Regional trade and integration has remained part of Nigeria’s overarching strategy for economic transformation, growth and development. To this end, Nigeria adopted the establishment of Regional Trade Agreements (RTAs) with trade instruments such as the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme (ETLS) and the Common External Tariff (CET) at the West African regional level aimed at promoting intra-regional trade and free movement of goods, services and capital. The target was to maximize the benefits of integration, and particularly for increased productivity and the expansion of markets for the private sector.
However, at present, the ultimate benefits and opportunities of free trade for Nigeria are either eluding the country or not being maximized. This is attributable to frequent reports and allegations of bribery, intimidation and or harassment of traders, transporters and other private sector operators along the border routes. These cases of corruption involving various actors and security/law enforcement agencies including (other) border officials on the one hand and traders, transporters and clearing agents on the other hand constantly distort trade flows and inhibit overall benefit of free trade to Nigeria. In addition, unnecessary trade barriers created by non-transparent, burdensome rules and procedures which in turn constitute vulnerabilities, breed incentives to engage in corrupt behavior appears unstoppable. Similarly, unnecessary delays of movement of goods (sometimes perishable items) continues to increase the burden of losses to the operators, consumers as well as diminish revenue to government coffers while also increasing the cost of doing business.
The foregoing is antithetical to the anti-corruption creed and efforts of the present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. Similarly, it even negates efforts at pulling Nigeria out of present economic doldrums called recession. More so, corruption and other inhibitions and barriers create additional costs on goods and commodities, especially at a time when the present administration is fighting hard to reduce the cost of food items in the market. It further reduces the credibility, integrity and professionalism required of security and law enforcement agencies.
Therefore, in recognition and support to the war against corruption, and efforts at bringing sanity to the trade and economic environment, the National Association of Nigerian Traders – NANTS in collaboration with the German International Development Agency (GIZ) under the SEDIN programme organized a policy dialogue to strengthen the integrity of border controls, customs administration, and strike a balance between security of lives/property and free movement of goods, especially the present challenges of insecurity facing the nation. The dialogue also presented the Trade Related Incidents Mapping System (TRIMS) – an electronic platform for capturing and exposing sordid activities perpetuated by traders, transporters and law enforcement agencies along the trade routes.