Smugglers continued to suffer huge losses Wednesday as Presidential Muhammadu Buhari in Yokohama, Japan confirmed the closure of Nigeria’s border with Republic of Benin, saying the measure was taken to stem the tide of smuggling of rice into the country.
The border had been shut last week .
President Buhari at a meeting with President of Benin Republic, Mr. Patrice Tallon, on the sidelines of the ongoing seventh Tokyo International Conference for Africa Development (TICAD7) in Yokohama, explained that the border was shut by the federal government as a decisive measure to curb smuggling of foreign rice into the country.
The meeting between Presidents Buhari and Tallon, which was held behind closed doors at the Royal Park Hotel, was attended by Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama.
Speaking with Nigerian journalists after the meeting, Onyeama said Tallon expressed concern over the hardship the closure had caused his citizens and pleaded with President Buhari to reopen it.
He said the border was closed because of the frequency of rice smuggling into the country through the borders, pointing out that the President saw the unwholesome development as a threat to Nigeria’s pursuit of food sufficiency.
Onyeama said: “They were discussing the issue of the closure of the border.
You may not know but Nigeria closed border with Benin and it is causing great difficulties for Republic of Benin.
So, the President said he had to see our President as a matter of urgency and because of the great problem that it is causing.
“They talked about the reason for the closure which essentially was about smuggling across the borders, especially rice smuggling, and Mr President is extremely concerned that now that Nigeria through our agricultural policies has become self-sufficient in rice production that this is now threatened.”
But the minister said Pres. Buhari, following the concern expressed by his Benin Republic counterpart over the plights of his people as a result of the closure, promised to reopen the border in future, but did not tell him the exact date he hopes to do so.
Onyeama added that both leaders resolved to formally hold a meeting over the matter after returning to Africa along with the President of Niger Republic with a view to officially reaching a joint agreement on how to end smuggling across Nigerian borders.
According to the minister, the decision to close the borders was the fallout of a concrete search for a permanent solution to smuggling across the Nigerian borders.
Onyeama added that the President believed that smuggling must be decisively dealt with particularly at this moment when Nigeria is no longer depleting its foreign reserves to secure foreign exchange for rice importation.
“The fact that our citizens can now work in rural areas, farming, it is a threat to our country to allow this smuggling to persist on that scale,” he said, adding:
“The President talked about the amount of money we now save by no longer having to spend our foreign reserves to buy foreign rice.”
He explained that the measures already taken were to allow the security forces to develop a strategy, to know exactly how the smugglers operate and where they operate from.