The Nigeria Customs Service on Monday shocked the Nigerian business community when it announced that all goods, illicit or legitimate, have been banned from entering or exiting the country via the land borders.
The Comptroller-General of Customs, Hameed Ali, made the disclosure in Abuja at a media briefing on the ongoing Exercise Swift Response involving all military, paramilitary and intelligence agencies and being coordinated by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) meant to sanitize the borders.
According to him, while the operation lasts, all imports and exports, especially consumables, hitherto done via the land gateways can now be done via seaports and airports where Customs and Immigrations have sufficient equipment and personnel to scan the goods entering or exiting the country.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
He insisted that despite the rights for movement of persons the enabling ECOWAS protocols, there must be the primacy of security over such rights.
Ali, who was asked whether the federal government had not breached the rights of the citizenry to movement and international trade, said: “when it comes to security, all laws take back a seat.
He said the operation will continue until neighbouring countries comply with the rules of engagement, rather than becoming corridors through which illicit goods are dumped in Nigeria.
Reacting, economic experts have said the government cannot close the borders for too long as it will hurt the economy.
Mansur Ahmed, an executive director at Dangote Group and president of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) said: “I understand that the closure of borders is supposed to be a short-term arrangement to at least stop the massive hemorrhage of smuggled goods, particularly things like rice and so on into the country, while the government is looking for a more long term solution to the problem.
Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Hameed Ali, disclosed that goods worth N1.4 billion have been seized since the Service and the other security agencies partially closed the land borders, in an operation code-named Exercise Swift Response launched on August 20.
The operation has also led to the deportation of some Pakistanis and South Koreans, just as 146 illegal immigrants have been arrested because their presence in the country is inimical to its socio-economic well-being.
Speaking at a media briefing in Abuja, the Customs boss further revealed that 317 smugglers have been arrested, while 21,071 bags of 50kg parboiled rice have been impounded.
Other items seized are; 190 vehicles, 891 drums of petrol, 2,665 Jerry cans of vegetable oil, 66,000 litre tanker of vegetable oil, 133 motorcycles, 131 bags of NPK fertilizers used for making explosives, among others.