Some cargo laden trucks stranded at Seme Border

Maritime stakeholders yesterday took a swipe at the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service Col. Hameed Ali over his recent claims that he has banned both imports and export of goods through the land borders across the nation, saying he has no such powers.

The CG was quoted on Monday quoted to have said during a press conference in Abuja that: ” for now, all goods, whether illicit or non-illicit, are banned from going out or coming into Nigeria, an indication that the CG, a retired military officer might be usurping the powers and functions of the Minister of Finance, who doubles as chairman of the Customs Board.

The Federal Government had on August 20, 2019 announced a partial closure of the nation’s land borders, which followed the deployment of the military to carry out a joint border surveillance in partnership with other security agencies including the Nigeria Police, the Nigeria Immigration Service, among others, under a special security operation codenamed ‘EX-SWIFT RESPONSE’ and coordinated by the office of the National Security Adviser.

President, National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents NCMDLCA, Lucky Amiwero, one of the stakeholders who spoke in a telephone interview, noted that it is the President or the Minister of Finance that should exercise such powers not the CG of Customs.

He cited section 13 of the Customs and Excise Management Act CEMA, which grants the Minister powers to restrict the import of goods into the country, arguing that such powers of the Minister cannot be delegated to the CG to act on his behalf, which makes it illegal for the CG to make such pronouncement.

Amiwero also noted that following the closure of the borders, the Economic Community of West African States ECOWAS, Trade Liberalisation Scheme ETLS, which Nigeria is a signatory is being observed in breach since the scheme allows free flow of trade and persons among the member nations within the sub-region.

According to him, the closure of the borders also contravenes Article five of the World Trade Organisation WTO charter, which deals on the movement of transit goods in and out of the member nations of the WTO; a development he said was not good for the country.

“There are so many breaches of laws, conventions and protocols here and there and these breaches are not too healthy for Nigeria as a country”, he said.

Another stakeholder, who is a legal practitioner, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, noted that Federal Government’s decision to shut the country’s land borders was ill-advised, arguing that though some countries in the past shut their borders, it was strategically structured and planned to achieve the desired objectives and not a spontaneous action such as this.

He noted that China, India and some other countries of the world at a point in their economic and political development shut their borders, adding that they first attained a level of food sufficiency and so may not need to import certain categories of food items to feed their increasing population then.

“The same import items we shut our borders against are still being sold freely on the nation’s streets and markets. The only difference is that they are more expensive, which indicates that they are still coming into the country more than one month after the borders were closed”, he had argued.                                                                                                                                           

The CG was also quoted as saying that for now, goods can only enter the country through the air and sea ports, where they can undergo thorough scanning and certified fit for consumption.

“We hope that by the time we get to the end of this exercise, we would have agreed with our neighbours on the type of goods that should enter and exit our country..

“For now, all goods, whether illicit or non-illicit, are banned from going and coming into Nigeria.

“Let me add that for the avoidance of doubt that we included all goods because all goods can equally come through our seaports.

“For that reason, we have deemed it necessary for now that importers of such goods should go through our controlled boarders where we have scanners to verify the kind of goods and how healthy to our people can be conducted.

“Despite the rights for movement of persons under the ECOWAS protocols, there must be primacy of security over such rights”, the CG had said.

When asked whether the Federal Government had not breached the rights of the citizens to movement and international trade, he was also quoted to have said that “when it comes to security, all laws take back a seat”.