Deep-rooted dishonesty among Nigerians warranted border closure – Buhari

President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday defended the temporary closure of the country’s land borders, saying that it had reduced domestic fuel consumption by 30 per cent.

Buhari, who said there had yet to be any decision on when the borders would be reopened, said deep rooted dishonesty made the Federal Government to close the borders.

He, however, said farmers were among the biggest beneficiaries of the government’s decision to close the borders, which had led to a remarkable drop in the smuggling of goods, especially rice.

Acknowledging the efforts of farmers, Buhari said, “Farmers must be protected. Dishonesty is deep-rooted in the country. Otherwise the border closure would not have been warranted.”

Buhari was speaking in Daura, Katsina State, when a delegation of Katsina State Elders Forum visited him at his country home.

“The President said the country’s domestic fuel consumption had dropped by more than 30 per cent, following closure of land borders”, a State House statement by his media aide, Mr Garba Shehu, quoted the President as saying.

The statement added, “The President commended the actions taken by the President of Niger Republic, Muhammadou Youssoufou, including the dismissal of officials and a ban on use of the country as a dumping ground for Nigeria-bound smuggled goods.

“President Buhari noted that the measures taken by the President of Niger were helpful and supportive.

“President Buhari acknowledged the hardship of border communities following the ban on sale of fuel at stations 20 kilometres to the border, a restriction that also saw to the closure of all fuel stations in his native home, Daura.”

He stated that the Nigeria Customs Service was reviewing all border outlets in a bid to identify the illegal routes used for smuggling and those officially recognised for genuine transactions.

“President Buhari told the delegation that he intends forging ahead with poverty alleviation schemes and the agricultural and livestock reforms started by the administration in the first term, since the election was behind him and a government now in place.

“He explained that the reforms, especially those relating to the settlement of livestock herders would take time to accomplish, assuring that his deliberate choice of tested farmers as his past and current ministers of agriculture was informed by the need to carry his vision through”, the Presidency added.

The Chairman of the Elders Forum, Alhaji Aliyu Saulawa, earlier thanked Buhari and Governor Aminu Masari for combating banditry, kidnapping and cattle rustling.

The group urged the President to come to the aid of victims through intervention funds and the creation of a North-West Development Commission.

It also sought the establishment of Ruga settlements for victims and the completion of the 10 megawatts wind power project in Katsina State.

FG uncovers illegal petrol stations at Katsina border towns

Meanwhile, The Federal Government on Monday said it had uncovered “hundreds of filling stations” along Nigeria’s Magama Jibia border with the Republic of Niger purposely set up for the smuggling of petroleum products.

The government identified fuel smuggling, illegal migration, importation of arms and ammunition and smuggling of rice from the Republic of Benin to Nigeria through Niger Republic as some of the challenges on the border communities.

The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, who led a high-powered delegation of the Federal Government to Magama Jibia, Nigeria’s border with the Republic of Niger, said with the border closure, Nigeria had recorded 30 per cent drop in domestic fuel consumption.

Among those in the delegation were the Minister of State (Budget and National Planing), Clement Agba; Minister of State (Industry, Trade and Investment), Mariam Katagum, and top echelons of the Nigeria Immigration Service and Nigeria Customs Service.

The government’s delegation last week visited the Seme border in Lagos State to commence the on-the-spot assessment of the ongoing border drill in the South-South (Sector 1), South-West (Sector 2), North-Central (Sector 3) and North-West (Sector 4).

The border drill, code-named ‘Exercise Swift Response’, was inaugurated on August 20, 2019 as part of the measures to secure Nigeria’s land and maritime borders.

Mohammed said, “We have just assessed the border drill in sector 4 (North-West). Please note that the challenges in Sector 4 are different from what we witnessed in Sector 2, especially Seme. Whereas rice smuggling is the main issue in Sector 2, the challenges here in Sector 4 include fuel smuggling, illegal migration and importation of arms and ammunition. Of course rice from Benin is also smuggled to Nigeria through Niger.

“Smuggling of petroleum products out of Nigeria has been greatly reduced. The closure of filling stations along the borders is a huge success. There are hundreds of filling stations along the borders. We counted many as we drove to the border this (Monday) morning.

“They were set up purposely for smuggling. They don’t sell the fuel consignment they receive to the public. No! over 50 per cent of them are owned by foreigners. Now that they are closed, we have recorded over 30 per cent drop in domestic fuel consumption.

“The drill has drastically curtailed the inflow of arms and ammunition. Bandits and terrorists are finding it hard to procure arms and ammunition, hence we have recorded a reduction in cases of cattle rustling, kidnapping and banditry, which were predominant in the North-West region.

“These acts have now been significantly reduced. The arms and ammunition being used by violent extremists and criminal elements no longer make their way into the country through the land borders. Of course, this will also have a negative effect on the insurgency.

“We have recorded over 30 per cent increase in revenue since the drill. Gentlemen, before the drill, the borders contributed nothing to the revenue. Customs were recording about N4.5billion daily. Since the closure, the figure has increased to between N5 and N8billion daily.

“The North-West sector, of the four sectors affected by the drill, has recorded the highest success in terms of reduction of illegal migration, thanks to the drill.”

According to him, the main reason for embarking on the drill was to protect Nigeria against transnational security concerns such as smuggling, proliferation of small arms and light weapons; irregular migration as well as terrorism and banditry.

While maintaining that the exercise was not targeted at any region in the country, neither was it designed to cripple businesses in any part of Nigeria, “as some conspiracy theorists have been insinuating”, the minister said that since the exercise commenced over three months ago, “local businesses across the country have continued to thrive, as farmers and rice millers in particular are now having turnover on investments.”

“We said the exercise wouldn’t have been contemplated if our neighbours had complied with the various ECOWAS transit protocols including ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme.

“We traced discussions on doing legitimate trade between Nigeria on the one hand and Benin and Niger on the other to 2005, and noted that the discussions led to MoUs in 2005, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018, none of which – unfortunately – led to any legitimate transit trade between Nigeria and Benin and Niger”, he stated.

Written by John Ameh and Friday Olokor, published on Punch Newspapers