By Ambrose Okehi
The newly appointed National Deputy Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Timi Bumudi has stated that there is no iota of Truth in the article circulating which says that the border closure is a failure.
The new deputy national PRO made this known through a statement he issued recently.
According to Bumudi : “the attention of Nigeria Customs Service has been drawn to the interview of Professor Anthony Asiwaju by Yinka Kolawole carried in Vanguard Newspaper on Tuesday the 19th and Wednesday the 20th, January ,2021. the erudite scholar termed the recent border closure by this administration, ineffective and counterproductive’.
He said: “As a native of Imeko, a border town in Ogun State, Nigeria, a place where he was born and raised, it is not difficult to understand how his world view could have been shaped by his early life experiences. Border towns in Nigeria, although traditionally agrarian are often characterized by participation in trans-border commercial activities which its citizens rightly or wrongly consider a right and privilege, often disregarding legal provisions binding trade across borders.
“However, since ascending the lofty heights of academia, one would have assumed that armed with verifiable facts, a higher point of view, and the objective pursuit of truth, our dear Professor would be more dispassionate in his approach to analyzing the socio-economic impact of border closure in 2019”.
Bumudi further argued that “To be sure, we have to establish that the conditions which led to the closure of borders in 1984 which he referred to in his interview, differ significantly from that which informed the decision of government in 2019. Hence it is safe to say that whatever conclusions he reached then, will not stand up to scrutiny today”.
Recall that on August 20th 2019, the Federal Government decided to close its land and maritime borders. This was done to address lack of adherence to Ecowas Trade Liberalization Scheme (ETLS) protocols and other trans-border security challenges which included terrorism, armed banditry, smuggling, proliferation of small arms and light weapons amongst others. It was also done to re-jig, re-position and promote inter agency cooperation between security personnel within and across borders. Confronted with a crisis situation, a drastic solution was proffered which required the activation of a re-set button to reconfigure a wide protocol of activities across our borders, and stem the tide of trans-border crimes.
The image maker disclosed that the so-called Professor Asiwaju made a thorough research before feeding the public with such lies.”Having noted the obstacles in the way of reliable measurement of trans-border activities, and the challenges posed when analyzing what he termed a ‘second’ or ‘clandestine’ economy, one would have expected Professor Asiwaju to have taken the pains to first evaluate and analyze the data made available in the public domain by key players like the Poultry Farmers Association, Rice Millers Association and NCS before drawing conclusions which casts the entire objective of government in a negative light”.
Going back memory lane, the NCS said: “Between the 20th of August 2019 when the closure took effect and December 2020 when it was terminated, ‘Operation Border Drill’ which comprised officers and men drawn from the Military and para-military Services including Customs, made very significant interventions. Among which was the arrest of 1,401 irregular immigrants, the seizure of 10,447 bags of fertilizers used for making explosives, 159,506 bags of foreign rice, 1,974 vehicles, 895 motorcycles, and 18,690 jerry cans of vegetable oil among others.
“The other two major achievements which our dear professor may not know is that the closure provided opportunity for diplomatic engagements with our neighbors and even ECOWAS intervention which eventually extracted firm commitments to adhere to the ECOWAS Protocol on transit which detect that all transit goods should be escorted to the border of the destination country in their original state and handed over to Customs.
Reminding the public of the series of meetings that took place among the nation’s across the border line, the Customs said:”Again, the tripartite meetings that took place between the customs administrations of Nigeria, Benin and Niger gave birth to the setting up of joint border patrols on both sides of our borders, which is already in operation. Team leaders of the three countries now share intelligence there by assisting each other to curb the activities of smugglers.
“The above achievements have great impact on national security, economy and general well being of citizens. Outcomes of these engagements will no doubt create enabling business environment for businesses to thrive.
“The entire operation took place over approximately 480 days. Meaning that on the average, this team recorded over 400 seizures and arrests daily for 480 days consecutively. A tremendous achievement indeed. To downplay the significance of this initiative is highly offensive, as it not only disregards the sacrifices made by these diligent officers and men, some of whom paid the ultimate price for their fatherland during this operation, it also fails woefully to see the dangers that were avoided by making the arrests they did and stopping the tragedies that would have befallen this nation if those NPK fertilizers had actually gotten into the wrong hands.
“Beyond the obvious gains of this mission are the economic add-ons. Foremost among which were the massive wins recorded in the agricultural sector. Professor Asiwaju in his response to the question on the anxieties expressed by SMEs and their desire to see this operation continue seemed to ignore the obvious by attempting to focus and defer instead on the free and unsupervised movement of goods across our borders. A responsible government would not continue to sit idly by and do nothing.
“Indeed, the struggle continues among local producers to meet the demand for rice, since the ban on its importation still remains in force. Our records also show that there has been massive increase in the importation of milling machines and other associated equipment for the production of rice and other agricultural commodities. This certainly will spawn a wide range of businesses poised to take advantage of this ongoing agricultural revolution. This is why the SMEs want the borders to remain closed, because it represents opportunities for wealth creation and growth.
The PRO pointed out that as a result of the border closure, importers who were before this time fraudulent and shortchanging the FG has repented from such illicit activities.
“As a result of the border closure, importers who hither to this period exploited weaknesses in our borders to evade the payment of duty, were compelled to use our ports. This led to a significant increase in revenue generation (1.5 trillion Naira) was collected by the service in 2020 in spite of the dampening effects of a ravaging pandemic which brought a large portion of the world’s economies to their knees.
“In reference to AfCFTA, the Nigeria Customs Service has expressed its willingness and readiness to implement to the letter the terms of the continental agreement. All we await are the necessary data from the National Action Committee and the National Office on Trade Negotiation as to the list of duties and charges waved for liberalized goods under AfCFTA. We also await the list of 90% liberalized trade offers, 7% non-liberalized exclusive goods at the regional level and the list of 3% non-liberalized sensitive goods. All these information shall be deployed into our system and made available for operational use.
Talking about the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AFCFTA).
“We understand the significance of AfCFTA and the impact it can have on our region. We also appreciate the threats a poorly managed transition into AfCFTA presents to businesses within the country. This is why we insist on a methodical approach to data collection, collation and deployment for easy access to the trading public.
“It is our firm belief that informed and objective criticisms contribute greatly to national development and we embrace them wholeheartedly. However, when criticisms are founded on narrow and sometimes parochial assumptions we are inclined to doubt their conclusions even when they come wrapped in the finery of a professorial garb.
Nigeria Customs Service wishes Professor Asiwaju well and prays his dream of establishing a Post Graduate National Institute will come through.