Nigeria and Republic of Benin on Wednesday in Abuja agreed on the imperativeness of a joint committee to combat smuggling along their border lines.
A statement by the President’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, said the agreement was reached when President Muhammadu Buhari hosted President Patrice Talon of the Republic of Benin at State House, Abuja.
Adesina said the two leaders also agreed that Niger Republic should be consulted in the workings of the committee.
According to the presidential aide, Niger Republic is believed to be a transit point in the concentric circle of smuggling of commodities, particularly rice, into Nigeria.
Adesina quoted Buhari as saying: “We have succeeded in cutting the importation of rice into the country by about 90 per cent”.
The president also told his guest that “smuggled parboiled rice still finds its way into the country, thus vitiating the efforts of government, and discouraging farmers.
He said: “When I got into office in 2015, the first thing I did was to visit all our neighbours; Niger Republic, Chad, Cameroon and Benin Republic.
“It made both economic and security sense, because if you are in good terms with your neighbours, you ultimately spend less on both physical and food security.”
Buhari, however, noted that activities of smugglers are hindering Nigeria’s quest for self-sufficiency, particularly in rice production.
According to him, a more sinister side to the smuggling menace is the influx of small arms and ammunition into the country, thus increasing the spectre of insecurity.
The president also welcomed the idea of a rail network to link Nigeria, Republic of Benin, Niger Republic and some other countries, saying “it is valuable economically” and would be subjected to further comprehensive study.
In his remarks, Talon said smuggling had affected both Nigeria and his country negatively, and also constituted a threat to the bilateral relationship between the two countries.
Talon said: “We are aware of how rice smuggling is affecting the development of local capacity in rice farming in Nigeria.
“It is affecting trade between us negatively and Nigeria is an important partner for a country like Benin.
“But we have no powers to block goods meant for other countries, and our country is not the final destination for the smuggled rice.
“We need to develop a common will to face the problem.”
He also submitted that the proposed rail network between the countries would boost economic development.
Adesina added: “Modalities of the joint committee to combat smuggling are to be worked out as soon as possible, the two leaders agreed.”