All cross-border movement and business transactions (including import and export) between Nigeria and Benin Republic suffered heavy toll Wednesday, with thousands of travelers stranded as a joint team of the Nigerian security agencies began an indefinite shutdown of the borders at the Seme and Idiroko axis.
The move, according to the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), was part of the Federal Government’s strategy at securing the nation’s land and maritime borders from smuggling and other criminal activities.
In an earlier statement Tuesday by its National Public Relations Officer, Mr. Joseph Attah, the NCS disclosed that it would join the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), Nigerian Armed Forces and Nigeria Police Force (NPF), among other security and intelligence-gathering agencies, in a joint border security operation codenamed “EX-SWIFT RESPONSE.”
The exercise is expected to “promote inter-agency co-operation and increase preparedness to address trans-border security challenges such as terrorism, armed banditry, smuggling, proliferation of small arms and light weapons, among others.”
It “will also involve the movement of personnel, vehicles and equipment within the affected parts of the country. Therefore, we call on members of the public not to panic but continue to engage in their normal duties. The overall objective is to ensure a peaceful and secure country in the interest of our national security.”
The statement indicated that the joint exercise, being coordinated by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), would hold in four geo-political zones – South-South, South-West, North-Central and North-West.
Confirming the closure, the Chairman of Seme Border chapter of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Mr. Lasis Fanu, noted that the NCS “just informed us and said we should continue with our normal business, but unfortunately the normal business is not happening because everything is at standstill.”
He regretted that Nigeria could still shut international borders to trade even after signing many protocols, adding: “We have the West Africa Protocol and many (other) treaties within West Africa and ECOWAS, and Nigeria is one of the corridors of ECOWAS.
And though the customs had indicated that those screened and found without anything incriminating could have unhindered movement through the approved borders, Fanu regretted that contrarily, “the exercise is affecting everybody.
“Even with your passport you can’t go in or out of the border. The thing started on Monday morning, we believe that in due course ECOWAS will look into the issue, but it’s beyond the Nigeria Customs.”
Similarly, an anonymous source at the Idiroko Command of the NCS confirmed the border closure, stating that there was no vehicular movement in or out of the border, nor was it known yet how long the closure would last.