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26 November 2019

Border closure: N3.5b smuggled goods seized, 296 arrested

The Federal Government on Monday said items estimated at N3.5 billion have been seized with the partial closure of its land and maritime borders.

Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism Lai Mohammed, said no fewer than 296 illegal immigrants were arrested.

He spoke at Seme, a border town between Nigeria and the Benin Republic. Mohammed led a ministerial delegation on border closure assessment.

On the tour were: ministers of Interior and Foreign Affairs Rauf Aregbesola and Geoffrey Onyema, Minister of State Finance and National Planning, Clement Agba; National Security Adviser, Gen. Babagana Monguno, Comptroller-General of Immigration, Mohammed Babandede and the Comptroller-General of Customs, represented by a Deputy Comptroller-General.

Mohammed said: “In the area of security, the ongoing exercise has recorded a number of seizures and arrests that would have had grave security consequences.

“Some items seized include 38,743-50kg bags of parboiled foreign rice, 514 vehicles, 1,012 drums filled with PMS, 5,400 cans of vegetable oil, 346 motorcycles, 10, 553cans of PMS and 136 bags of NPK fertilizer used for making explosives.

“The estimated value of the apprehended items is about N3.5 billion,” he said.

The minister said the partial closure had so far curbed the smuggling of foreign rice and other prohibited items.

According to him, with the closure, Niger Republic had already circulated an order banning the exportation of rice to Nigeria.

“Our series of interactions and engagements with Rice Miller Association of Nigeria since the commencement of this exercise has shown that the border closure has enhanced more production and milling of Nigerian rice.

“Patronage of Nigerian rice has increased and farmers are expanding their farms as well as engaging more hands.

“The border closure has also curbed the diversion of petroleum products from Nigeria to neighbouring countries.

“Furthermore, the border closure has impacted positively on revenue generation of the Federal Government which in turn will be used to build more infrastructure and develop critical sectors of the nation’s economy,” he said.

The minister said that 95 per cent of illicit drugs and weapons being used for terrorism and kidnapping come in through the porous borders.

He, however, noted that since the partial closure, they have been drastically reduced.

“We conclude that the arms and ammunition these terrorists and criminal elements were using no longer gain access into the country.

“Besides, the drugs which affect the health and the wellbeing of Nigerians have equally been reduced,” he said.

Mohammed said arrest and seizures made in the last two weeks indicated that Benin and Niger Republic have not done much to address the issues.

Nigeria announced the land border closure on October 15, as part of the measures to curb smuggling.

The minister addressed protesters who staged a peaceful demonstration to demand quick resolution of the issues leading to the border closure.

Mohammed said it was “disturbing” that some neighbouring countries circumvent the ECOWAS protocol on transit.

“For clarity, the ECOWAS protocol on transit demands that when a transit container berths at a seaport, the receiving country is mandated to escort same without tampering with the seal to the border of the destination country.

“Unfortunately, experience has shown that our neighbours do not comply with this protocol. Rather, they break the seals of containers at their ports and trans-load goods destined for Nigeria.

“As we speak, they have ships loaded with rice waiting to be discharged in Benin and the target market is Nigeria for the Christmas period.

“We have MV Aricana Jacana loaded with 40,000 metric tonnes of rice, MV 3,000, MV San jaguar 45, 000 metric tonnes and others.

“Also, Benin has concluded arrangements to get rice to the tune of $30 million. This is a country with just 12 million people. This rice will end up in Nigeria.”

He, however, said the Federal Government was not prepared to jeopardise national security for anything.

He noted that national interest will always come first.

According to him, Nigeria, through diplomatic channels, will continue to engage its neighbours, especially on the need to comply with the ECOWAS Protocol on Transit.

“Goods that are on the prohibition list to Nigeria, such as rice, used clothing, poultry products and vegetable oil should not be exported to the country.

“As a result of this closure, Niger Republic has already circulated an order banning the exportation of rice in any form to Nigeria.

“Also, the National Assembly has supported the executive directive on the border closure and the efforts of security agencies in executing the task,” he said.

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