The closure of Nigerian borders in four geo-political zones will last for 28 days, the security outfit enforcing the order has revealed.
The Federal Government had announced on Tuesday that it would commence a joint border security exercise code-named Ex-Swift Response, and had explained that the patrol would take place in four geo-political zones.
The operation, which would be carried out at borders in the South South, South West, North Central and North West, is being coordinated by the office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA).
The operation, it was gathered, is expected to promote inter-agency cooperation and increase preparedness to address trans-bonder security challenges such as terrorism, armed banditry, smuggling, proliferation of small arms and light weapons.”
The operations in the North Central took effect vide a circular signed by Assistant Comptroller-General of Customs, M. A. Dahiru, in which it said: “In line with Circular E11/Circular No. 020 (Border Drill Operational Team), you are directed to ensure the total closure of all borders under your purview, with effect from today, 20th of August, 2019. The closure is to ensure that goods and services are not traded / moved through the said borders. Ensure strict compliance.”
When Saturday Tribune visited Seme and Idiroko borders on Thursday, it was discovered that the borders are now like ghost towns, as businesses have been shut as scared shop owners and traders stayed off the area.
According to a car hire operator who identified himself as Timothy Akpan, “They (security men) arrived in a commando style in almost 20 Hilux vehicles, fully armed to the teeth .
“Many shops started closing for the day as many didn’t know the reason for the sudden deployment of heavy military personnel to the border. However, by afternoon of Wednesday, they (EX-SWIFT RESPONSE) had taken over many parts of the borders, restricting movement in and out of the border.
“The Customs officers attached to the Seme Command who usually manned strategic positions in the border were asked to leave while stern lookming military men carrying guns took over. This spelt bad omen for people transacting businesses at the borders without legitimate proof, so many businessmen and shop owners disappeared into thin air.
“As I speak to you, I have not conducted any business since the joint security operatives arrived the Seme border. There are no passengers or luggage to carry across into Benin Republic as the whole place is deserted.”
The situation was not different for cargo owners trying to export or bring in their consignments, as cargo evacuation transaction was halted, leaving many containers trapped in the confussion that ensued.
In the words of the former Chairman of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) at Seme border, Mr. Lasisi Fanu, there was no movement in and out of the Seme border when the joint security officials arrived the border on Wednesday.
According to Lasisi Fanu, “For now, there is no thorough fare at the Seme border. I couldn’t even drive in. I was asked to park my vehicle somewhere because of the heavy presence of security operatives at the border. There is no movement in or out of Seme border today. We understand the situation is the same at all other border points.”
When Saturday Tribune returned to the border on Thursday, commercial activities were at the lowest as many shops remained under lock and key while the usually crowded Seme border entrance was scanty.
When contacted, the Spokesman of EX-SWIFT RESPONSE, DC Joseph Attah, said the borders were not closed, saying only people with legitimate reasons were allowed in or out of the border.
He sadi: “In the morning of Wednesday, we heard that people were not being allowed in and out of the borders, so we quickly called our people to correct that aspect of the joint military exercise.
“The exercise is not meant to debar people from moving freely in and out of the borders as long as they have legitimate reasons to be there. That was in the morning of Wednesday.
“So I don’t know where people are getting such information from. Maybe some people with ulterior motives suddenly became intimidated by the heavy security presence at the borders. We are not stopping movement in and out of the borders, as long as such movements are legitimate.”
When reminded that the operation has led to halt in cargo evacuation at Seme, Attah stated that government will not sacrifice security issues at the expense of commercial gains.
“We are talking of the nation’s security and you are talking of commercial activities. One is more important than the other. You wont expect us to mortgage the nation’s security because of commercial gains, or will you?” the joint security operations spokesman asked.
On the duration of the exercise, DC Attah stated that, “Concerning it lasting for 28days, it is most likely to be so.”
By Thursday, only persons with valid means of identification like international passports or valid Identity cards were allowed in and out of the Seme border. For cargoes trapped in confusion, it seems the owners will have to wait far longer to clear their consignments as findings revealed that EX-SWIFT RESPONSE will be on for the next 28 days.
Speaking to Saturday Tribune over the ordeal of cargo owners, an importer Mrs. Magreth Abass explained that it is important that the joint security operatives allow cargo evacuation to continue because some of the goods waiting to be cleared are perishable goods that might not survive the 28days period of the EX-SWIFT RESPONSE.
“Many goods are trapped in the confusion at the borders, most importantly perishable goods. We have been told the exercise might last for 28days, what will happen to the owners of those perishable goods if they get spoilt? Who will reimburse them in the event of damage to their products? I am not against the policy of beefing up security at our border posts, but government should always have a human face when implementing such policy,” Mrs. Abass stated.
On the attendant loss to the economy, Mrs. Abass wondered how the Seme Customs Command hopes to meet its monthly revenue target of between N4.5m to N7m.
“The Seme Customs Command rakes in between N4.5m to N7m on a monthly basis into the Federal Government coffers. Now they want to disrupt activities here for the next 28days, how will the Command meet up with its monthly target? Won’t that constitute a loss to the revenue profile of government? The situation is really terrible here,” Mrs. Abass added.