Border closure: Re-opening date uncertain
• Decision Lies With Mr. President, Says NIS
As the uncertainties surrounding the planned re-opening of the land borders persist, stakeholders have described the exercise as a ruse.They hinged their conclusion on the fact that the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) has allegedly compromised and paved way for influx of goods, especially rice and poultry products from neighbouring countries.
A rice farmer and processor, Biodun Onalaja, producer of Okun Rice, at the Ogun/Osun River Basin, Itoikin, Ogun State, who told The Guardian that there are no plans to open the border soon, said: “Rice farmers and processors are back to square one. The border closure worked initially between September and November last year, and we were happy. In my factory then, we were processing rice night and day. Unfortunately, towards the end of December, the smugglers, especially in the East and North had a field day.
“I don’t think rice and other products can come in without connivance with men of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS). Just last week, we received memo from NCS, inviting us for a meeting on this. Every rice farmer and miller will tell you Customs Service is this country’s problem. “The compromise was too much. If you go round markets now, you’ll see that foreign rice has flooded everywhere. The border closure has failed to achieve its aim. Market is now dull, we are back to the pre-border closure era in terms of sales.”
In his view, it is immaterial whether the Federal Government opens the border or not, as farmers and processors are no longer feeling the impact. Chairman, Lagos State Chapter of Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN), Godwin Egbede, confirmed that whatever success was recorded has been negated, due to influx of poultry products from neighbouring countries during the festive period. He said: “Towards Christmas, men of the NCS compromised again. Based on the feelers we got from Ijora, a lot of smuggled chicken and turkey also entered the country. But the farmers were happy, as even chicken was sold before Christmas.
“I have always advocated that Federal Government empower farmers. If they do this, we can sell at reasonable price, and smuggled chicken will fizzle out. Because of our high cost of production, the imported ones are cheaper than the local ones. That is the problem.“Imported chicken is killing our people gradually. Go to hospitals and take census of children with kidney problems and the likes. All these are as a result of chemicalised food they eat…”
The story is the same for residents of border communities, as majority of them have incurred huge debt, due to the seizure of their farm produce. Agro produce merchants in Ilara, Imeko, Iwoye and neighbouring communities bordering Benin Republic in Imeko Afon Local Government Area of Ogun State complained that their tomatoes were seized by Customs men.
A community leader from Ilara town, Alhaji Ibikunle Oluberu, said:“Our farm produce rot away in stores and bans, as they have been tagged ‘contraband’ by Customs men, who have been hindering us from transporting our farm produce outside the area, despite the fact that we don’t carry rice. Ever since the border closure, they have been intercepting our consignments and taking them to their base in Quarry, Abeokuta…”
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), yesterday, said it could not exactly say when the closed borders would be reopened, as the decision to do so lies with President Muhammadu Buhari.Responding to a query on the possibility of reopening the borders soon, Public Relations Officer of the NIS, Sunday James, said: “That decision is for Mr. President to make. Therefore, the NIS cannot say when the closed borders would be opened.”
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