Monday, 30 November 2015

Cotonou as Nigeria's biggest port

“I work at Nigeria’s largest seaport.”

“Really, congrats. Apapa Port is really a nice place to work.”

“Maybe it is but I’m not talking about Apapa Port. I don’t work in Nigeria neither am I a Nigerian.”

“No?”

“I work at Le Port Autonome de Cotonou or what you people call in English Autonomous Port of Cotonou (APC).”

“Really? APC is also the ruling party in Nigeria.”

“I suppose they like our own APC because they make policies that favour us and push cargoes to our ports.”

“But the policies were made by the past administration.”

“Yes they were, but the APC government has retained them. Isn’t that a sign of love for us? Even our President Boni Yayi has described our country as Nigeria’s 37th state.”

“It is amazing really. I’m beginning to buy your argument. Otherwise why will a government watch as all the vehicles coming into its country are discharged in the port of another country and then smuggled in by night while security agencies look the other way.”

“You don’t know the full story. Our President hosted a party recently at Porto Novo to celebrate our economic boom which resulted from the increased activities at our port. Since your government decided to increase the import tariff on cars from 20% to 70% last year, our port has been booming. At present, more than 70% of the cars used by Nigerians are imported through our port because our own import duty here is a mere 10%. We have been able to employ a lot more of our youths and unemployment rate is less than three percent.”

“Really? More than 50% of the youths in my country are unemployed!”

“I know. And your ports are even sacking workers.”

“Na so.”

“Ah ah! You speak pidgin English.”

“My customers are Nigerians so I learn their language. No wahala.”

“Na wah o.”

“Did you know also that chicken and rice – the most popular pairing in Nigerian cuisine – find their way into your country from our port? I really love your government because they create a lot of jobs for us. After all we don’t have oil which your country has in abundance. And you guys are good at wasting resources so we benefit from your excesses.”

“Tell me about this rice and chicken business.”

“It is interesting but I like it. You know poultry products are banned in your country. So what we do is allow it enter our own country at five percent import duty. We know your borders are porous so with a little bit of support from our end, the products all find their way into your country. Just go and check your markets. How did all those frozen chicken and turkey, which are not allowed through your ports, get there?”

“But our Customs said they’re winning the fight against smuggling of poultry products.”

“Only on the pages of newspapers. Your ban on frozen poultry products is making the chicken-smuggling business fly. Look, just 20% of the chicken Nigerians eat comes from Nigeria. The rest come from our port and sneaks over the border onto your shelves.”

“This is very disturbing. Tiny Benin Republic, with a total population that is about half of Lagos State imports as much rice as China and nearly as much frozen chicken as the whole of U.K.”

“We’re importing them for Nigeria. Not for us.”

“I am sure this APC will do something about it very soon.”

“Will the APC of Nigeria undo the APC of Benin Republic? E no go happen. And I’m sure you know the story of textiles too. It is similar to the vehicle, rice, chicken and turkey story.”

“Your country is not a good neighbour. You’re destroying our economy. You’re saboteurs. We must shut our borders until you repent.”

“You tried that before. Remember your former President Obasanjo did exactly that in August 2003? The closure did not last more than a week.”

“Yes I remember. Obasanjo took the action because he wanted your then President Mathew Kerekou to handover the cross-border bandit, Ammani Tijjanni to Nigeria.”

“Exactly. You might also remember that more Nigerians cried over the border closure than Benenoise.”

“I think we are our own problem. Those who do the smuggling are mostly Nigerians.”

“Exactly my point. We merely handle the goods at our port but those who move them from Cotonou by trucks across the border are mostly Nigerians.”

“I believe our APC government will do something about these policies that promote smuggling. We now have noisemakers – I beg your pardon, I meant to say Ministers. Now that we have Ministers in place, all these smuggler-friendly policies will be reversed.”

“I don’t think so because we have already contracted some of your miracle-manufacturing prophets to pray earnestly against any such move.”

“I heard that even the man behind our controversial cargo tracking note is from your country.”

“Is that news to you? That is story for another day.”

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