The two heads of state met face-to-face on January 19 to discuss the partial reopening of the border between Benin and Nigeria.
Patrice Talon made a proposal to Muhammadu Buhari to install Nigerian customs police at Benin’s port. Buhari in turn expressed his displeasure at the return of smuggling across the border.
On January 19, Talon and Muhammadu Buhari met behind closed doors at the Presidential Palace in Abuja. It was the first time the two heads of state exchanged views since Nigeria announced on December 16 that it would reopen its land borders with Benin, Niger, Chad and Cameroon after 16 months of closure.
For this working visit, organized at the initiative of Cotonou, the President of Benin had made the trip to Abuja accompanied by a delegation including his Minister of Foreign Affairs, Aurélien Agbénonci, and his Minister of Finance, Romuald Wadagni.
Welcomed at the Nmamdi Azikiwe International Airport by the Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, Patrice Talon and his delegation then went to the Presidential Villa at Aso Rock, where a meeting was first held with all ministers and advisers present.
According to our information, the President of Benin has submitted a draft agreement to his counterpart, providing that Nigerian customs and police officers may be stationed in Benin, particularly at the Autonomous Port of Cotonou (PAC), in order to carry out the necessary controls on goods to be conveyed to Nigeria.
The proposal is thought to have been welcomed by Abuja. A working group has been set up between the authorities of the two countries to resolve the regulatory issues that should enable the implementation of this system. The objective is to have it effectively in place by June 1 next.
The Nigerian President reaffirmed on this occasion that he was not opposed to the transit of goods, and pledged that it would be possible again as soon as possible.
Discontent at the Rock
Patrice Talon then spoke one-on-one with Muhammadu Buhari. The latter expressed his dissatisfaction with the extent of smuggling between the two countries.
A source in the Nigerian presidency says Buhari was concerned about the increase in smuggling since the partial reopening of the border between the two countries, and that it is the second time Buhari has been forced to speak to Talon directly on the subject.
After the meeting with the Nigerian authorities, the Benin delegation stayed several hours in Abuja, where, within the embassy, it held a series of meetings with Nigerian economic actors, including businessman Aliko Dangote. The latter, who had previously campaigned for the closure of borders with Benin, had called on Muhammadu Buhari to reverse the decision.
In August 2019, Nigeria announced the closure of its land borders without prior notice to the authorities of its neighbours. The announcement of the reopening of these borders has not translated into a real resumption of goods traffic between the two countries.