Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, (SAN) has urged the federal government to “urgently dialogue with Nigeria’s neighbouring countries to jointly fight the menace of smuggling which necessitated the closure of Nigeria’s borders.
Delivering a paper at the annual conference of the ECOWAS court of justice in Accra, Ghana, the senior lawyer said the border closure is inconsistent with the letter and spirit of ECOWAS protocol on free movement of persons, residence and establishment and the African Continental Free Trade Agreement.
He described the International Monetary Fund’s support for the development as a deliberate design to weaken ECOWAS regional integration agenda.
“The borders should be reopened without any further delay as it cannot be sustained for too long without serious repercussions for the Nigerian economy,” he said.
“The neighbouring countries may retaliate by imposing a ban on goods being exported from Nigeria by air. They may also close down Nigerian banks and other businesses operating in other member states of the ECOWAS.
“Instead of resorting to the unilateral closure of borders the federal government should drag the Republics of Benin and Niger to the Court of Justice of the ECOWAS for breaching the ECOWAS Protocol by allegedly encouraging the smuggling of petrol, rice and other products. In the alternative, smuggling should be addressed like terrorism which is being jointly combated by Nigeria and her neighbours.”
Falana accused the federal government of punishing law-abiding corporate bodies and citizens because of the “criminal activities of a few trans-border smugglers”.
“The federal government should expose the smugglers by arresting and prosecuting them. The smugglers in Nigeria and the neighbouring countries are well known by the security agencies. Without official connivance the crime of smuggling cannot thrive in the region,” he said.
“Apart from monitoring the borders with technology the federal government should take advantage of the ECOWAS Protocol Relating to the Re-exportation within ECOWAS of goods imported from third countries. Under the Protocol Benin, Togo and Ghana are only entitled to charge administrative fees in respect of goods whose destination is Nigeria.
“I commend the ECOWAS Court for protecting the human rights of community citizens. But member states should desist from disregarding the judgments and orders of the Court. Other leaders should emulate President Nana Akuffo-Addo who has ordered the Attorney- General and Minister of Ghana to ensure compliance with all decisions of the Court. The ECOWAS Commission should ensure that sanctions are imposed on recalcitrant member states in line with the ECOWAS Revised Treaty and the Protocol of the Community Court.”