By Francis Ogwo
The spate of smuggling of arms and drugs across the Nigeria-Benin Republic border has been brought to the fire as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyema, on Thursday, met with his Benin Republic counterpart, Aurelien Agbenonci to discuss the development.
Speaking to journalists after the closed- door meeting, Onyema said both countries would come up with a treaty to address their mutual challenge after they had briefed the presidents of both nations.
Onyema stated, “The meeting we just had was a follow up to the meeting that President Muhammadu Buhari and his brother, Patrice Talon of Benin, had a few weeks back. We want to have an agreement between our two countries that will put any issue of smuggling or whatever it is behind us once and for all.
“So, President Buhari charged us to come together at the ministerial level first of all to work out a framework for a sustainable relationship. You know the President of Benin said that they are concerned; they are not just saying it, that Benin should be a 37th state of Nigeria. We should really be one.
“We will look into all these and we’re going to report to the two presidents. We more or less agree on a mechanism where Nigeria’s intelligence, security and Customs will together with their Beninoise counterparts be able to monitor the borders and ports in Benin to ensure that we don’t have smuggling of small arms and light weapons and drugs.”
The Minister further stated that a committee to be set up after the reports to the two presidents would then be expanded to include the Nigeria Customs Service, Nigeria Immigration Service, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency and others.
He noted that a treaty that would govern this new arrangement between the two countries would be signed to provide a common economic space between Benin and Nigeria.
Also in attendance at the meeting was the Beninoise ministers of finance, trade and interior, and Nigeria’s ministers of interior, industry, trade and investment and representatives of the NIS.
Recall that the border between Nigeria and Benin republic had been reported as porous to smugglers of drugs, arms and food items among other banned commodities.
This led to its closure for over a year amid wide reactions from other ECOWAS member countries as contrary to the sub- continent’s bilateral trade deals.
The border was recently reopened but with a ban on some commodities by the Nigerian Government