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Border closure: “Benin, Niger haven’t met our conditions” – Lai

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On Monday, the Federal Government, via the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, said seizures made by security agents at the country’s land borders indicated that the republics of  Benin and Niger were not addressing issues that led to the border closure in the first instance.

He  explained that from the magnitude seizures made and the number of illegal immigrants  apprehended in the last two weeks, it was obvious that “nothing is being done yet by both countries – Benin and Niger – to address the challenges.”

Lai, stated this when he led a  government delegation to the Seme border on Monday.

Nigeria had in August closed its land borders,  saying smuggling of goods from its neighboring countries was hurting its economy.

On November 4, the Federal Government listed five conditions for the reopening of the country’s land borders.

As one of the conditions,  the Federal Government said Nigeria would not accept imported goods that were repackaged by neighboring countries and brought to Nigeria.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama,  during a meeting of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on the Temporary Partial Closure of Land Borders in Abuja, also said that the only travel document allowed for anybody coming into the country through the land borders is the passport, stressing that the country would not accept any other documents such as the identity card.

Mohammad said that since the border closure,  “local consumption of fuel had dropped by 30 percent apparently due to the reduction in smuggling of petroleum products to neighboring countries.

“The partial closure has so far curbed the smuggling of foreign rice into the country, in addition to other prohibited items. Our series of interactions and engagements with the Rice Miller Association of Nigeria since the commencement of this exercise has shown that the border closure has enhanced more production and milling of Nigerian rice.

“Patronage of Nigerian rice has increased and farmers are expanding their farms as well as engaging more hands. Furthermore, the border closure has impacted positively on revenue generation of the Federal Government which in turn will be used to build more infrastructure and develop critical sectors of the nation’s economy.

“The border exercise has also curbed diversion of petroleum products from Nigeria to neighboring countries”, he explained.

Among those in the government team was the foreign affairs minister,  Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola; Minister of State (Finance, Budget, and National Planning), Clement Agba; National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, and the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Immigration Service, Muhammed Babandede.

Mohammed also put the estimated value of all the seized items at about N3.5bn billion. He said, “As we speak, we have ships loaded with rice waiting to be discharged (in Benin) and the target market is Nigeria (for Christmas). We have MV Africana Jacana with 40,000 metric tons of rice, MV Zilos with 20,000 mts and MV Sam Jarguar with 45,000 MTS and others.

Benin, Niger not addressing our complaints – FG

“The magnitude of seizures and the number of illegal immigrants recorded in the last two weeks alone indicate that nothing is being done yet by both countries, the Benin and Niger, to address the challenges.

Benin’s $30m rice import will end up in Nigeria – Minister

“In addition, Benin (Republic) has concluded arrangements to get rice to the tune of $30m. This is a country with just 12 million people, it is clear that this rice will end up in Nigeria.

“In the area of security, the ongoing exercise has recorded a number of seizures and arrests that would have had grave security consequences. So far, 296 illegal immigrants have been arrested. Also, some items seized include; 38,743-50kg bags of parboiled foreign rice; 514 vehicles; 1,012 drums filled with PMS; 5,400 jerrycans of vegetable oil; 346 motorcycles; 10, 553 jerrycans of PMS and 136 bags of NPK fertilizer used for making explosives. The estimated value of the apprehended items is about N3.5 billion.

“Over time, Nigeria has been confronted with numerous trans-border economic and security challenges. These challenges range from banditry, kidnapping, smuggling, illegal migrants to proliferation of light weapons, amongst others.

“Meanwhile, the preference for foreign goods, especially food items like rice, has continuously impoverished our farmers and adversely affected domestic government policies supporting the agricultural sector to enhance food security.

W’African countries violate ECOWAS protocol

“It is, however, disturbing that some neighboring countries circumvent the ECOWAS protocol on transit. For clarity, the ECOWAS protocol on transit demands that when a transit container berths at a seaport, the receiving country is mandated to escort the same without tampering with the seal to the border of the destination country.

“Unfortunately, experience has shown that our neighbors do not comply with this protocol. Rather, they break the seals of containers at their ports and trans-load goods destined for Nigeria.”

95% illicit drugs, weapons come through land borders

“It is important to note that 95 percent of illicit drugs and weapons that are being used for acts of terrorism and kidnapping in Nigeria today come in through our porous borders. However, since this partial closure, the acts have been drastically reduced. Our conclusion is that the arms and ammunition these terrorists and criminal elements were using no longer gain access to the country. In addition, the drugs which affect the health and the wellbeing of Nigerians have equally been reduced.”

