By Steve Agbota                                    [email protected] 08033302331

About three weeks ago or more, the government of the Republic of Benin stopped all Nigeria-bound trucks laden with transit goods coming from Cote D’ivoire, Ghana and Togo.

The Beninese government tactically prevented the trucks from passing through its border to Nigeria. The decision stakeholders said to be retaliation over Nigeria’s closure of its borders in 2019, which lasted for more than one year.

Daily Sun learnt that during the border closure, Beninese who transact one or two businesses at the Seme-Krate border practically lost their means of living.

Presently, over 3,700 Nigeria-bound trucks laden with transit goods worth several billions of naira are still trapped between Ilakoji, a border between Togo and Benin.

Already, the Benin government has imposed a new import duty payment of CFA 9 million, per every transit truck laden with Nigeria-bound goods, an equivalent of about N6.5 million which, are exempted from all forms of duty under the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) protocols on transit goods.

Daily Sun gathered that Cotonou government’s claim was that it suspected the goods are not produced in West Africa. Meanwhile importers countered the claims and stated that Benin authority wants to be collecting full duty on those goods.

By law, a transit good is not supposed to pay a kobo because in the transiting country, it will just pass through but the trapped trucks could still not cross Ilakoji border and Seme border up till now, according to importers.

However, all efforts by the ECOWAS to intervene have been futile. The Cotonou government during their meetings with ECOWAS said Togo and Ghana never offended them that it is Nigeria they want to deal with.

Meanwhile, some importers who spoke with our reporter lamented that majority of the goods are to be sold during the Sallah festival but they could not move them down to Nigeria even as they have collected part payment from their customers.

However, stakeholders in the nation’s maritime sector blamed the Federal Government’s fire brigade approach policy for the decision of the Republic of Benin to stop Nigeria-bound trucks laden with transit goods from passing through its border.

The stakeholders said Nigeria’s one man-show- policy would put Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), which Nigeria signed, into jeopardy if care is not taken.

On the new development over the trapped goods, the Chairman of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANCLA), Seme border chapter, Bisiriyu Fanu, said that the issue has not been resolved, saying that they were told to wait and see what would happen immediately after the Sallah.

“For now, nothing yet and the trucks are still there. The only thing is that anybody that wants to bring in their goods, they went through Togo and containerised their goods and bring it to Abba. That is the information I have for now,” he said.

Speaking with Daily Sun, the National Vice President, ANLCA, Kayode Farinto, said: “There is something we called law of reciprocity in international relations. That is whatever you give; you take or whatever you do to your neigbour, expect it in return.

“When government actually implemented the border closure policy. Blocking the border forgetting Nigeria is signatory to ECOWAS protocol and convention, we shouted that this thing should not last more than 30 days but Government took caution to the wind and it was done for almost one year,” he said.

According to him, so if Benin is now stopping Nigerian trucks, that mean they are targeting the Nigerian economy. That is a very dangerous trend. It is allowed in international relations and it is called law of reciprocity.

He said Nigerian government has to go for what is called dialogue or diplomatic shuttles so that the issue would not boomerang more than what it is now.

“Ordinarily, it is unfortunate that this is happening because our experts on international relations failed to look at the implications of the most of the laws and policies that are being implemented by the Federal Government. You should expect Benin Republic to do what they did. Don’t forget that a lot of Beninese lost their businesses and it was as a result of this singular policy.

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“You want to shut down the economy of neigbouring country; there was no information abnitio. There was no negotiation and even when you did that; The Beninese sent their hand of fellowship ready to comply with most of your policies.

But what did we have? We have a situation where Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and the Federal Government did not even know what to demand from Benin,” he added.

He said that it is so unfortunate that it is still the masses that will suffer it. He said in economy history, what is happening is a very dangerous thing for any country.

“Nothing has been done about the issue even when our members went to the Minister of Finance for negotiation a kind of passage for all these trapped goods and there was a committal statement. Even after that, nothing has been done about it. It is unfortunate that we are having this type of crisis in our international relations.

“It is a very bad trend. If Beninoire has taken that decision, it is allowed in international relations. All what government has to do now is to embark on diplomatic shuttles to see how it can be resolve, so that it will not affect other business,” Farinto, an expert in international relations and freight forwarding business said.

President, Africa Association of Professional Freight Forwarders and Logistics of Nigeria  (AFFLON), Otunba Frank Ogunojemite, said: “If you asked those drivers that drove in the consignments, they would have been facing the problem only because the border was being closed. Of course, border closure is not the best,” he said.

According to him, there must be an agreement with all ECOWAS leaders before they embark on such and that is what stakeholders are saying what is going to be the consequence of AfCTA.

“You cannot travel to Togo or Cotonou without paying money. But if you look at European Union and the Schengen countries, nothing of such. What we need to ask ourselves, we need to go and conduct an apotheosis that are we successful in ECOWAS before joining AfCTA. If you look at one of my previous statements, I said Nigeria is not ready for AfCTA,” he said.

He added that there is no compensatory law in Nigeria, adding that people (importers) would lose those goods that are trapped and nothing would happen if care is not taken.

“The consequence of that border closure has brought about aggression. Let us be realistic, most of our leaders are not being practical and considerate. Very ridiculous and so sad, the stakeholders are not being invited into their decision because if stakeholders were invited, they would be able to speak from experience.

“A lot of things need to be done within the ECOWAS and these are the problems we are having concerning the goods. I have people that travel two weeks ago and their experience is not too good. Do we suppose to pay bribe to cross? It is strip naked! I’m telling you the truth. All the relationships are not being smooth because our leaders are not being genuine and when they are taking a decision, they need to involve stakeholders,” added.

Also speaking on the matter, the President, National Council of Managing Director of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Lucky Amiwero, said the decision violates all protocols of the Economic Community of West African States ECOWAS on free trade, especially the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS).

He said the Nigerian government shouldn’t have closed it border against Benin for one and a half year, adding that Nigeria started what is happening now, which was a big mistake.

“If you look at the Benin Republic, they rely on Nigeria to survive. There must be something that made them do what they have done. We need to be very careful. I continue to say this; you don’t run Government on the impulse of body language. You run the government on the impulse of law.

“When you have an ECOWAS treaty, you don’t go and block the border without informing your neighbours that you want to close the border. What they supposed to have done like what America has done, which is mutual administrative assistance.

He stated that there should have been mutual administrative assistance between Benin and Nigeria because both countries have Customs union, adding that what has happened now is like the Benin Republic is trying to pay Nigeria back in her own coins.

“If you look at the Benin Republic and other West African countries, they have built their economy over time. Their ports are now the hub in the region. It looks like they are now ready to withstand Nigeria in terms of economic blockage. I don’t see any reason why the Benin Republic is blocking borders because it has never happened before. It is Nigeria that has closed its borders before now.

“This one that the Benin Republic is closing border, it is a very serious issue. How can Nigeria now go into this Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement? It is a serious issue,” Amiwero added.