The Chemical and Non-Metallic Products Employers Federation (CANMPEF) Thursday called on the federal government to take extreme measures to stop what it described as the â€œstate-sponsored smugglingâ€ by Republic of Benin, which is taking a devastating toll on Nigerian businesses.
The President of the CANMPEF, Mr. Devakumar V.G. Edwin, said the menace of smuggling of goods into Nigeria through Cotonou, which their investigation had shown to be directly encouraged by the government of the Republic of Benin, has led to the closure of 53 out of its 145 member companies.
To this end, the association of industrialists is sending a save-our-soul message to the federal government to shut the borders between the two countries in order to save businesses and jobs of Nigerians.
â€œWe are aware of the other challenges which face our businesses in Nigeria such as power deficiency and other infrastructure issues, but the problem of smuggling, particularly one supported by the government of the Republic of Benin, is the primary killer of manufacturing efforts in Nigeria,â€ he said.
Edwin noted that the associationâ€™s executive council has recommended that the federal government should take far-reaching measures such as the closure of all border points between the two countries, to make a strong statement against the criminal act.
He explained that elements within the government of the francophone nation, which borders Nigeria from the west, were firmly behind the intractable problem of smuggling that had engulfed virtually all arms of the nationâ€™s productive sector.
He said one does not need to look too hard to see the devastation that smuggling has brought to the hitherto vibrant sectors in the country such as the tyre industry, where the two main indigenous manufacturers â€“ Michelin and Dunlop â€“ have since closed shop.
He pointed out that the smuggling malady was also primarily responsible for the catastrophe that hit the textile industry, which various government intervention funds have been unable to address effectively.
â€œThe textile industry used to be the most vibrant sector in Nigeria, employing the highest number of people after government but it has been damaged by this hydra-headed problem of smuggling, which we have come to see is supported directly or indirectly by the government of Benin Republic,â€ he said.
Edwin averred that to date, member companies of his association have had to lay off over 270,000 people either due to complete closure or massive reduction in capacity utilisation.
He said the situation in the case of rice aptly demonstrated the complicity of the authorities of the Benin Republic in the massive smuggling into Nigeria, stressing that there was no other reason why the francophone country should import 2.3 million tonnes of parboiled rice yearly, when its people culturally do not consume it.
â€œIn the Republic of Benin, what they consume is raw rice and it is a cultural thing for them. So all the 2.3 million tonnes of rice that land at their ports are targeted at the Nigerian market and they ensure that most of this rice comes in through illegal channels, thereby knocking off locally produced Nigerian rice from the market,â€ Edwin explained.
He also referred to the existence of an intense anti-Nigerian sentiment in the Benin Republic, stressing that while the country has been sponsoring the smuggling of goods into the Nigerian market, its government imposes extremely prohibitive tariffs on goods manufactured in Nigeria.
He lamented the countryâ€™s relentless effort towards preventing the implementation of the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS), which mandates all countries in the ECOWAS sub-region to allow the movement of indigenously produced goods freely from country to country without inhibition, particularly when the destination country does not produce such items locally.
â€œThey make frantic efforts to prevent our locally-produced goods from entering their market and even when the goods are simply passing through their country to other West African nations, they still insist that high tariffs must be paid before the goods can go through,â€ he charged.