By Fortune Abang
Abuja, – The Benin Republic Ambassador to Nigeria, Mrs Paulette Yekpe, has said that the proposed tripartite meeting by Nigeria, Niger and her country, will establish a framework to address rice smuggling.
Yekpe said this while briefing Journalists on Monday in Abuja on sideline of activities marking the 58th Independence anniversary of the country.
She said that the smuggling of rice and other products posed a threat to the relationship between both countries.
The ambassador said that although ECOWAS protocol paved way for the free movement of citizens within the sub-region, more needed to be done through regional integration to tackle rice smuggling.
According to her, Nigeria and Benin have always worked together to beef up border security in the past.
She, therefore, expressed the determination to strengthen the collaboration between the two countries, to curb illegal rice smuggling into Nigeria.
‘‘Nigeria and Benin have historical ties with over 800 km of land borders; no matter the number of custom officers we put to man the place, our borders will always be porous.
‘‘Benin, Nigeria and Niger have decided to meet, based on what is happening these days when talking about rice smuggling.
‘‘When people come into our country because of ECOWAS, we cannot reject them; we have no right to; we have been fined for stopping them before for bringing rice in.
‘‘ECOWAS had fined us; what such people say is we are travelling to Niger and once they are somewhere in Bardi, they go to Kebbi, Kano and that is what it is.
‘‘So, we have decided to have a tripartite meeting with Niger, Nigeria and Benin to discuss and find a way to address rice smuggling.’’
She said although the date for the tripartite meeting had not been fixed, plans were underway to organise it to bring the issue of rice smuggling to the barest minimum.
She, however, urged the governments of the three countries to sensitise their citizens more about the dangers of smuggling, to keep people away from such acts.
In separate interview, Sen. Ita Enang, Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), said that Nigeria’s relationship with Benin needed to be deeper to tackle smuggling.
“We have been having problem in illegal trade in rice and other imported goods from Benin Republic.
‘‘I think it has been well conducted in a manner that does not dare us to say what will Nigeria do? It is rather caused by a few of our businessmen.
‘‘The government of Benin Republic has been interested in making sure that the kind of trade that goes on between the two countries is very great, because we are the best of neigbours.’’
He said that the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration would do all within ambit of the law to tackle smuggling, cross-border and transnational crimes.
He said that the porosity of borders between the two countries contributed to transnational crimes.
He assured Benin of the Federal Government’s support in terms of security, to tackle smuggling.