Ignored by the Nigerian government which they created their problem, Nigerian importers are reeling from the continued imposition by Benin Republic, of CFA9 million (N6.5 million) per transit truck on Nigeria-bound cargoes on transiting through the country, which are exempted from all forms of duty under the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) protocols on transit goods.
The move, which analysts say, is a payback over Nigeria’s closure of its borders with the West African country in 2019 that lasted more than a year, has affected nearly 4,000 Nigerian-bound cargo-laden trucks from Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Togo at Ilakoji – the border between Togo and the Benin Republic, with goods worth billions of naira rotting away without intervention from Nigerian government.
Benin authorities, it was gathered, claimed it suspected the goods were not produced in West Africa. However, by law, a transit good is not supposed to be charged for import duties in the transiting country; it is expected to just pass through but the trapped trucks have still not cross the Ilakoji and Seme border up till date, according to importers.
Many of the importers have continued to lament that majority of the goods were billed to be sold during last week’s Sallah festival but they could not move them down to Nigeria, which has resulted in heavy losses as some have even collected part payment from their customers.
“We were told to wait and see what would happen immediately after Sallah. For now, nothing yet and the trucks are still there. The only thing is that anybody who wants to bring in his or her goods must go through Togo and containerised the goods before bringing it to Aba.
“That is the information I have for now,” Chairman of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANCLA), Seme border chapter, Bisiriyu Fanu, told the Guardian last week.
“They didn’t give any reason why they stopped the goods because when we asked them, they said they were investigating. What they are investigating, nobody knows. The Benin Republic Controller at Seme border said they didn’t give Ilakoji any circular.
“The issue has been ongoing for more than two weeks and it has not been resolved. I went with my team to the Nigerian Embassy in Cotonou to make a formal report and they have escalated it to Abuja. The Republic of Togo and Ghana have also escalated it to ECOWAS. They held about two to three meetings between the last two weeks and now, but they have not come to any conclusion.”
National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Lucky Amiwero, told Business Hallmark that the Nigerian government is to blame for the crisis.
“Nigeria started what is happening. All the problems that we are facing now, was started by Nigeria. When the government imposed the border closure, I intervened and wrote several letters to the Nigerian government asking them to look at the law,” he said.
“I explained to them that it is wrong to do things this way, but I was ignored. The Nigerian government was trying to use political strength, but when you have entered into an agreement with a contracting party and you have conventions, a treaty which is very clear, you don’t take decisions without consulting the other parties. The point is that the problem we are having now will continue for a very long time, until Nigeria goes into a diplomatic talk and tries to raise what is called administrative mutual assistance.
“The issue we have is that we are always primitive in our procedures. We don’t respect protocols and international conventions, and that’s why we will continue to have problems. We must understand that these nations we are dealing with have built their strength, most of them are no longer looking at Nigeria, because Nigerians have moved down to Togo, Benin and the rest of them. Nigerian businesses are bringing in their goods from those countries. In the past, Benin Republic could not have done those things, but when you see them doing those things now you have to realise that they understand that they have now gotten some leverage.
“Today, Benin port is very developed; they have developed their port well, but in Nigeria we are still playing politics with our ports, putting people who have no experience and no expertise to run the ports. The Nigerian ports are being grossly mismanaged. We have wasted almost seven years because they put a girl who doesn’t know anything about managing ports to be in charge of the ports. And the girl was just there gallivanting.”