…Says agreement to promote regional trade
Few days ago, the Customs Administrations of Nigeria and Benin Republic met in Abuja on a two day interactive session where they signed an agreement to develop frameworks for clearing of Nigeria bound goods in Benin Ports and vice versa. The two customs administrations agreed to collaborate to enhance trans-border security and regulate trade between the two countries.
The session, which started on Monday, 11th September 2023, at the Abuja Intercontinental Hotel, is expected to deepen the relationship between Nigeria and Benin while promoting their age-old bilateral trade ties. Other areas that the partnership will address include enhancing the proper use of International Transit Guidelines to govern transit-bound goods and fees from Cotonou Port to Nigeria; Integration of Nigeria into the Interconnected System for the Management of Goods in Transit.
The joint communique signed by the Ag. Comptroller-General of the Customs, Bashir Adewale Adeniyi MFR, and Director-General of the Bennese Customs, Alain Hinkati, highlighted that their meeting favours the desire of the two countries’ presidents: Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Patrice Talon to strengthen shared commitment to enhancing trade facilitation and promoting economic development. Other areas that will benefit the countries are fostering closer ties to Nigeria and Benin and reactivating the joint committee for monitoring trade and transit relations.
Since the signing of this all important agreement, many have been left in doubt as to the benefits of this agreement to Nigeria as a nation even as many have equally argued that by this development, Nigeria would be taking its market as well as labour to Benin Republic.
However, speaking with journalists on assumption of duty at the Tincan Island Port Command, the new Customs Area Controller, Comptroller Dera Nnadi explained that the agreement, in real terms, was to promote regional trade especially as the African Continental Free Trade Area, AfCFTA regime is set to begin. He observed that Nigeria stands to gain immensely from the arrangement should the framework for the implementation of the agreement be properly worked out.
According to him, critics simply do not understand the importance of Benin Republic to Nigeria as a trade partner that it can’t do without, trade wise adding that of the 350 million people in West Africa, about 200 million of them could be found in Nigeria alone wondering where Nigeria should export excess of its manufactured products to. “Are you taking them to Europe where they already have those things? The only thing we can take away from here to Europe is oil and gas, then, raw materials. Those that will buy these manufactured products from us are our neighbours”, he emphasized.
Giving details of how the strategic framework agreement was conceived, Nnadi who is the immediate past Customs Area Controller, Seme Border Command, recalled that goods move from The Gambia, Togo, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso through Benin Republic to Nigeria adding that if they must pass to Niger too on transit, being a landlocked country, they must pass through Benin into Niger.
“So, we thought about it, that these people are strategic partners. if they close their borders the way we closed our own, what happens? You don’t take it for granted because, when we went to Benin, the impression was this small Benin. I told them these people are not small, they are flying their own flag. Don’t forget, we will soon enter into the Africa Continental Free Trade Area, So, all it will take these people to do is to invite companies to establish in their own country and they manufacture them there and everything manufactured in Africa where this thing (AfCFTA) takes place is now duty free. So, what do you do? It is to start now to protect.
“But we also found out that one if the greatest challenge that we have is that what we produce in Nigeria comes into Benin free – Okrirka, frozen poultry products which we banned in order to protect our own local farmers, parboiled rice for which we have banned completely whether from land or seaport, come in there freely, they don’t produce it, but it comes in there, used vehicles of certain age, come in there.
“Now, the question is when these things land in Cotonou with their small population, where do they end up? They end up here. So, we said okay, instead of deploying several resources to checkmate this, why not get smart about it? We offered this idea that we are working on now. They first offered that we can come to their country and examine these things (import) and stop it there before it comes here. That was the whole idea.
“So, the clause for us is that we are harmonizing our prohibition list so that whatever we prohibit in Nigeria, they too will prohibit. That is the first gain we are making. Then, they have offered that if you are in Nigeria and you import something that is not prohibited through their port, the Nigeria Customs Service can even come into their port in our own uniform and examine the container and the agent will even pay money there and the money will be transmitted to Nigeria.
“But they asked for something. They said, ‘you people know that one of the main things we import here is rice, if you ask us now to ban importation of rice because you have banned rice importation and if we too should ban it, how do we survive?’ So, they are asking for compensation and they requested that it (ban on rice importation) should be graduated. So, it is not as if Nigeria is losing.”
Speaking on the apprehension in some quarters that Nigeria may be losing its market and labour to Benin Republic by this development, he said, “Why not? Life is about competitiveness and that is where all of you (journalists) here will help. Why is it that from here to Ghana by ship is two hours or a maximum of three hours but from here to Cotonou by ship is a maximum of one hour? Why do our people prefer to go to Cotonou to clear their cargo? That means, our business process here needs to be addressed.
“If we put our house in order, would any person even want to go outside to go and buy? We have water, they have water. If Niger goes to Cotonou to go and Import, I can understand because they are landlocked but what about you that have water here and six ports or more? That means, collectively here, all of us should do something.
“So, we need to address some of these infrastructural and social deficit in order to conquer. It is not enough to just say we can’t do it. Trade must continue.”
Continuing, Nnadi stated, “Another thing that we discussed which was very important to us was the transit fees. If you are moving Cargo from Ivory Coast, for instance, like Lever Brothers, Cadbury and the rest. For example, assuming you pay like two naira administrative charges from Ivory Coast to Togo, to Ghana, for that same cargo you are paying two naira for each country, the moment it gets into Benin Republic, it jumps from two naira to one thousand naira. That is what we are protesting. They over charge Nigerian goods on transit.
“So, where other countries like Ghana are charging us five naira, Togo will charge us five naira, once it enters Cotonou, it becomes ten thousand naira. It is part of what we discussed, that they should also reduce it but they too complained against us. They said when they come to Lagos and buy things, on their way back to their country, they are faced with more than eighty checkpoints where we also collect money from their traders and there’s no receipt issued. So, we too agreed that we are going to remove those checkpoints So, we remove checkpoints and they too will reduce their transit fees.”
On interconnectivity, the Tincan Island Customs boss said, “It is part of the components, it is called SIGMAT. People were asking why we are using SIGMAT because somebody from the French speaking countries like Benin Republic developed it and we will now want to go and use their ICT infrastructure, why can’t we get our own local people to develop our own ICT infrastructure?
“No! SIGMAT is actually an ECOWAS product, even some of our customs officers from Nigeria were part of the development. But somehow, we didn’t key in. Burkina Faso, Ghana, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Benin Republic, they are all using SIGMAT to connect.
“So, as part of this agreement, we are working on SIGMAT. As a matter of fact, even while we were holding that meeting, ECOWAS and our officers were working on it. So, we will soon key in too. That is being taking care of, it’s part of the component.”
Photo: Comptroller Dera Nnadi, Customs Area Controller, Tincan Island Port Command.
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