The government also explained that it would continue to use diplomatic channels to continue engaging its neighbors to agree to comply with the ECOWAS protocol on transit.

Mohammed said, “Goods that are on the prohibition list to Nigeria, such as rice, used clothing, poultry products, and vegetable oil should not be exported to the country. As a result of this closure, Niger Republic has already circulated an order banning the exportation of rice in any form to Nigeria.

“In addition, the National Assembly has supported the executive directive on the border closure and the efforts of security agencies in executing the task.”

Fishermen protest, lose N5bn to border closure

Meanwhile, a group of businessmen,  under the aegis of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents and Coconut/ Fish Farmers Union, on Monday at Seme border protested the closure of the nation’s borders by the Federal Government, saying it had impacted negatively on their business.

The protest occurred during the visit by the Federal Government delegation to the area.

While protesting the seizure of their goods, which had been paid for before the border closure, they said it was wrong of government agencies to seize coconuts and fishes harvested in Nigeria with the notion that they were not got from Nigeria.

The protesters carried placards with inscriptions such as “Nigeria is a signatory to ECOWAS trade liberation. Why closing the border for importing legitimate goods?”; “Mr. President, we borrowed money from banks, our goods are perishing. We are in debt”, “Mr. President, our duty-paid coconuts from Ghana are trapped and destroyed. Locally produced ones not allowed into our market”, and “The land borders are places of livelihoods. Closing it amounts to creating unemployment and killing people’s businesses.”

The Chairman of the ANLCA Tax Force, Samuel Igbowu, told journalists that they had lost an estimate of over N5 billion since the closure of the border.

He said, “We are here to show our displeasure over what is happening, if you look back, you will see a lot of trucks parked; they are carrying imported goods and those goods have been paid for, duties have been paid. We have lost an estimate of over N5billion since the closure of the borders.

“They have been trapped here for over three months now, they did not allow them to go in. Most of us got loans from the bank to import and up till now, the goods are not allowed to go in, we cannot sell and we cannot return the money we borrowed.

“So, we are here to show our displeasure and plead with the government to allow those that have already paid duty on to go in. We have paid the normal customs duty and we have all the documents processed.

“A single truck here paid over N4 million as customs duty and we have over 900 trucks. We are pleading to the government to please allow those that have paid duty to go in and deliver to our warehouses. We are losing money day in day out. Bank loan was there and interest is accumulating on a daily basis.”

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Commerce

Finance Act: Rich Nigerians will Pay More Taxes – FIRS

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On Saturday, the Federal Inland Revenue Service announced that the implementation of the Finance Act would result in more tax burden on the elite.

In a statement, the service mentioned that Nigeria was on the threshold of a new, transparent, accountable and fair tax regime in which those making more from the system would pay a more equitable share of their income as tax.

The statement said a tax expert, Mr Taiwo Oyedele, in his presentation titled ‘Strategies for implementing the new VAT regime’ said the new 7.5 per cent VAT would not impact negatively on poor Nigerians.

He said the rich would pay more, unlike in the past.

Oyedele said the key to building a fair, equitable tax system was through transparency, accountability, integrity and objectivity.

According to him,  this will help build confidence in taxpayers.

The statement said at the end of the retreat, and the FIRS 2020 Corporate Plan was unveiled.

The  FIRS new organisational structure approved by the board was also unveiled.

Presenting the new structure, Executive Chairman, FIRS, Mr Muhammad Nami,  said many positions in the organisation were vacant and open to the FIRS officials.

He urged them to distinguish themselves by meeting their collection targets.

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Commerce

2020 Finance Bill: No TIN, No Bank Account – FIRS

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On Monday, Head, Communications and Servicom Department, Federal Inland Revenue Service, Mr Wahab Gbadamosi, said the night that the implementation date would be at the date the Act stipulated it commence.

He said, “The implementation date will be at the date the act stipulates it to commence.

“In any case, the provision has always been part of the FIRS Act that any person who does not have the Tax Identification  Number should not be allowed to open a bank account.”

A top official of government told one of our correspondents that over the years, the rate of compliance with the no TIN no account opening provision of the law among banks had been low.

