Nigeria’s decision to close its common borders with its four neighbours, Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger is causing pain at home, admitted President Muhammadu Buhari who notwithstanding ruled out its immediate lifting.The border closure has caused scarcity of basic items, including frozen chicken, rice, fish, tomatoes, and others thus causing hike in prices, but authorities are singing palliative songs that after suffering comes smiling.
As the suffering continues, the West African giant is counting the gains.
It reports that the smuggling of petrol (PMS) is now in check, recording a drop in daily consumption by 30 percent.
It also reports that Nigerians have returned to farming, especially in rice production with the assurances that the country will be an exporter in two years instead of being an importer.
The Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) also reports a boost in revenue as smugglers have started patronising the ports.
Security operatives report a decline in the influx of small arms, crime and terrorism.
In spite of these reported gains, there is outrage that the policy is hurting the ordinary persons.
“We have received a lot of feedbacks from Nigerians. Talking to people from different parts of the country, they tell us very clearly this thing is hurting us, and food prices are going up,particularly rice,” Mr Ajuri Ngelale, Senior Special Assistant to President on Public Matters, confirms.
“We want our people to know that we understand it, that we are aware of it, and we are sensitive to it, but we are appealing to our people, we are absolutely appealing to our people to please be patient with us.
“When you look at the gains that have so far been obtained from August when the border closure went into effect, there is no doubt in anybody’s mind that this is the right thing for the country.”
He confirms that the customs has posted the highest rates of revenues, saying that smugglers have started patronising the ports.
“The situation ensures that we have the revenues we need to effectively develop our infrastructure and provide our social amenities like the social investment programmes.
“So we are asking our people please, just be patient with us, it is painful I know, but it is temporary.
“Ultimately we are going to get to the point where once we can create the demand for our local producers which we are now doing, we can have the rising competition which naturally will bring the prices down, so temporary pain for long term gain, please be patient with us”.
The pain is felt in faraway Ghana, a West African country that shares no border with Nigeria.
As Accra appeals to Nigeria to re-open its borders, it is threatening to freeze further trade with the continent’s Number 1 economy.
The situation has degenerated to the extent that Ghanaian are attacking Nigerian traders
The Chairman of the commission, Mrs Abike Dabiri-Erewa, said the attacks on Nigerian shops and traders were unfortunate but begged Nigerians against retaliation.
As the crisis fester, Nigeria issued some demands to its neighbours, including the stoppage of the influx of imported goods into the country and that those countries must adhere to ECOWAS protocol of the free movement of peoples and goods.
Ghana reported that the closure of the border was affecting its trade as international trade remain key to improving its foreign exchange, seeking intervention from the regional grouping.
Nigerian officials met with their Ghanaian counterparts on November 8 and November 9, 2019 to discuss the issue, where Abuja decided that some of the countries were doing enough to meet the conditions set for it to reopen the borders.
Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Geoffrey Onyeama, had issued five conditions to that effect, including non-acceptance of imported repackaged goods.
He insisted Nigeria’s neighbours must respect the Economic Community of West African States’ ‘rules of origin’ if they must bring goods into the country.
The conditions have been presented to Benin and Niger Republics particularly.
Nigeria warned on December 3, 2019 that there was no fixed date to reopen the borders that were shut on August 20, 2019 after repeated warnings.
President Buhari at a meeting with Katsina State Elders Forum, expressed satisfaction with Niger Republic’s move to meet the conditions.
He warned that Nigeria should not be used as a dumping ground for imported and smuggled goods and that the only condition for the lifting of the sanction would be when the runaddressed issues over the closure are resolved.
Assessing the situation in Niger which shares a border with Katsina, he commended the actions taken so far by President Muhammadou Youssoufou to ban the use of his country as a dumping ground for Nigeria-bound smuggled goods, but came down heavily on Benin.
Nigeria accused Cotonou of being recalcitrant in its importation of prohibited goods for their ultimate dumping into Nigerian markets in spite of the partial border closure.
Amplifying Buhari’s stand, Information and Culture minister Lai Mohammed, said the number of seizures that have been made in Benin border do not show that the country was in a hurry to comply with Nigeria’s demands.
“As we speak today, there are three ships heading toward the Benin Republic laden with about 105,000 metric tons of rice. This is a country of about 12 million people. That rice is meant for the ultimate consumption of Nigerians.
“In addition, Benin Republic just negotiated with Japan to receive rice worth $30 million. It is clear that the ultimate destination of the rice will be Nigeria and that is why we are appealing to our neighbours.”
As the accusations rage, more supports have continued to pour for Nigeria’s decision not to reopen the borders in a hurry.
The latest among the supporters are the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA), the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), the Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN) and the ECOWAS Parliament.
Mr Timothy Olawale, the Director-General of NECA, advised the government to take a holistic appraisal of the fundamentals that led to the closure before contemplating any further action.
“If the borders are safe and government enforces the bilateral and multilateral agreements it had signed with other countries, there will be no need to close the borders.
“Efforts should be stepped up to equip the customs to live up to their responsibilities of protecting the borders and nip smuggling in the bud, ” he says.
Mr Femi Oke, of AFAN in Lagos, says the action is good for development and explained that the closure had motivated farmers to carry out more production to meet the increasing demands. ensure food security and Involve more people in farming.
“We are now coming to realise that it is very necessary for us to go back to agriculture.”
The immediate past chairman of the Poultry Association of Nigeria in Plateau state, Mr John Dasar, indicates that the measure has started boosting poultry farming.
“The closure of our borders will enable Nigerians to consume what poultry farmers produce locally” he adds.
At the second ordinary session of the ECOWAS Parliament in Abuja on December 4, 2019, Mr Ahmed Wase, first Deputy Speaker, reported that Nigeria has started reaping the fruits of its border closure.
“Nigeria has started seeing some changes in terms of security advantages. Before the borders were closed, terrorist-groups concealed their arms inside rice but the border closure has improved that security challenge,” he pointed out.
Mr Sadiq Ibrahim, who presented Nigeria’s report said ECOWAS has adopted Nigeria’s position on the border closure.
He said that Nigeria will not open its borders until its neighbours are ready to comply fully with the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS) which was put in place in 1976.
The position of Abuja suggests that Benin’s recalcitrance can cause a deterioration in relations.