Louis Ibah and Steve Agbota
Hundreds of travelers, including businessmen and vehicle importers continued to count their losses as the 25-day security blockade mounted by Nigerian operatives at Seme border post entered its second day, amidst fears that the African Continental Free Trade Agreement signed by President Muhammadu Buhari, may be heading for the brickwall.
The restriction exercise code named , ‘Ex-Swift Response’, followed the joint border security exercise ordered by the Federal Government as part of measure to beef up security at Nigeria’s land and maritime borders. It is jointly being conducted by the Nigeria Customs, Immigration Service,Police and the Military personnel with the Office of the National Security Adviser coordinating.
Daily Sun investigations reveal that Lagos Nigerian- bound travelers and vehicles were thoroughly searched by the re-enforced security officials drafted to the border, causing long delays.
Also, many commercial vehicles conveying passengers and goods into the country were ordered to park at the new border post for several hours while hundreds of Nigeria-bound trucks were parked across the border.
Mr Christopher Lawal, a passenger on Chisco Bus Transport, said the vehicle he boarded was stopped for inspection and search for several hours.
“We don’t know what is happening. Our bus was stopped for inspection from 12 noon, while they just asked us to wait.”
“We have spent close to three hours now and nobody is telling us what is happening.
“We are not aware of the restriction, we went on excursion to Ghana and coming back to the country, they just asked the driver to wait,” he said.
Mr Daniel Avoseh, a coconut trader, said that his four trucks of coconut coming from Ghana was stuck at border post since the exercise started on Tuesday.
“Up till now, they did not allow the trucks to pass. I am not aware of any restriction before I went to buy coconut in Ghana,” he said.
Meanwhile, Nigeria Customs spokesman, Joseph Attah, said in a statement on Tuesday in Abuja, that the joint border security exercise would be conducted in 25 states across the South-South, South-West, North-Central and North-West zones, urging the public to cooperate with the security officials.
Meanwhile some maritime sector stakeholders have condemned the Federal Government’s decision to shut the land borders over the security exercise at the nation’s two busiest border posts, stressing the closure was contrary to the spirit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) protocols and agreements.
The Lagos Chambers of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) described the government’s decision to temporarily shut down its land borders as inimical to ongoing efforts by the African Union to boost inter-state trade, commerce and investment within the continent.
“It is very unfair and not good for business. Those doing business at the borders should have been adequately informed and given prior notice before the closure,” said LCCI Director-General, Mr. Muda Yusuff.
The AfCFTA recently signed by President Muhammadu Buhari, seeks to create a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments, to pave way for accelerated establishment of the Continental Customs Union and the African Customs Union.
“With the closure of the borders, a lot of containers will be lying idle at the borders for days. This is a very unusual decision. And it is not a good signal we are sending to the African continent ahead of the commencement of the AfCFTA,” Yusuff said.
He therefore urged the Federal Government to always take extra care before embarking on policy and regulatory decisions affecting trade and investments especially given the government’s commitment to the AfCFTA with other African signatory states.
Nigeria recently became a signatory to the African Continental Free Trade (AfCFTA) Agreement and the LCCI reckons that the temporary shut down (for about 28days) which came without sufficient notice to stakeholders could send the wrong signals on the country’s preparedness to respect the terms of the AfCFTA with other African states.
Also condemning the policy, Human Rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana, criticised the Federal Government for not considering the plight of the poor who daily ply the route to transact cross border businesses.
“In fighting corruption, institutions of government must also respect the rights of the poor. They’re being abused already by the rich. This morning (yesterday), the people of Benin Republic and Nigeria got to the borders and discovered that they have been closed. In fighting smugglers, don’t fight the poor,” he warned.
Although, movement was allowed partially for travelers with valid documents, passport and valid identity card, cargoes were not allowed free movement while clearing agents were totally bared from transactions as there were no clearing activities at the borders, which relatively affected small traders as well.
A source at Seme border who spoke with Daily Sun said: “the present situation is that Nigerians are not allowed in without passport or National Identity Card. You can’t go out of the border without Nigerian passport and your mission must be very genuine. Right now, the border is partially locked down and the new perspective is that the security exercise may take up 28 days.”
Speaking with Daily Sun, an importer, Adele Durojaiye said, “when I heard about the closure of the border and I learnt that some people had already spent several hours at the Seme border without going out and coming and I wanted to go to Cotonou on business trip and I have to leave Lagos for Cotonou through Lomé. I had to cough out a flight ticket of about N317, 000.”
He said the government agencies should have allowed those who with genuine businesses to travel and do their normal business, warning that the border closure will affect the economy adversely.
The Chairman, Association of Nigerian Liscenced Customs Agents (ANLCA) Seme border chapter, Lasis Fanu said that not only Seme border that is closed but all the borders across the federation, since the order came from the Presidency.