The closure of the borders between Nigeria and Benin Republic must remain in place as it would help grow the Nigerian local rice industry and the entire economies of both countries.
This was the opinion of Mr. Peter Cole Chiori the Managing Director of Ocean Glory Nig. Ltd, an Apapa based licensed customs agency, in a brief chat with PortNews recently.
“The Nigeria-Benin Republic borders closure by the federal government is a brilliant step. Until now, Nigeria had become a dumping ground for imported rice and other products we ordinarily could produce in Nigeria thus robbing government and the people of billions of Naira that would have otherwise come in as customs duties or as internally generated revenues,” observed Peter Cole.
Rice smuggling from Cotonou Port through the Seme-Idiroko borders had become malignant and stifled President Buhari’s vision of rice sufficiency for Nigerians as neither the government nor local rice plantation investors could plan because of the porosity of the borders through which rice was smuggled into Nigeria in torrents every day.
“Rice smuggling was affecting the President’s dream of rice self sufficiency for us. But with this drastic step taken you should expect an upsurge in the local rice industry which will save us the over N700 billion we spent to bring it in through smuggling,” said Cole.
He noted further: “we not only bring in rice through the borders, but all manner of products such as milk, dairies, tomatos come in illegally through the notorious Seme-Idiroko borders.
Cole posited that the borders have to remain closed while Benin Republic government officials and their Nigerian counterparts have to come to a roundtable and dialogue.
Cole submitted that a socio-cultural reorientation is urgently desired which promotes a patronage of locally grown Nigeria rice and indeed other products produced in West Africa in a common market available without borders to the citizens of the two countries and beyond. “The Beninois, rather, should look forward to receiving imports from the Nigerian market which could be more cost-effective and ultimately more enriching to their economy,” he observed.
“There is practically nothing they import through Cotonou Port that is not destined for Nigerian market. Nigeria can import these items directly here and allow the Beninoise to come here and buy and sell. It would help both of us which is the spirit of ECOWAS.
Meanwhile, Cole Chiori has compared port management under the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the present private port mangers and heaped plaudits on the former for its professionalism. “NPA was more professional with amazing staff. In those days when vessels berthed in droves, 30, 40 vessels, there was no traffic gridlock as every job was done with minimal bottlenecks. But nowadays, with fewer vessels there is traffic gridlock, confusion and extortion all over the Nigerian port environment.”
The licensed Customs agent noted that the construction of Wharf Road in Apapa exacerbated the gridlock thus triggering opportunistic transporters to hike fares by 500 percent, a development that has persisted in spite of the fact that the construction has since been completed.
“When the construction was on-going you needed about 400 thousand Naira to transport a container from Apapa to Costain, a distance of less than a kilometer; you needed 900 thousand Naira to Ilorin in Kwara State. Though fares have been reduced but only minimally,” he explained.
Cole therefore urged the federal government to quicken the pace of work on the Apapa-TinCan-Coconut-Mile2-Oshodi expressway as a final solution to gridlock and high haulage fares