Border closure indefinite as FG lists tough conditions for reopening

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The federal government yesterday listed conditions to be met by Benin and Niger Republics before the country would reopen its borders for goods importation. This came after the Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Col. Hameed Ali (rtd), said the January 31, 2020 deadline for the first phase of the security operation that necessitated the closure of the border is not sacrosanct, explaining that it was only an operational deadline.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Geoffrey Onyeama, disclosed this at the end of the tripartite meeting of the federal government committee on border closure, adding that the conditions would be presented to both countries at a tripartite meeting scheduled for next two weeks in Nigeria.

The meeting had in attendance the Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs Service and the Minister of Interior, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola. The federal government also insisted that neighbouring countries must respect the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) rules of origin if they must bring goods into the country.

Onyeama noted that any good imported from ECOWAS member states must have the 30 per cent local input, noting that the country would no longer tolerate repackaging of goods coming into the country.
The minister said that any imported goods for Nigeria market must also come in its original form and be escorted directly from the port of member states to Nigerian border.

Onyeama explained that the only travel documents allowed for anybody coming into the country through the land borders is the official passport, adding that the country would not accept any other form of identification like identity cards. He explained that the conditions were aimed at ensuring that the country does not end up as dumping ground, while emphasising that the preconditions for both goods and human coming into the country applies to all ECOWAS member states.

He explained: “The step undertaken by Nigeria and of course the repercussions of those and the desire of Mr. President that the issues that are being addressed and that caused the drill to be taking place at our border should be addressed as quickly as possible.

“So, in this context, within the next two weeks, a tripartite committee is to be convened and hosted here in Nigeria, comprising the delegation- committee from Benin republic, from Niger and from Nigeria. So, each country will come with the heads of the ministries of foreign affair, interior, finance, the customs, immigration and the NIA, the security segment. So this meeting will take place within the next two weeks. This is an absolute condition that will not be compromised. So, any transit in goods coming into this country from transiting ECOWAS member state must ensure that.”

For goods predominantly produced in ECOWAS member state, the rules of origin must be satisfied.”
Onyeama stressed that Nigeria would insist on dismantling of all the warehouses along the common borders with countries with which the country has borders within a certain distance from the borders.

On transportation of goods within ECOWAS and across borders, the minister added that the federal government would not have goods of all shapes and sizes just going through the country’s borders.
Onyeama explained further that with regards to free movement of persons, the federal government would now absolutely insist that all persons coming into Nigeria through land borders must present themselves at recognised entry points and must have recognised travel documents. He added that as far as Nigeria is concerned, recognised travel document means official passports.
Also speaking, the Comptroller General of NCS said the January 31 date for the end of the first phase of the security operation was not sacrosanct, saying it was an operational deadline. Ali expressed optimism that an agreement would be reached with the two affected countries, stressing that once an agreement is reached, they would start implementing it and they would also agree on what would be the consequences if it is breached.

On the fear of retaliation by neighbouring countries, especially Ghana, Ali said it had not gone that far yet, stressing that the Ghanaian government appreciated the fact that the country was not the target, insisting that the exercise was not even targeted at any country.