be a transit point in the concentric circle of smuggling of commodities, particularly rice, into Nigeria.

Special Adviser to the President Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, said in a statement that President Buhari told his Beninoise  counterpart that, “We have succeeded in cutting the importation of rice into the country by about 90 percent.”

President Buhari added that smuggled parboiled rice still finds its way into the country, thus vitiating the efforts of government, and discouraging farmers.

“When I got into office in 2015, the first thing I did was to visit all our neighbours; Niger Republic, Chad, Cameroon, and Benin Republic. It made both economic and security sense, because if you are in good terms with your neighbours, you ultimately spend less on both physical and food security, “he said.

President Buhari, however, added that activities of smugglers were hindering Nigeria’s quest for self-sufficiency, particularly in rice production.

A more sinister side to the smuggling menace, President Buhari noted, was the influx of small arms and ammunition into the country, thus increasing the spectre of insecurity.

President Buhari also welcomed the idea of a rail network to link Nigeria, Benin Republic, Niger Republic, and some other countries, saying “it is valuable economically,” and would be subjected to further comprehensive study.

President Talon said smuggling affects both Nigeria and his country negatively, and also constitutes a threat to the bilateral relationship between the two countries.

READ ALSO: Vote out APC, ex-Gov. Yuguda tells Bauchi electorate

“We are aware of how rice smuggling is affecting the development of local capacity in rice farming in Nigeria. It is affecting trade between us negatively, and Nigeria is an important partner for a country like Benin.

“But we have no powers to block goods meant for other countries, and our country is not the final destination for the smuggled rice. We need to develop a common will to face the problem,” Talon said.

He also noted that the proposed rail network between the countries would boost economic development.

The CEO of Dangote Group, Aliko Dangote had, last week, advocated for the Federal Government to take drastic action against Republic of Benin, whose porous border is encouraging dumping of smuggled goods into the country.

According to him, smuggling from that country was  threatening the economy of the country and jobs of thousands of Nigerians.

The recent World Bank on smuggling had disclosed that about N1.45 trillion worth of different goods are smuggled into Nigeria annually through Benin Republic alone.

About 600,000 tonnes  of sugar are reportedly smuggled into Benin Republic, 60 percent of which made its way into Nigeria.