SAN FRANCISCO, November 26, (THEWILL) – The feud between Nigeria and Republic of Benin over border closure took a different turn on Monday as the Federal Government accused its neighbour of planning to flood Nigeria next month with 105,000 metric tonnes of imported rice.
Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, raised the alarm while addressing a press conference along with Minister of Foreign Affairs Geoffrey Onyeama; Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola; Minister of State for Finance, Budget and National Planning, Clement Agba; National Security Adviser (NSA), Maj. Gen. Babagana Monguno (rtd) and the Comptroller General of the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), Muhammed Babandede, when they visited the border outpost in Seme.
Mohammed said the government had discovered that presently there were ships berthing in Benin waters and loaded with foreign rice, which would be smuggled into Nigeria for the Christmas period and listed the loaded ships and their contents as MV Africana Jacana , 40,000 mt; MV Zilos, 20,000 mt and MV Sam Jarguar 45,000 mt.
He said it was clear that the destination of the rice was Nigeria given that the shipment was beyond what could be consumed by the Benin population of less than 25 million people and chided Benin of concluding arrangements to import rice valued at $30 million from Japan.
He also said it has been discovered that over time both Benin and Niger had been circumventing the ECOWAS protocol on transit, which requires 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 neigbours do not comply with this protocol. Rather, they break the seals of containers at their ports and trans-load goods meant for Nigeria,” he added.
The minister accused both Niger and Benin Republic of not doing enough to ameliorate the challenges that led to the border closure three months ago.
He said the border closure would not have occurred if Nigeria’s neighbours had complied with the various MoUs as well as the ECOWAS transit protocols, including the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS).
“Discussions on doing legitimate trade between Nigeria on one hand and Benin and Niger on the other, started in 2005. The discussions have led to MoUs in 2005, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018, all designed to facilitating free movement of goods manufactured in their respective countries and work out the modalities through the Ministers of Trade of both countries for the realisation of this objectives.
“It is worth noting that there has never been legitimate transit trade between Nigeria and the two countries (Benin and Niger). 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,” he stated.