The Nigeria Customs Service has said January 31, 2020 contained in a leaked memo is not terminal date for the border closure.
The clarification by the Customs comes amid a cacophony of complaints by farmers in border communities, cross-border traders, neighbouring countries, and other stakeholders feeling the pinch of the closure, which many say has led to loss of revenue
However, the Federal government applauds the closure because rice farmers, the Customs, among others are getting increased revenue from the closure. The Department of State Services has also spoken of better security.
Contrary to the impression created by a leaked internal memo, the Public Relations Officer, NCS, Mr Joseph Attah, disclosed that the January 31, 2020 in the memo was only the end of the first phase of the operation, not the terminal date for the entire border closure.
He said the borders would remain closed indefinitely until the objectives of the government for the operation had been fully achieved, according to a report in The Punch.
He said, “This is not the terminal date; it’s just for this phase. You know operations of this type are in phases. January 31, 2020 is the end of this phase. The exercise will continue until the set objectives are achieved.”
Attah added that security officers on the field would be notified of further development about the second phase of the border closure before January 31.
Earlier, the Comptroller General, NCS, Hameed Ali, had declared that the borders would remain closed until Nigeria’s neighbours decided to respect ECOWAS protocol concerning trade within the subregion.
President Muhammadu Buhari, according to the memo, had approved the extension of the closure of the nation’s borders with neighbouring countries to January 31 next year.
The operation, code-named Exercise Swift Response, had resulted in joint border patrols by a combined team of security agencies.
The Deputy Comptroller of Customs in charge of Enforcement, Investigation and Inspectorate, Victor Dimka, conveyed the presidential directive in a memo to the sector coordinators.
The memo, with reference number NCS/ENF/ABJ/221/S.45, and marked ‘Restricted’, was dated November 1, 2019.
The memo, which was obtained on Sunday, said despite the overwhelming success of the operation, particularly the security and economic benefits to the nation, a few strategic objectives were yet to be achieved.
The memo read in part, “I am directed to inform you that it is observed that despite the overwhelming success of the operation, particularly the security and economic benefits to the nation, a few strategic objectives are yet to be achieved.
“Against this background, Mr President has approved the extension of the exercise to January 31, 2020.
“Consequently, you are requested to convey the development to all personnel for their awareness and guidance.
“Meanwhile, allowance for personnel sustenance and fuelling of vehicles for the period of extension will be paid as soon as possible.”
The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry has said the extension of the border closure will continue to hurt businesses, especially the Small and Medium Enterprises.
It said this in a statement signed by the Director-General, Mr Muda Yusuf, on Sunday, a copy of which was made available to The PUNCH.
The statement said, “The chamber appreciates the concern of government regarding security and economic sabotage which informed the closure in the first place.
Aaccording to a report on guardian.ng, this is not the best of times for farmers and agro produce merchants in Ilara, Imeko, Iwoye and neighbouring communities bordering Benin Republic in Imeko Afon Local Government Area of Ogun State.The communities are complaining of seizure of their tomato by the Customs men.
According to Chairman of the Tomato Farmers’ Association at Ilara, Chief Olusolale Olaleye, the officers’ stopped the farmers from taking their farm produce to the market. Olaleye said: “We lost 11 buses of tomato, which amounted to N440, 000. They did not resell them to us. They seized them from us and sent us away.”
Just few weeks after the matter was resolved, the seizure has shifted to other farm produce. Currently, crops like maize, soybean, fruits and other farm produce, including yam flour are rotting away in stores and bans as they have been tagged ‘contraband’ by customs officials.A maize farmer, Mr. Isiaka Adekanmbi said: “The Customs men have been hindering us from transporting our farm produce outside the area, despite the fact that we don’t carry rice. Ever since the border closure, they have been intercepting our consignment and taking them to their base in Quarry, Abeokuta.
At times, they open the bags of corn, wheat flour, yam flour and other items to see if we are hiding rice, but they have never found anything incriminating or contraband, after which they’ll release the vehicles.“They have asked us to meet their Comptroller. We actually found our way to the Comptroller’s office at Idiroko on September 24 and he told us that if we are doing our lawful businesses we don’t have any problem. He actually gave us some phone numbers to call whenever there is any problem from his men, but despite this the harassment has continued.”
Adekanmbi said the farmers don’t understand what is happening; even within Imeko, where they reside. “Whenever we go to Customs office they always give excuses that the officers in charge were not around. The story they are telling us now is that there are some of their superior officers at Ilara and Imeko who are monitoring them.
“Monitoring you for what? If they are monitoring you, let them stop us, since the comptroller is aware. We are currently running into debt as a result of this development. I have maize in my warehouse that was stored since last year, till now I cannot move it. I have my family in Abeokuta, but I normally come here for business. We are just exercising patience telling our people not to foment trouble but to dialogue first. They have refused to give us passage for our goods.”
Adekanmbi told The Guardian that the produce are not imported from neighbouring Benin; but were farmed in Ilara and other neighbouring communities. But Customs authorities think otherwise.
“There is a company that has been begging me to sell maize to them at the rate of N90.00 per tonnage, now due to the restriction of movement, the price has crashed to about N52 to N55. When I heard this, I couldn’t sleep. Now, I have over 300 tonnage of maize all together. With the price crash, I have incurred losses to the tune of over N7.5m, this is for me alone, and I have other colleagues, with higher tonnage is higher than mine.“It is some of us who are doing lawful businesses that are suffering in the hands of Customs officers, those that are doing unlawful businesses at the border, are still thriving, it is just that we don’t want to indict anybody.”
A tomato/Pepper farmer, Mrs. Bankole, who also confirmed the development said it has brought untold hardship to the economy and residents,, who are predominantly farmers.She noted that tomato farmers have been left off the hook of the Customs men. “We are no more facing any problem from the Customs officials, we are transporting our wares. But other produce farmers are facing real challenges. This has negatively impacted business in the area. Yam flour sellers took the Custom officials to their stores and depots to see for themselves, but nothing has changed.
“The goods are stranded in the warehouses and some are already getting spoilt. Both the traders and farmers have incurred losses that cannot be quantified. There are big stores that have been locked. You know if the traders cannot sell, farmers too cannot sell. We are afraid because this will negatively affect next year’s farming activities, as so many farmers have been counting their losses.
The NCS Spokesman, Abdullahi Maiwada said he was not in a position to speak on the issue, as it is not exclusive to Ogun State command. He said there is a spokesman for the border closure operation, who doubles as the National Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the NCS. “Anything that pertains to the border operation, I am not competent or authorised to speak on it.”
The National PRO of Customs, Joseph Attah, told The Guardian that Nigerians farmers are not to be stopped by his men, because the whole essence of the border closure is for national security, to encourage farmers and stimulate economic activities.“Nigerian farmers are really happy with what we are doing, they are even suggesting that the borders should not be opened anytime soon. This is the first time I am hearing this, honestly. Therefore, we cannot do anything that will counter the reason that led to closure of the borders.”
Additional reports by punchng.com, guardian.ng