· Benin Republic introduces charges to re-import stranded goods at borders
· UN@75: MMS Celebrates UN Generation Amazons This Week
By Kenneth Jukpor
Scores of Nigerian traders, freight agents and truck owners have reportedly died from unbearable fiscal burdens occasioned by the prolonged closure of the nation’s land borders.
Also, neighbouring countries like Benin Republic have introduced charges to re-import goods stranded at the border areas as Nigerian shippers explore avenues to cut their losses.
Goods which were on transshipment to Nigeria via the Seme border, but stuck following the impromptu border closure, are made to pay new charges as imported items into Benin Republic before they can be exported to Nigeria via the Benin seaports.
Recall that the federal government of Nigeria closed the land borders on the 20th of August 2019 with a view to curtailing the smuggling of goods into the country from neighbouring countries as well as ensuring compliance with existing trade rules as to how trade should be conducted.
According to the Economic Development in Africa Report 2019 publication by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Intra-Africa trade was about 16.6 percent of total Africa Exports in 2017 which is low compared to 68.1 percent in Europe and 59.4 percent in Asia.
This statistic, however, is somehow misleading though as it fails to capture the value and volume of the informal trade that takes place among the African countries and it does not also take into cognizance the amount of smuggling that goes on across the porous land borders.
While the reasons for the border closure may be salient, experts have warned that the continuous closure has become disadvantageous to the nation as legitimate Nigerian cross border businesses have been hampered.
Noting that the numerous challenges at the nation’s ports had forced Nigerian shippers to prioritize neighbouring ports, industry veterans have admonished the government to channel efforts towards making the nation’s seaports more competitive.
The continuous border closure has also been described by economic experts as a contravention of existing treaties which Nigeria had signed and the implementation of the new African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) is expected to override the border closure.
Speaking with MMS Plus newspaper last week, a former Treasurer and Financial Secretary for Seme Border Chapter of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Mrs. Romaine Stella Nwakacha said: “The border closure isn’t the only challenge freight agents at Seme border post are facing. Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has just asked the Customs agents to vacate from their shed as the Service intends to build a barracks there”
“Recently, Customs started demolishing the areas given to agents for office. They sent a notice that they want to use the place to build barracks for the Customs officers. All efforts to appeal to the government not to demolish the area has yielded no results. This action is carried out without considering the agents despite the numerous challenges we face even as the border remains closed.”
“Due to this border closure crisis alone over 10 freight agents at Seme have died as there is no business to do, amid rising debts owed and money tied to businesses that can’t yield returns. Some of the goods paid for ended up in the government confer because most of these monies are non-refundable. As the final quit notice has been issued for 11th November 2020, to evacuate the area so they can demolish it. I want the world to know how unfair the government has been to us at the Seme border considering that this has been our abode for years. The long room was opened as far back as 1993; and official payment of government revenue was made regularly.”
Also explaining the burden of double taxation introduced by the government of the Republic of Benin, she added: “Several goods have gotten spoilt and we are forced to make double payments to the government of Benin Republic. This is because to return the goods back to Cotonou, you will be required to pay duty back as an import. The goods lingering at the borders are seen by the Benin government as already exported. These are goods that money has been collected for stamp duty to the border, because these goods were unable to get into Nigeria they are seen by the Benin government as export.”
Nwakacha who is also a Vice Chairperson of PDP-E Women Network, Lagos State, lamented that despite these revenues that have entered the Benin government purse, “we are being extorted by them. Since the Nigerian borders remain closed, moving goods via the seaports is the only alternative but it is quite difficult as we are forced to pay exportation fees aside from other fees to shipping companies. It is regrettable that the Nigerian government has shown no mercy. Not even a small window of one week or two weeks was given to clear these goods since August 2019.”
The Public Relations Officer (PRO) of West African Road Transport Union (WARTU), Alhaji Salami Nasiru concurred that truck owners have had their assets stuck at the border posts with goods for over 16 months.
According to him, the essence of the border closure should have been achieved in one year as the exercise is giving the country a bad image among the comity of nations in West Africa and the entire continent.
Nasiru lamented that the policy had killed legitimate border businesses especially for truckers who owned one or two trucks and had the trucks stuck at the borders since August 2019.
In another development, MMS Woman of Fortune Hall of Fame (WOFHOF) Initiative marks its 2020 MMS Hall of Famers’ Day and the United Nation’s 75th anniversary with the celebration of MMS UN Generation Amazons in Lagos, Nigeria this week.
The event themed; “The Third Paradise: A New Thinking on Women and Humanity” would have Nigeria’s Minister for Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen grace the occasion as the Special Guest of Honour.
Women described by the organizers as a bevy of beauty and brains with exceptional intelligence will be celebrated as MMS UN Generation Amazons cast in the mould of the “Third Paradise” Ambassadors and decorated as agents of sustainability.
The event is scheduled to take place on Wednesday, November 11, 2020, at Golden Gate Restaurant, Glover Road, Ikoyi, Lagos by 2pm.
Other eminent personalities to attend the event include: the Chairperson, Nigerian Shipowners Forum, Barr. (Mrs.) Margaret Orakwusi who would play the role of Chief Host; the Chairperson, Lagos branch of the International Federation of Female Lawyers (FIDA), Mrs. Philomena Nneji, as chairperson of the occasion.
The programme would also feature a guest lecture by the Lagos State Commissioner for Women Affairs/ Poverty Alleviation, Mrs. Cecilia Bolaji Dada.
The women to be celebrated at the event include: Mrs. Romaine Stella Nwakacha, a Nigerian female professional freight forwarder who has carved a niche for herself in the logistics and transport industry; Mrs. Olufunmilayo Olotu, currently the Port Manager, Lagos Port Complex (LPC) where she has helped to carry out reforms in these challenging times in Nigerian port environment.
Other women to be celebrated include: Mrs. Rejoice Ndudinachi who started her working career with Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) in 1988 and rose to the position of Airport Manager, Sam Mbakwe International Cargo Airport, Owerri, Imo State, Nigeria; Pharm. (Mrs.) Ngozi Stella Obikili who joined Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) in November 1988, as Pharmacist Grade One, rose through the ranks and held several posts such as Coordinator Drug Information Centre, NPA; Chief Port Pharmacist of Lagos Port Complex, Apapa and Tin Can Island Port. In 2016, she was promoted to Assistant General Manager, Occupational Health.
Ngozi Oyewole, the Managing Director of Noxie Limited, a leading manufacturer and service provider in Nigeria with a major emphasis on local content and local manufacturing of bespoke and contemporary Office Furniture, Safety Gears and Equipment (PPE), Corporate Branding; and Mrs. Chizoba C. Anyika is an Assistant Director and Head, Cabotage Secretariat of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency(NIMASA). Chizoba is also the Secretary of Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association (WISTA) Nigeria and Publicity Secretary of the Chartered Institute of Transport Administration (CIoTA) Nigeria.
Others include, Mrs. Victoria Tawhi-Michael Tarfa, a Senior Manager at the Nigerian Ports Authority(NPA) who currently heads the Industry Associations and Port Promotion Unit at the Corporate and Strategic Communications Division and Mrs. Folake Wole-Soyinka who is the Deputy Director in charge of Corporate Strategy and Special Assistant to the Executive Secretary and Chief Executive Officer(CEO) of Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC).
The event is supported by Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Chevron Nigeria Limited and other reputable organizations.
MMS WoFHoF is a non -profit organization with the preoccupation of empowering, training, and producing the next generation of women leaders in the maritime, oil and gas, finance, aviation as well as political leadership sectors.