•Stakeholders say it is unconstitutional, anti-competition
Varied reactions have continued to trail the Federal Government’s exemption of Dangote Cement, BUA, and a gas supply firm from the land border trade restriction policy, saying the action contravenes the spirit of competition and the Constitution.
Stakeholders condemned the government’s selective approach to the economic policy, which allows the three conglomerates to resume exports across Nigeria’s land borders without any restrictions, saying it was making a few individuals richer at the expense of others whose businesses have been crippled due to the border closure.
The Presidency had on August 20, 2019, ordered the closure of the land borders against neighbouring countries in the sub-region aimed at not only prohibiting unchecked cross-border movement of goods, but also to encourage local production, create employment, and protect upcoming industrialists.
To this end, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) established the Exercise SWIFT Response, to end rampant smuggling across the porous frontiers in which seizures estimated at N11billion was recorded from the operation.
Although the Customs Service confirmed that three companies were granted presidential approval to resume exports through the land borders, its National Public Relations Officer, Joseph Attah, said the exemption indicates that the ongoing diplomatic engagement between Nigeria and the governments of neighbouring countries was yielding results.
But stakeholders condemned the presidential approval, saying the exemption for a few conglomerates contravenes the law. The Senator representing Ogun West Senatorial District in the National Assembly, Tolu Odebiyi, described the alleged special treatment granted to some Nigerian companies to import and export goods across the borders as unfair.
Odebiyi, who spoke to journalists in Abuja, insisted that Chapter 4, section 42 of the Constitution, granted the right to freedom from discrimination to every citizen, while urging the Federal Government to develop a comprehensive policy based on objective criteria to enable other deserving businesses to apply for similar waivers.
The lawmaker, who has been fighting for the reconsideration of the stringent border closure policy since August 2019 when the policy came into effect, objected to the “selective exemption” of certain companies from border closure when thousands of small businesses in his constituency had gone into extinction because of the land border policy.
He said: “It is in fact a breach of the law, as contained in Chapter 4 Section 42 (1) of the Constitution, which states that any law that gives preferential treatment to a particular individual, company or group is a breach of the law of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“If you are going to relax the policy, then it should be across the board. We have companies in Agbara in Ogun State that are adversely affected and nothing is being done to help them. I think it is not proper to give exemption to one company to the detriment of others. What will happen to the other companies most affected?
Also speaking to The Guardian, the President, the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Lucky Amiwero, noted that the exemption of the three companies contravene Section 42, 1b of Nigeria’s Constitution.
He said the government’s action is not in line with the free trade agreement and not in the best interest of the economy.Also speaking to The Guardian, the immediate past President of the Merchant Navy Senior Staff Association, Matthew Alalade, urged the Federal Government to have a rethink, and open the borders to all genuine businesses.
“All companies pay taxes and comply with Government regulation and policies, why should only a few be given exemption to the land border trade? The Federal Government is being unfair by giving these people waivers, why not generally. Why is there a government exemption for few people, we are selecting people in a country that has many entrepreneurs and businesses.