By Bayo Akomolafe
Benin, Ghana and other neighbouring countries are currently waging economic war to cripple the Nigerian economy with a common duty structure that eliminates payment of tariffs for goods that pass through their ports.
It was learnt that the common External Tariff (CET), which recommends the adoption of a common tariff structure for West African countries with only a limited bar for differential, has unfortunately become Nigeria’s nightmare.
In anticipation of the tragic connivance among the countries to wreck Nigeria’s economy, the Comptroller-General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd), had, last year, visited his Republic of Benin counterpart to re-evaluate the Memorandum of Understanding earlier signed on the effectiveness of border management between both countries.
To consolidate the MoU, Ali also hosted the Beninoise Director General of Customs and Indirect Taxes of Customs, Mr. Sacca Charles, in Abuja. The idea was to ensure that goods from the region never got into Nigeria without going through the authorised process.
Despite the collaboration, Nigeria has lost billions of naira to the neighbouring countries that continue to flout the ETLS rules in the last few months. Available records revealed that within a period of eight months after the MoU was signed, NCS had seized contraband with duty paid value of N660.14 billion.
The goods consist of foreign parboiled rice and frozen poultry products smuggled through Idiroko and Seme border axis. Besides, other foreign goods coming through neighbouring ports and labelled as manufactured in West Africa, against the subsisting rules, include cartons and sacks/bales of foot wears, bar soap, detergents, toiletries, frozen poultry products, bales of bags/suitcases, used pneumatic tyres, tooth picks, beverages, confectionary, juices, furniture and vegetable oil, among others.
Although, the Federal Government took steps to ban importation of vehicles through the land borders, influx of other goods labelled as manufactured within West Africa are on the increase and currently bleeding the local economy and choking efforts by the Federal Government to encourage local manufacturers.
Throwing light on the development yesterday, maritime stakeholders lamented that the ETLS, which was adopted to boost intra-regional trade, had been abused by the neighbouring countries to dump goods into Nigerian markets.
It was disclosed that the ETLS protocol stipulates a token of 0.5 per cent tax on goods manufactured in any ECOWAS country.
According to the publisher of Business & Maritime Magazine, Mr. Okey Ibeke, neighbouring countries have adopted smart and aggressive economic warfare using almost zero tariffs to flood Nigerian market with their goods.
Also, he noted that imports through these countries were re-labelled and packaged as made within the sub-region in total disregard of World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) rules and transported by roads into Nigeria at the payment of the ridiculous 0.5 per cent levy stipulated in the ETLS protocol.
He explained that Nigerian economy was being snookered by the same protocol and instrument for brotherhood and economic integration within the sub-region. Ibeke stressed that Nigerian economy was effectively being milked by her neighbours.
He noted: “This is not smartness; it is barefaced sabotage of Nigeria’s economy and a betrayal of the spirit of ECOWAS. It is impossible to accurately quantify the cost on our economy.
“Benin Republic encourages Nigerian importers to route their cars through Cotonou and designate them as transit goods destined for any of the land-locked neighbours as final destination.
“With that legal cover, no import duty is demanded nor paid on such vehicles, apart from some statutory landing changes and transit fees.” He explained that while transit goods were supposed to be escorted under customs bond to border posts of the country of final destination in accordance with the international law, no such thing is done for the cars by the Benin authorities, as they knew that the vehicles would find their ways into Nigeria.
Echoing him, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, led by its founder, Dr. Boniface Aniebonam, said that cargo diversion to neighbouring countries like Ghana, Chad, Cameroon and Benin Republic had been a recurring thing in Nigerian maritime trade.
He noted that the trend had posed grave economic consequence for Nigeria when volume of cargoes and ships continue to decrease, adding that the rate at which Nigerian cargoes were being diverted to these countries had become a national embarrassment.
On his part, the Executive Secretary of Nigerian Shippers’ Council, Barrister Bello Hassan, said that Nigerian port was inefficient due to corruption, high tariffs, extortion, bad scanning machines, poor access road and lack of single window.
As a way forward, the Director General, Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Dakuku Peterside, stressed the need to make Nigerian ports more competitive and efficient.
He noted that an efficient port should be able to predict what the future of the port would be in terms of ship turnaround time, customs agents of the port, the berth in the port, types and magnitude of ships that berth and the cumulative ship traffic at the ports. According to him, all the indices directly and indirectly impact on the ultimate deliverance in cargo handling and port charges, which form the bedrock of any competitive ports.