Trading amongst African countries has been very low due to many obstacles hindering transborder trade facilitation in the continent.
Obstacles such as proliferation of multiple checkpoints, poor infrastructure, and technology, among others, are threatening transborder trade.
However, in Nigeria, the proliferation of checkpoints by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) along the land borders, especially Seme and Idiroko borders, are frustrating successful implementation of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), which Nigeria was a signatory.
LEADERSHIP reports that AfCFTA is the world’s largest free trade area, bringing together 55 countries. The mandate of the AfCFTA was to create a single continental market with a population of about 1.3 billion people and a combined GDP of approximately $3.4 trillion.
Also, as part of its mandate, the AfCFTA is to eliminate trade barriers and boost intra-Africa trade, value chains in Africa, enabling investment and job creation. The practical implementation of the AfCFTA has the potential to foster industrialisation, job creation, and investment, thus enhancing the competitiveness of Africa in the medium to long term.
However, while other African countries have made trading easier, seamless and are currently benefitting from the potentials inherent in the agreement, Nigeria has made intra-Africa trading cumbersome and inconvenient and currently at the short end of the benefits in AfCFTA.
According to maritime experts, Benin Republic has only two checkpoints along its border route to Togo while three checkpoints exist between Togo and Ghana border. But in Nigeria, an average of 100 checkpoints exist on both sides of Nigeria-Benin Republic border.
This, however, hampers cross-border trade and export as business owners undergo a lot of inconveniences to make Nigeria a transit point to other countries.
Speaking on the proliferation of checkpoints, the Idiroko border chairman, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Alhaji Ibrahim Shima, called for the dismantling of multiple checkpoints on the Sango-Idiroko border road.
According to him, the checkpoints are threatening export trade and trade facilitation along the corridor.
He said, “what we do at the Idiroko border is mainly exports for the West African coast but multiple checkpoints on the corridor is threatening trade facilitation on the Idiroko border corridor.
“The federal government has opened the Idiroko border, why do they need to station border drill officers on the Idiroko border corridor? Exporters are lamenting about the activities of officers at the checkpoints. Government should give a presidential directive to the Customs management to dismantle the checkpoints,” Alhaji Ibrahim stated.
On his part, the secretary of the Board of Trustees of the Association of Registered Freight Forwarders of Nigeria (AREFFN), Elum Innocent, disclosed that multiple checkpoints by security operatives at the border were hampering transborder trade.
Elum, a clearing agent who operates at the Seme border, stated that there are about 100 checkpoints from the Seme border to Gbaji Bridge.
He also said that from the Gbaji Bridge/Iyafin axis, there are no fewer than 100 checkpoints on both sides of the road before one gets to Badagry roundabout.
Elum specifically confirmed the presence of a new police checkpoint inwards the border. He alleged that the additional checkpoints mounted by the Customs, Army and Police are basically for extortion and not to check smuggling.
He said, “It is not only Customs that creates these additional checkpoints. Like the one we just passed now, it has the presence of soldiers, police, border patrol and the Customs. Concerning the issue of checkpoints mitigating smuggling activities, I would say this is Nigeria and we know that people who man the checkpoints are just pretending. Ostensibly it is to check smuggling activities but the reality is that they are just working for themselves. So, I wouldn’t say the multiple checkpoints are mitigating smuggling activities because of course smuggling activities go on in the night unhindered here at Seme and that is the truth.”
On his part, the chairman of the Seme Chapter of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Onyekachi Ojinma, also bemoaned the proliferation of checkpoints on the nation’s borders, saying it is stifling intra-Africa trade.
He, however disclosed that Customs alone has over 20 checkpoints around Seme alone, while other security agencies operate 30 along the Seme border axis.
Ojinma pointed out that the checkpoints are illegal and cannot be seen in other neighbouring countries.
According to him, there are only two checkpoints between the Nigeria-Benin border post and Togo, while only three checkpoints would be found between Togo and Ghana.
He said, “Police have more than 50 checkpoints, the Army has more than 10 and Customs has more than 20 checkpoints. A vehicle will go through all those rigorous checking, yet you will see smuggled rice in various markets. If you go to Alaba Rago, you will see truckloads of rice off-loading there. Where is the rice coming from? They come from the same roads Customs is mounting their checkpoints,” he alleged.
“From Nigeria- Benin border post, you would only get two checkpoints, and throughout the whole of Benin till you get to Togo border. From Togo border to Ghana, you will see only three checkpoints. So, what are the checkpoints doing on our own side? What are they checking?” he asked?
Effort to speak with the national public relations officer (PRO), Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Timi Bomodi, were abortive as calls placed to his phone were not answered while messages sent to him were not replied as of the time of filing this report.