On vehicle importation through land borders
Federal Government’s announcement of a ban on vehicle importation through Nigeria’s land borders may not be more than a wild goose chase owing, primarily, to the porosity of Nigeria’s borders and the corruption in the nation’s Customs Service. Such ad-hoc policy measures are hardly effective and they often aggravate problems instead of solving them.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the House of Representatives immediately asked the Federal Government to suspend the ban and mandated its Committee on Governmental Affairs, Customs and Excise to look into the matter and report to the House.
For instance, smuggling, corruption and cross-border crimes, among others, are likely to increase with such a ban. Government thereby loses revenue and the country is worse off. Apart from the fact that its benefits to the nation’s automobile industry are questionable given the confusion in that industry at the moment, banning importation through the land borders should be a gradual process after several other issues in the country’s interest have been addressed.
According to the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), a presidential directive restricting all vehicle imports to Nigerian seaports will take effect from January 1, 2017. Vehicle importers through land borders into Nigeria have, therefore, asked to take advantage of the grace period to clear their vehicle imports which may have landed in neighbouring ports for onward delivery to Nigeria through the land borders. This restriction follows that of rice which import has been banned through land borders since April 2016.
It is noteworthy, from the Customs’ statement, that government did not adduce any reason for its decision, merely stating that the decision followed the ban on rice imports through the same route.
The ban on rice importation, of course, forced the price of the commodity to skyrocket from N8,000 to more than N20,000 since April and Nigerians have been living with that hardship under a biting economic recession.
But the pertinent question is: Is the ban to check smuggling, raise revenue, boost local production or what? Whatever may be the reason, poor enforcement is one variable which may defeat the scheme, however noble the intention. Government may, unwittingly, therefore, be creating another avenue for officials at the ports to corruptly enrich themselves. Rather than place a ban on vehicle importation that would be difficult to enforce, government should actually seek to know why importers prefer using neighbouring countries’ ports instead of Nigerian ports and address those concerns.
For instance, complaints about multiple government agencies at the ports, delays, multiple charges, extortion and exorbitant fees, theft and vandalisation of goods, among others, are known to drive importers away from Nigerian ports. Besides, decrepit infrastructure, particularly, the access roads, compound the problems. Why can’t government put the necessary facilities in place and make the ports more efficient for 24-hour operations as is the case in some neighbouring countries’ ports?
Disorder and corruption are rife. Import rules are not followed. Apart from the other numerous agencies struggling to collect charges, the NCS, arbitrarily, gives itself revenue targets officially and unofficially, which are imposed on importers and there is duplication of functions. Consequently, it has been proven cheaper to import vehicles or even anything through Cotonou or Lome ports.
Except these problems are addressed, there would be no end to smuggling through the land borders, the ban notwithstanding.Perhaps one way to deal with the problem is to make tariff at land borders higher than that at the seaports. Another point is that Nigeria, being a leading member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), should explore the ECOWAS Protocol for mutual advantage to avoid being perceived as hostile to her neighbours. Also, the economies of some of the neighbouring countries depend on Nigeria and those countries should be too willing to cooperate with Nigeria instead of taking undue advantage of her failings.
This can be used to press the case that it is wrong for Nigerian importers to be charged the same import duties at the landing port on vehicles that are in transit to Nigeria and for which another fee would be paid at the Nigerian border. There may be other charges but concessions should be granted on goods in transit. These are issues that the authorities should iron out for the benefit of all countries and their citizens.
Above all, however, Nigeria needs to have comprehensive policies on trade and stop taking half-hearted measures that won’t be of much benefit to Nigerians.