The Nigerian government has accused the Republic of Benin of being recalcitrant in its importation of prohibited goods for onward smuggling into Nigeria’s market in spite the partial border closure order.
Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, made the accusation when he featured in a television programme yesterday.
Responding to a question on when government might reopen its borders with neighbouring countries, he said the measure had not caused the neighbouring Benin Republic to change its ways.
“Regrettably, the signs out there are not positive in the sense that in the last few weeks the amount of seizures that have been made do not show that our neighbours are in a hurry to comply with Nigeria.”
“As we speak today, there are three ships heading toward Benin Republic laden with about 105,000 metric tonnes of rice. This is a country of about 12 million people. That rice is meant for the ultimate consumption of Nigerians.
“In addition, Benin Republic just negotiated with Japan to receive rice worth $30 million.
“It is clear that the ultimate destination of the rice will be Nigeria and that is why we are appealing to our neighbours.
“First preservation is the first law of survival. We are doing this to preserve our economy and the security of our country,” he said.
The minister, who disclosed that the border drill will be in place as long as necessary, noted that Nigeria could no longer continue to play the big brother at the expense of its economy and national security.
“The facts at our disposal reveal that 10,000 vehicles are imported every month into the Cotonou seaport.
“For a population of about 12 million people to be importing 120,000 vehicles in a year means that the vehicles are going to Nigeria with sufficient market.
“As I have said, there is no gain without pain: there will be discomfort at the beginning; ultimately we believe it is going to be to the ultimate interest of Nigeria,” he said.
The minister reiterated that both Benin Republic and Niger Republic were hurting Nigeria’s economy and security because of their non compliance with the ECOWAS Protocol on Transit Goods and State of Origin.
“We have been on this dialogue since 2015 and the truth of the matter is that there has never been any legitimate transit trade between us and the two countries
“This is hurting our economy, affecting our security and no country will fold its arms when the overall interest of its people is being jeopardised,” he said.
The minister said the government decided to prohibit sale of fuel in filling stations less than 20km away from the borders because of the high level of smuggling of the product to neighbouring countries.
He said no fewer than 160 filling stations were affected by the directive and they were in such a large number because they primarily engage in smuggling.
“These are stations that when you drive into them in the day time, they will not be dispensing fuel, but late in the night they will smuggle the product across the border,” he said.
Mohammed said a very sizable proportion of the subsidised imported petrol into the country was finding its way to Benin Republic, Niger Republic and some other West African countries.
“What we found out is that we are actually subsidising the product not just for Nigerians but for many West African countries.
“For instance, if the landing cost of PMS is about N200 today, in order to cushion the effect on the people, government sells at N140 per litre, meaning that for every litre of fuel bought, the government is paying N60. If you consume one million litres a day, the government is paying N60 million a day.
“You can imagine that from what the government pays, it is the neighbouring countries that benefit about 50 per cent of it,” he said.
The information minister revealed that 95 per cent of illicit drugs, arms and ammunition came into the country through the land borders with attendant effect on increase in terrorism, banditry, kidnapping and other crimes.
He said with the border drill directive, there had been drastic reduction in smuggling of drugs and arms into the country, thereby reducing crime rate.
The minister said that government was aware of the effects of the border drill on the citizens, particularly the spike in the price of rice, but that people must bear the temporary pain to reap the benefits.
Nobody can use religion to divide Nigeria – Lai Mohammed
Meanwhile, the information minister has declared that it would be impossible for anybody to use religion to divide Nigeria.
Mohammed made this comment yesterday in Lagos at the Anglican Diocese of Lagos 2019 Centenary Cultural Day and Awards Ceremony.
The centenary celebration had the theme: ”Stronger, Deeper and Higher”.
According to Mohammed, performances at the event by different ethnic groups in the diocese are indications that the unity of Nigeria is not negotiable.
“What I have seen here today has again confirmed my belief in the indivisibility of this country. These performances have shown us how much we are united, as opposed to how much we are divided.
“I want to thank the diocese for making me appreciate the fact the church is playing a very big role in uniting the nation.
“It is impossible for anybody under the aegis of religion to divide this country,” he said.
According to him, the celebration showed that Nigerians loved one another.
The wife of Lagos State governor, Mrs Ibijoke Sanwo-Olu, said at the event that the church should be committed to sound teachings of the word of God and strictly adhere to God’s commandments.
She said that 100 years in the life of any organisation was not a small feat, but one called for celebration.
According to her, the diocese has been serving as a veritable platform for impacting lives through sound teachings of God’s word and contributing to the growth and development of Lagos State and Nigeria in general.
In his opening remark, the Bishop of the diocese, Rt. Rev. Humphrey Olumakaiye, expressed gratitude to God for the celebration.
He said that the event was to showcase the glory of God who made the diocese stronger, deeper and higher.
Olumakaiye said that the event emphasised international peace and security, tolerance, respect and understanding.
“Despite having people of different cultures, we are undivided in our worship of God. Today, we celebrate cultural day as part of the centenary anniversary celebration.
”Through culture, we are represented by standards and customs.
”We have all come together to declare that we can give to the world the needed sustainable development through a united effort targeted at peaceful coexistence,” he said.
Olumakaiye said that the church should sustain the culture of peace and integrity, culture of brotherly love and sanctity of life.
He said that these were the best ways to show that the church remained united in Christ.
NAN reports that various archdeaconries in the diocese presented different cultural displays and culinaries from Uhrobo, Benin, Itsekiri, Igbira, Ekiti, Egba, Edoma, Awori/Egun, Brazilian, Calabar, Akwa/Ibom, Ijebu, Isoko, Ijaw, Ikale and Ilaje, among others.
Some members of the diocese were given awards for their commitment to its growth.