The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, says the Federal Government has set up a Presidential Task Force to dismantle all checkpoints on the Nigeria-Benin route to encourage trade and regional integration.
Onyeama said this on Monday in Abuja when members of ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme Task Force at the borders of member states paid him a courtesy visit.
The ELTS task force, led by its Spokesperson, Ken Ukaoha, also gave the report of its finding on activities across the borders along the Lagos-Seme-Benin route and factors impeding free trade in the region.
The minister said the Presidential Task Force on Checkpoints, which would be inaugurated soon, was domiciled in the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
He said: “The government has set up a task force to address the checkpoint issues; clearly Mr. President has given a directive to remove all checkpoints.
“As soon as this is implemented, we will have some progress in that area.
“The task force will give recommendations on dismantling different checkpoints along the border route and it will get stakeholders involved.
“Government has also set up a steering committee of the stakeholders to come together to address the challenges.”
Onyeama expressed the determination of President Muhammadu Buhari, who is the Chairperson of ECOWAS, to ensuring free trade within the region.
He said: “It is depressing that some of your discoveries are part of the challenges and the issue of corruption that the President is dealing with.
“As you can see the various areas and the impact on trade in the region.
“We are chairing ECOWAS at the moment, we will continue the work and ensure the removal of all barriers to trading in our sub-region.”
According to him, the issue of smuggling, which is also putting a real strain on the objectives of ECOWAS, is something that is harming countries in the sub-region and government is determined to address that.
Onyeama said: “And of course the re-parking and reloading are parts of the security measure that we want to take, and once that is done, we are determined to take all the necessary measures to address all the issues you have raised.
“All the ECOWAS countries have to tackle issues and to make sure that the provisions of ECOWAS are maintained, otherwise the efforts are defeated.”
Ukaoha had earlier told the minister the body’s findings on challenges impeding trade between ECOWAS countries, which included multiple checkpoints along the border between Nigeria and Benin republic.
He said the team undertook a tour from Lagos to Seme and to Benin Republic and discovered 10 checkpoints manned by different uniformed men instead of two approved by ECOWAS law .
The task force leader said the situation became worse when the team was returning, as the check points, made up of the police, Nigeria Customs Service, Nigeria Immigration Service, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, Federal Road Safety Corps and quarantine staff, had increased to 33.
Ukoha expressed concern that progress in trade liberation had been impeded because of different and unnecessary checks points along the sub-region’s borders.
He said: “Much progress has not been made in terms of trade, though on other areas, some level of achievements has been attained.
“If the ECOWAS can move as a region, more than 45 per cent of the wealth that should have been generated by over 350 million people in ECOWAS would have really helped in reducing poverty.
“Movement of people, goods and services have been impeded by a lot of factors in the region and therefore the subject of poverty reduction has not been achieved.”
The ELTS task force chair said there was the need to improve operations at the joint border, which he said had just been commissioned.
According to Ukoaha, the region needs to increase awareness among the uniformed men and provide them with modern and sophisticated equipment that would enhance their operations.