Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama

BY EDMOND ODOK, ABUJA – Engagements on the re-opening of Nigeria’s land borders with its neighbours have started yielding fruits with a committee now in place to recommend possible date for ending the current blockage.

Already, a joint border patrol team, comprising the Police, Customs, and Immigration of Nigeria, Republic of Benin and Niger has been established with the mandate to address existing and emerging challenges around the borders’ reopening.

Rising from the Tripartite Anti-Smuggling Committee Meeting of Nigeria, Benin and Niger on Thursday in Abuja, the three countries resolved to find an amicable resolution to all issues of genuine concerns in their bi-lateral of multi-lateral agreements.  

Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, who read the meeting’s communiqué, said the forum noted all concerns raised and agreed that the three countries establish a monitoring and evaluating committee to address these issues.

He explained that the Committee will comprise Ministers of Finance, Trade, Foreign Affairs, Customs, Immigration and National Security Adviser.

According to him, the Committee is mandated to initiate and ensure actions that would facilitate and enhance the suppression of smuggled goods and other related matters around the border regions.

The Minister further said; “The meeting agreed that the monitoring and evaluation committee will ensure the full implementation of the adopted mandate of the Joint Anti-Smuggling Human Trafficking Committee.

“Nigeria, Benin also agreed on the establishment of trade facilitation committee among the three countries, comprising Ministers of Finance and Trade.

“To promote intra-regional trade among the three countries, as well as put in place, sanctions against smuggling of goods.”

Part of the communiqué also stated that; “The governments agreed to ensure persons from the three countries to enter/exit each other’s state with valid ECOWAS recognised travel documents through recongnised controlled posts.

“Establishment of Joint Border Patrol Team comprising the Police, Customs, Immigration of the three countries.”

In order to demonstrate the importance and urgency in its assignment, “The team is to hold its first meeting in Abuja from November 25 to November 27, 2019.”

Onyeama said similarly, “The patrol team is to agree on the modality to carry out its operation and recommend a date for the opening of the borders.”

Commenting on ways of tackling the anti-smuggling concerns, Onyeama said the meeting deliberated on the myriad of challenges facing the three countries.

He said more importantly, the meeting focused on smuggling of goods and services that were not approved under the Protocols on ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme.

The Minister said the meeting also addressed issues regarding Free Movement of Persons without valid ECOWAS travel documents, as well as plethora of illegal warehouses along the border corridors.

“In this regard, the meeting acknowledged smuggling of goods, as well as human trafficking as collective violation of ECOWAS Protocols on ETLS and Free Movement.

“That poses severe economic and security threats to intra-regional trade and free movement”, the Minister said

Furthermore, he said the Federal Government is seriously considering the appeal made by Niger and Benin Republic for the reopening of Nigeria’s land borders with them.

Reacting to reports that Nigerian traders in Ghana were under attack, the Minister said the Nigerian High Commission is already engaging with the Ghanaian government and the leadership of the Nigerian traders in Accra, the Ghanaian capital.

Assuring that there was no threat to the physical well-being and safety of Nigerian traders in Ghana, Onyema said it was heartwarming that the tripartite meeting came up with modalities on the way forward in resolving all issues that made Nigeria to close its land borders in the interim.

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