After nearly four years of shutting Nigeria’s land borders, the Federal Government has finally thrown the gates open. ONYEKORMAKA ASABOR writes on the effect of the closure and opening
In August 2019, the Nigerian government closed the country’s land borders. President Muhammadu Buhari explained that the closure was to prevent the smuggling of rice and other food items into the country, which he claimed was eating into scare foreign exchange and discouraging local production.
The government also told the citizens that it wanted to encourage Nigerians to purchase locally-produced food, especially rice, as a way of empowering indigenous farmers.
With the closure, the government hoped to curb illegal supply of weapons into the country.
Not just another closure
Although, Nigeria has a history of border closures, the last one is unique, as it affected all of its neighbours and came at a crucial time African countries were trying to remove border restrictions. The implications of the border closure were far-reaching, not only for the West Africa sub-region but also for wider regional integration on the continent.
The need to close the borders, no doubt was exigent given the fact that there was need to diversify the economy amid an oil price slump, hence the pressure for the “Buy Nigerian” campaign.
In December 2020, the government partially opened the land border at Seme, Illela, Maigatari and Mfun due to the Coronavirus Disease.
Again, last month, the Nigeria Customs Service, in a circular signed by the Deputy Comptroller-General, Enforcement and Inspection, Elton Edorhe, directed the immediate reopening of the other four land borders, namely Idiroko, Jibiya, Kamba and Ikom.
The development elicited mixed reactions. While some industry stakeholders gave kudos to the government for the reopening, others said the closing, in the first place, did not achieve anything positive.
In his reaction to what not few Nigerians, particularly economic watchers and stakeholders, have come to describe as retrogressive development, the Chairman, Board of Trustees, Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents, Taiwo Mustapha, commended the Federal Government for the gesture. He noted, however, that the reopening took longer than was necessary in the face of the importance of the land borders to national, regional and international trade.
He stated: “It is good that the Federal Government has finally agreed to reopen the remaining land borders. Land borders are essential corridors in the global trade, and their closure, in the first instance, was a bit hasty, since African states complained that they were not consulted.
“We cannot fight smuggling by fire brigade approach, but l think the Nigeria Customs Service tried hard to add value to government’s argument by erecting additional anti-smuggling measures. Under the circumstances the Customs found itself, l think they made effort to make the closure meaningful, going by seizures they said they made during the period.”
In the same vein, Dan Katsina, a customs broker and ship agent, said the reopening was political; to enhance the electoral chances of the ruling All Progressives Congress with alien-aided votes.
The APC, he asserted, has lost its entire goodwill in the country, and realising that even Northern Nigerians will not give it votes, it resorted to reopening the land border, as a fallback.
His words: “Did closure of those land borders achieve anything, even stoppage of illegal migrants into the country? Did it stop smuggling, cross-border attacks or bandits having a field day? Did it improve on the economy or the security of towns along the border communities? All the above situations persisted when the border was closed, mostly from the northern border stations.
“Closing of the border, in the first place, was not a good one; it created some illegal millionaires overnight and made some law-abiding citizens poorer, because the means of their livelihood was suddenly taken away by that unpopular government policy that didn’t impact anything positive on the citizens.”
According to him, since many Nigerians loathe the ruling party because of its unpopular policies, there is the unscrupulous need to galvanise foreigners for voting next year; hence the opening of the borders for them to come and register.
“Tell me what has improved on those land borders during the closure? My thinking is that elections is coming they want to swing the votes by throwing the border open before the election date, so it will not look like it’s because of election they opened the borders.
“On the election day proper, they will close the border back just to say Nigeria has closed her borders because they are conducting election. Who is fooling who?” he added.
On his part, Dr Eugene Nweke, another stakeholder in the industry, doubted if some of the land borders were closed at all, and if government could effectively close the borders.
“From where has the area comptrollers of the reopened borders been declaring revenue and making regular seizures, either as import or export activities? Were the borders partially or fully closed? Nigerians and critical stakeholders are still trying to reconcile whether the pronouncement on border closure actually achieved its set objectives.
“The economic and social impact of the border closure tilts more to the negative. It is on the news that, within same period, ironically the CFA appreciated over the naira.”
Experts were unanimous that the reopening of the four remaining land borders of Idiroko in Ogun, Jibiya in Katsina, Kamba in Kebbi and Ikom in Cross River, as announced by NCS on Friday, April 22, 2022, would not lead to devastating implication.
Tim Iweru, an economist, said, “An open border facilitates the free movement of nationals that share the same border, particularly as it concerns goods of consumeristic value, as long as there is no restriction of movement of such goods.
According to him, “Since what necessitated the closure of the land borders was increase in high traffic of illegal importation of drugs, small arms and agricultural products into Nigeria from neighboring West African countries, and which have being adjudged to have being ameliorated, the government can go ahead and open the borders as it is not an aberration from the standpoint of the principles of international relations.”
Iweru said the opening of the borders, instead of ruining the economy, would rather help bolster trade partnerships with other African countries, thereby facilitating its commitment to the Africa Continental Free Trade Area.
He recalled that AfCFTA is a trade agreement between African Union member states to create “a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of persons and investments,” saying it is even more injurious to keep the borders closed.
Approval for the reopening of the borders would further increase the movement of Nigeria’s import-export transactions with other African countries in the face of political realities such as the Russia-Ukraine war, he said.
Going by the statistical insight provided by PricewaterhouseCoopers, SMEs contribute 48 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product and account for 96 per cent of businesses and 84 per cent of employment in Nigeria.
Against the foregoing, Emeka Dumme, a businessman, said, with the opening, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, which majorly thrive within border communities, and negatively impacted by the closure, would once again breathe fresh air.
Experts were unanimous that the land borders contribute a great deal to the sector’s ease of doing business, and that opening them would ease the burden and cost of transporting goods for businesses in states without inland dry ports.
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