Demurrage swells, goods spoil as border closure continues
Hopes of some stakeholders who expected the border to be re-opened as the first phase of the Ex Swift s exercise expired today have been dashed, as the Federal Government insists that there is no timeline to closure of the land borders.
For 165 days (over five months), the Federal Government has successfully shut the land borders to reduce indiscriminate smuggling of foreign rice, vehicles and other illicit items.
With the embargo, regional traders across the border suffered while transporters also groan under intense hardship imposed on them.
Besides, neighbouring countries such as the Republic of Benin, Niger and Ghana have bemoaned the severe impact of the border closure on their economies.
As the first phase of the exercise comes to an end, affected stakeholders are now counting their losses, which is in billions of naira, but they will need to further endure as the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) declared that the action is indefinite.
A memo with reference number NCS/ENF/ABJ/221/S.45 marked “Restricted” and dated November 1, 2019 by the Deputy Comptroller of Customs (Enforcement, Investigation and Inspectorate), Victor Dimka, to the sector coordinators stated that President Muhammadu Buhari had approved extension of border closure till January 2020.
The Public Relations Officer, Deputy Comptroller of Customs, and spokespersons for Ex Swift Responses, Joseph Attah, told The Guardian yesterday that there was nothing like timeline to end the border closure. He stated that the referenced memo was an internal communication that has nothing to do with border re-opening.
He said: “That particularly phase was supposed to have ended earlier, but it was extended. Don’t forget that they gave these officers their allowances, so the communication was in line with whatever the officers are entitled to for that phase. It is purely an internal communication. I have said it before.”
Meanwhile, President, West African Road Transport Union (WARTU), Salami Nasiru, said the Federal Government must put structures in place, if it actually wanted to protect its borders against influx of illicit items and illegal migrants.
According to him, even if the border is closed for 1,000 years, it will not change anything, until the Nigerian government takes the bull by the horn and put infrastructure in place, as well as orientate the necessary stakeholders in the cross-border trade.
He lamented that goods worth billions of naira were still stuck at the border for about five months since the border was closed, adding that some of them had rotten away.
Nasiru added that the transporters and importers were still incurring demurrage on the cargos that were stuck at the borders.
Many of the importers, he said, had gone bankrupt, while others continued to groan under unnecessary expenses to keep their drivers, vehicles and the goods in good condition at the border point.
A clearing agent in Seme, Kunle Aromolaran, said he had lost hope in the re-opening of the border, as the closure had cost many agents jobs.