ON NIGERIAN STREETS, BUS STOPS, NEWSPAPERS STAND, MARKETS, and in other common places where people gather, one item making waves, presently, on the lips of Nigerians is the closure of Nigerian Land Borders, and the attendant effects on the citizens. There is hardly anyone you come across, that is not complaining loud about the situation. Rising inflation is spreading in the economy as a result.
For Nigerians, government’s option to, indefinitely, close its land border have been frightful. They have been asked by government to make do with indigenous items or materials produced locally – such as rice, chicken, amongst others. What this means is that, if they must eat food items, such as rice and chicken produced outside the country, they must be imported ones through Nigerian Port. And they have to be ready to pay more.
The inalienable fact is that Nigerian government and producers of these items locally, do not have convincing data of what is being produced locally, as well as been able to, convincingly, state that their stock will sustain mass public demand of the items. What is the quantity of rice, presently, produced locally? What assurance is there of the availability to meet current and future demands of Nigerian consuming public? How long will it last? The same applies to the availability of chicken and other food items being restricted from coming into the country.
Nine out of every 10 people in the streets of Nigeria are already, presently, distressed, due to the likely economic and social implications and consequences of the border closure. If local supply cannot meet consumers demand, it is certain, that prices of the locally produced items would rise. Some see the situation as terrible times ahead. Where misery will be on rampage. And rising costs, low wages and unemployment will combine to unleash dreadful hardship on Nigerians.
Average Nigerians, today – employed and unemployed, rich and poor; their complaints are not about inability to make luxury trips to foreign lands on vacation. Or driving posh cars and living in dream complex. No. It is about food, food and food. No matter the quality, food is out of the reach of many Nigerians.
President Buhari’s government may not accept this reality. There seems to be plenty of food displayed in the markets. In reality, they are decorations to many. No money to purchase them from the shelf. Rising inflation, low earning power and unemployment are making Nigeria a terrible place to live. And government, appears, to be sustaining poverty, instead of working strategically and constructively hard to eradicate it.
Nigerian government sees the closure of its land border as strategic to its policy to encourage consumption of home-grown food; enhance revenue generation to government by Nigerian Customs Service; and combat smuggling of items it considered fake and substandard into the country that could expose the economy to harm.
Delegations from Nigerian Association for Chambers of Commerce, Industry Mines and Agriculture, NACCIMA; Federation of West African Chambers of Commerce and Industry, FEWACCI; and representatives of the Organised Private Sector, OPS; visited President Buhari on September 20, 2019. The president told them that the decision to close Nigeria’s land borders for unspecified period was yielding positive result.
Buhari told his audience: “After many years of diplomacy and aggressive regulatory oversight which yielded few results, we decided to close our land borders for a limited time to assess the impact of this measure,”’ according to Femi Adesina, Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, statement, on the visit of the delegations to the president.
“Within a few short weeks, we are already seeing a decline in the volumes of counterfeit smuggled goods in some of our major markets across the country. This validates our action as a government when we insist that the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, AfCFTA, must not only promote free trade, but legal trade of quality made in Africa goods and services,” Buhari added.
Nigerian Senate, shocked by the land borders closure, deliberated on it, September 25, 2019. Senators Enyinnaya Abaribe, Minority Leader; Abba Moro, former Minister of Interior; Gabriel Suswan, former Governor of Benue State; and Sani Musa, amongst other senators, opposed the border closure.
Abba Moro observed that Nigeria has 87 official borders and 1,900 unofficial borders. How many of these borders will Nigeria government be able to meticulously close? Suswan wondered why Nigeria signed trade agreements with other countries, thereafter closed its borders against them.
Abaribe said the implication of borders closure was that the Nigerian Customs Service; Nigeria Immigration Service; National Boundary Commission; and the military and security agencies failed in their responsibilities. Government, he said, should open discussions with neighbouring countries to control movement of unauthorised persons and goods in-and-out of the country.
Abaribe said smugglers of banned products, especially, rice, use commercial motorcycles in bringing the products through illegal routes. Continued closure of the borders would further put pressure and suffering on the nation.
After debate of the motion: “The impact of border closure on the Nigerian economy,” sponsored by Senator Adamu Aliero and eight others, Nigerian Senate resolved to support President Buhari’s decision. Senate President Ahmad Lawan said the motion was on the need to save the nation’s economy and save the people.
Economist and policy analysts faulted government’s supposed concerns for the land border closure. Instead, they feel Nigerian Customs Service should be strengthened or reformed to carry out its statutory responsibility to adequately secure Nigerian land borders from illegal activities. Closure of Nigerian land border is not the panacea to strengthening or reforming Nigerian Customs Service to make it more efficient and effective.
Nigerian goods are also exported into neighbouring countries. Beverages produced by Nigerian multinational, such as Cadbury, Guinness, Nigerian Breweries, and Nestle Foods, amongst others. Would Nigeria allow its goods to be moved through the land borders to neighbouring countries, and prohibit goods from these countries into Nigeria market? What about other goods such plastics ware also exported from Nigeria.
Businesses across Nigeria-Benin border, for instance, comprise local manufacturers and petty traders. They serve West Africa sub-region markets. Which includes perishable consumer products such tomatoes, chicken, rice, among others. What becomes of these traders – good number of them carrying out legitimate small and medium scale businesses, as a consequence of government closure of its land borders?
Economist and policy analysts, predict huge losses that could run into billions of naira by petty traders and local manufacturers on Nigeria-Benin border and similar routes. Nigeria and Nigerians plying their trades on the routes would be unpleasantly affected.
Solutions to smuggling on Nigerian land borders, should not be by government’s sudden fiat and simplistic closure of the country’s land borders with its neighbours. It would involve more scientific and holistic models to be undertaken by professionals and experts. Nigerian Customs Service and its unpatriotic officers at Nigerian land borders are responsible for the continues thriving of smuggling at the borders.
Nigerian Importers, even at the Nigerian Ports, allege, that what has become frequent big haul, or seizures of contrabands by Nigerian Customs Service officials – brandished on television networks, are infractions from importers who refused to succumb to pressure to offer unhealthy unofficial demands to the authorities. Nigerian Customs Service authority needs to look inward and undertake house cleansing exercise of its bad eggs.
Of further concerns, also, is the present leadership of Nigerian Customs Service. President Buhari, from inception of his administration in May 29, 2015, placed the leadership of the customs service on the shoulders of a retired soldier, Hameed Ibrahim Ali. Nigerian Customs Service is a professional organisation, beyond soldiering, which operations require technical, professional and expertise input – not best to be delivered by a retired soldier.
Hameed Ibrahim Ali is a retired Nigerian Army Colonel, and, presently, Comptroller-General of Nigerian Customs Service. President Buhari appointed him to that position in August 2015. Experts believe reforming the customs service for more efficient and effective service delivery, and meet global best practices goes beyond the capacity of the present customs boss.