National President, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents ANLCA, Hon. Iju Tony Nwabunike

Strong indications emerged that the business community in Nigeria and some neighbouring West African countries may soon heave a sigh of relief as the Federal Government has indicated its willingness to reopen the land borders shut since August last year, according to reports by the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents ANLCA.

Meanwhile members of the Senate Committee on Customs and Excise have rescinded their earlier decision to commence a scrutiny of cargo clearing processes at the country’s seaports, a development stakeholders believed would have further worsened the slow pace of cargo delivery at the seaports.

National President of ANLCA, Hon. Iju Tony Nwabunike, who made the disclosure in a statement in Lagos, Monday, noted that the leadership of the association had in the last few months been holding crucial meetings with relevant senior government officials over the continued closure of the nation’s land borders.

He disclosed that using the platforms provided by these meetings, the association has extracted commitment from the relevant top government officials that the land borders would be reopened in no distant time. This is given the need for the Nigerian business community to maximise the benefits of African Continental Free Trade Area AfCFTA, with secretariat in Accra Ghana, which Nigeria is a signatory and which is expected to take effect January 1, 2021.

The association had further argued that when AfCFTA regime takes effect January 2021, the Nigerian businesses community would be put at a disadvantage if the country’s land borders remained closed to trade.

The ANLCA leadership reminded the government that the Nigerian business community will be shut out of trade with proximate countries of Benin Republic, Togo, Cameroun, Chad, Niger Republic and other West and Central African countries if the government does not open the borders.

The statement reads in part: “ANLCA also identified the historic and strategic trade impact of Nigeria to the Economic Community of West African States ECOWAS and Economic Community of Central African States ECCAS where she is bordered by Niger, Cameroun and Chad.

“The association therefore secured the assurances of the Federal Government on the need to effect gradual reopening of the closed borders with particular focus on rules of origin to prevent abuses of incentives such as the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme ETLS. This, in our view will help in discouraging smuggling activities through all approved routes.

“In line with the ECOWAS protocol, we hope that all neighbouring countries will henceforth deliver transit goods to the Nigeria Customs Service. We believe strongly that for the Nigeria Customs Service to be in tune with international best practices, it should allow Micro Chip shoot on every container along the ECOWAS route into the country.

“It was observed as an issue of utmost concern that cargoes on transit and mobile assets such as trucks laden with goods worth over N130b belonging to private business people were trapped since August 18, 2019 when the borders were shut under a joint operation, codenamed “Exercise Swift Response.

“Most of the goods with perishable timelines have either been destroyed due to expiry periods or damaged beyond redemption as a result of exposure to unfavorable elements. ANLCA’s findings also confirmed vandalism, theft and arson on some of the trucks and goods they carry, therefore causing great losses to many struggling business men and women in the country. Of note is the over 10,000 direct and indirect jobs that have been lost so far due to this policy, which in our view , should have been approached and implemented differently”.

The President who also disclosed that the leadership of the association interacted with top ranking members of the Senate over allegations that the National Assembly members were planning to begin to monitor cargo clearing processes, however noted that such decision was rescinded after a closed door meeting with members of the committee, as that would negate due process.

It was gathered that the chairman of the committee, Senator Francis Alimikhena following the interaction, assured that all cargo clearance hitherto trapped with shipping companies due to the committee’s activities and correspondences will be allowed to be processed in line with extant regulations.

Senator Alimikhena had concurred with ANLCA’s position that whereas the oversight functions of the lawmakers cannot be wished away on the executive arm of government or any of its agencies, the day to day operation of duty collection, cargo examination, issuance of demand notices (when necessary) and effecting seizures due to infractions rest with the Nigeria Customs Service.

It was further concluded as an incontrovertible fact that the functions of NCS officers as provided under the Customs and Excise Management Act CEMA cannot be performed by any person or body not authorised to do so.

“Our message to all customs brokers, freight forwarders, logistics operators and haulage companies is to remain calm in the face of imminent review of government policies to accommodate their line of businesses and expand opportunities for their growth.

“They should expect lights at the end of the tunnel and be prepared to take full advantage of the opportunities that the adjusted regime will usher in. ANLCA will continue to pursue the interest of our members in the areas of operational challenges, and seeking amicable resolutions to trade disputes arising from government policies and other stakeholders’ actions”, the President also assured.