“The problem we have is that banks are not complying with that provision. We have written to them, but the rate of compliance has not been too effective,” the official who preferred not to be named said.

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Business

CBN Distributes N611.5bn to Farmers

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As of the end of November 2019, a total amount of N611.5bn has been disbursed to farmers under the Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme from inception in 2009.

The Central Bank of Nigeria disclosed this in its November 2019 economic report

Part of the report read, “In November 2019, the sum of N1.07bn was disbursed to three projects under the Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme. Thus, the total amount released to the economy, under the scheme from inception in 2009 to date, stood at N611.50bn in respect of 596 projects.

“In November 2019, 62 projects repaid the sum of N8.15bn, of which payment by 59 projects were steady repayments, while three projects were full repayments.

“The repayments brought the cumulative repayment under CACS from inception in 2009 to N384.41bn.”

An analysis of the number of projects financed under the CACS by value chain indicated that of the 596 CACS sponsored projects, production accounted for 61.6 per cent and dominated the activities funded, while processing accounted for 27.7 per cent.

These were followed by storage, input supplies and marketing, which accounted for 4.7 per cent, 3.3 per cent and 2.7 per cent, respectively.

The CBN said the Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme guaranteed a total of N388.22m to 2,125 farmers in November 2019.

The amount represented a decrease of 0.5 per cent and 5.3 per cent below the levels in the preceding month and the corresponding period of 2018, respectively.

The sub-sectoral analysis showed that food crops obtained the largest share of N182.55m (47.0 per cent) guaranteed to 1,127 beneficiaries, followed by livestock sub-sector at N84.36m (21.7 per cent) guaranteed to 351 beneficiaries; and cash crops at N36.07m  (9.3 per cent) guaranteed to 177 recipients.

Fisheries, mixed crops, and ‘others’ obtained N34.39m (8.9 per cent), N31.91m (8.2 per cent) and N18.95m (4.9 per cent) guaranteed to 103, 279 and 88 beneficiaries, respectively.

Analyses by states showed that 28 states, including the FCT, benefited from the scheme in November 2019, with the highest and lowest sums of N67.49m (17.4 per cent) and N1.24m (0.3 per cent) guaranteed to Ogun and Jigawa states, respectively.

“The predominant agricultural activities in November 2019 were harvesting of grains, legumes, and tubers across the country. In the livestock sub-sector, farmers intensified their activities in preparation for the expected end of year bumper sales. The end period headline inflation, on year-on-year and twelve-month moving average bases was 11.85 per cent and 11.35 per cent, respectively, in November 2019,” the bank stated.

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Business

Pension Funds Value Reducing Per Increase in Inflation – Ex PenCom DG

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Operators have been urged to introduce measures to reduce the effect of inflation on workers’ pension contributions by the Director-General, National Pension Commission, Mr Muhammad Ahmad.

He said this while making a presentation on ‘The pension industry – the way forward’.

Ahmad said, “There is a need to ensure that contributors and retirees do not suffer unduly for the depreciation of the naira over the years.

“For instance, in 2012, one dollar exchanged for an average of N170. Today, one dollar exchanges for an average of N360. What this means is that the pension contributors have had the value of their contributions eroded by over 100 per cent in that period of no fault of yours or the fund managers.”

Ahmad, who is also the chairman of Polaris Bank, said the Federal Government needed to prioritise the payment of accrued rights of retirees.

Although the government had been religiously paying the monthly pension contributions based on the old rates, he said it had not been able to meet up with the adequate and regular payment of accrued pension rights.

He observed that this was causing untold hardship and pain to many who had been waiting for years for their Retirement Savings Accounts to be funded appropriately.

“This is non-negotiable, and we should constantly bring this up at every opportunity until the government funds these accrued rights,” Ahmad said.

Although the National Pension Commission had been statutorily empowered by the Pension Reform Act 2014 to direct the Accountant General of the Federation to deduct at source unpaid accrued pension rights, he said that the power had never been exercised because of political constraints.

The continued success of the pension industry would largely be hinged on the ability of the employers to honour their obligations as and when due, he said.

Ahmad said that in the recent past, members of the National Assembly had assisted in getting the government to accelerate the payment of arrears of accrued pension rights.

He mentioned that it would appear another tier of unpaid obligations had been built, and the industry would once again require the collective efforts of all stakeholders for timely payment of the accrued rights.

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