Businesses, travellers suffer over tighter border watch
• Restriction separates grooms, brides
• Perishable items rot away, rice price rises
• Exercise not border closure, says customs
• ‘Immigrants with valid documents move freely’
As uncertainty trails tighter border surveillance nationwide, business people and travellers continue to count their losses. The security measure has stalled business deals with other neighbouring countries.
The Guardian’s investigations at a border revealed that the prices of rice and other commodities like groundnut oil have shot up. Indeed, perishable items worth millions of naira are currently rotting away as fully armed security agents on constant patrol halt all sorts of movement across borders.
“More than 10 trucks of fresh tomatoes have been there since two days, almost rotting away at Bebe (around Idiroko border),” one of the drivers, who simply identified himself as Seun, told The Guardian. He said that the owners of the tomatoes were greatly worried and weeping endlessly that their capital was going down the drain.
At the Idiroko border in Ogun State at the weekend, some of the security operatives were seen strictly enforcing the presidential order on cross-border movement. Hundreds of traders and immigrants were seen stranded at the border.
All the checkpoints on the road leading to the border were fully manned by the security agents with zero tolerance for smuggling. At the Ihunbo checkpoint, there was strict checking of vehicles, leading to the seizure of goods.
One of the stranded traders, Raliat Ajoke, said the action had taken a great toll on her business. She said that many of her colleagues were stranded in Benin Republic and unable to come back home.
“They did not allow us to enter. That is why we are sitting here. Many of our colleagues are in Cotonou, they can’t come back to Nigeria. In fact I had to send N10,000 to one of them this morning to survive. She went to buy some goods when the border was suddenly shut,” Ajoke said.
Another trader, Mrs. Kemi Asahade, said: “This is what I feed my family with. I sell in Cotonou but live in Nigeria. I go there everyday because they also like to buy Nigeria-made products, but I don’t understand this sudden closure,” she lamented.
The government’s action has begun to negatively impact on the price of foreign parboiled rice, which was hitherto smuggled through the land borders.
Before now, a bag of such rice was sold for about N11,000 at the border area and N15,000 in the metropolis. But The Guardian’s investigations yesterday revealed that the commodity now sells for N14,500 at the border area.
This has forced the rice traders to resort to the brisk business of hoarding the item, which some people that spoke with The Guardian said had become a gold.
Janet Green, who was among the stranded immigrants, flayed the Federal Government for not giving an adequate notice to its citizens before issuing the order.
Green, who claimed to be a Nigerian, said she was working in Benin Republic but going back to resume duty had become difficult after spending one week in Nigeria with her family.
“I have been traveling this road in ten years and this is the first time we as Nigerians are being barred from entering other Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) countries. Whatever diplomatic issues we have should not affect the ECOWAS agreement, which guarantees the freedom of movement.
“The Nigerian government going forward should have a way of addressing issues rather than disregarding the rules that have been set. It is actually very wrong for them not to have thought about the ECOWAS guidelines before putting together the policy,” she said.
For the family of Agbolagade, it was devil at work, as the border action halted their journey to Ghana to marry a new wife.
The mother of the groom, Mrs. Felicia Agbolagade, who was in a chartered vehicle with other members of the family, said they were going to Ghana to marry a new wife, only to be halted at the border.
Another groom, Efik Akpan told The Guardian that his wife was in Togo waiting for him. He said his wedding was taking place on Saturday in Togo, but could not cross the border.
“My wife just called me from Togo now. She is worried about the situation. I am confused now and I don’t have enough money to fly,” he said in a distressed voice.
The spokesman of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Joseph Attah, however, said what was happening at the border was not closure.
“It is not border closure. Let’s use the appropriate words to describe what is happening. We are having a joint security exercise, but because of the little friction that we had on Wednesday, which was immediately sorted out, some people prefer to use the word ‘border closure’, which is not appropriate.
“The delay has been sorted out, so people now go in and out of the country after being properly screened according to the law,” he said.
On the time frame for the exercise, Attah said 28 days might be the maximum. “Nothing says it must be strictly 28 days. We just need to get our house right and it may be called off any moment,” he said.
An immigration officer told The Guradian at Idiroko border that the legal immigrants with valid travel documents were allowed to move freely across the border.
“What we are experiencing here is that many of them (travellers) don’t have travel documents and we have to stop them. You can see some of the people I have been talking to, they want to come into the country claiming that they are Nigerians but they don’t have documents to prove it. It’s difficult for us to allow them. Vehicles cannot cross the border, but persons can cross when they have travel documents. We are working according to orders and we cannot do otherwise,” he said.
The joint security operation called “Ex-Swift Response” involved the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) in collaboration with the Armed Forces of Nigeria (AFN), Nigeria Police Force (NPF) and other security and intelligence agencies.
The residents of the border communities were apprehensive that the joint action, which has checked smuggling activities, could trigger increase in crime rate. At Seme border, the story was the same. The other border communities, including Ilaro, Idiroko, Oke Odan, Ipokia, Owode, Mawun, Alari, Koko, Badagry, Ajilete, Ago, Ighonyedo and Ifo now have their economies in a shambles. Core businesses in these communities are the smuggling of vehicles, Okada riding and farming.
The Federal Government had last Wednesday announced the commencement of the joint exercise by the security agencies to further secure the land border. The operation, which is being coordinated by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), takes place in the four geopolitical zones of the country, namely; South-South, South-West, North-Central and North-West.
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