Border Closure By The Buhari Administration: A Harvest of Mixed Fortunes for Nigerian Businesses and Consumers By Dodoh Okafor
In August this year, the Nigerian government through the office of the National Security Adviser – ONSA- announced that the country’s border with Benin and the Niger Republic would remain partially closed until authorities in the neighbouring countries are able to demonstrate a serious commitment to fighting the menace of smuggling goods into Nigeria from the Seme and Idiroko (Nigeria’s border to the south) and several communities in the north sharing common boundary with Nigeria.
The initiative affected many entry and exit points into Nigeria across four geopolitical zones- namely- South West, South-South, North East and North West. The stricter effort at controlling the movement of goods across the border is an inter-agency initiative supervised by the ONSA with multi-level assistance from the Nigerian Immigration Service and the Customs Service. The move was initiated to curb the activities of rice smugglers and stop the frequency with which subsidized petrol from Nigeria finds its way to other countries through the nation’s porous borders.
There can be no serious argument against controlling movements of goods and people across one’s borders. US President Donald Trump is doing the same thing with the US border to the South West so it is believed that Nigeria has a good argument taking a second look at how goods from through its borders.
Already, there are reports of the country’s daily petrol consumption reducing by an estimated 11 million litres. If you do the maths, you will realize that at a going rate of N62.98 subsidy paid on every litre of fuel sold in Nigeria, the country was saving N690,800,000.00 (Six hundred and ninety million, eight hundred thousand naira) that would have gone into the importation of petrol consumed by foreign nationals. It gets more interesting when you appreciate the fact that this is just the amount we save daily. Imagine how much has been saved in the last one month and how much can be saved in the next one year should the government refuse to yield to pressure and stand firm in defence of the country’s economic interests.
With the borders closed, it means that a lesser amount of small arms (compared to what was obtainable in times past) can be shipped into the country from our smaller West African neighbors reputed to be the hubs of light weapons in Africa. According to an officer in the ONSA- Joseph Attah- who spoke to journalists earlier in the month, around a hundred illegal migrants and 33 smugglers have been arrested in the exercise nicknamed “operation border drill.”
Several items including bags of rice, fertilizers, vehicles, motorcycles, vegetable oil, frozen foods and several other goods intended for smuggling into the country were confiscated by security operatives across the borders. These items could have been shipped into Nigeria and sold in our markets with its attendant health and economic hazards.
The stricter efforts at controlling movements through the borders are also giving the country’s policymakers a better perspective on certain economic indices like daily fuel consumption, food security, our agro-capacity, and production volumes. At least economic planners and managers can work from the position of knowledge and not guesswork that is sure to produce errors.
Equally important in all of these from an economic perspective is the fact that revenue losses at the borders are now being curtailed. Importers are now required to pay their full import taxes and duties to the government. The implication here is that in addition to the national saving of over 600 million naira daily on fuel subsidy, it will even have the opportunity to earn more from import duties and fees.
There are also security angles to it. It has been reported severally that many of the criminals – terrorists, night marauders, arsonists, kidnappers, killer bandits and so many other categories of criminals causing mayhem and havoc to Nigerians are foreigners who invade the country through the borders, commit crimes and return to their countries before security agencies ever gets the opportunity to track them. With the borders closed, it is unlikely that too many of these criminal elements have been able to find their ways into the country as easily as they did in times past.
But there are issues the tighter control at the borders has also brought to the fore.
The Muhammadu Buhari led administration in Abuja has repeatedly claimed that the country has attained self-sufficiency in food production- especially rice. The president himself said as much during a January interview with Arise and Thisday team where he said inter alia “… I am sure you know that we virtually achieved food security…”
Well, the recent closure of the borders has exposed how dishonest that claim is: Nigeria is nowhere near achieving self-sufficiency in food production. Not with the surge in the price of rice- Nigeria’s most regular food whose price has jumped by almost 15% in the last one month alone. The prices of other food items like turkey, vegetable oil and several others have all surged higher in the days since it became more difficult to import goods into the country. Nigerians now have to pay more for food and with the current poverty and unemployment rates in the country, there is little dispute that more Nigerians than the 97 million earlier said to be living below the poverty line now go to bed on empty stomach. This is very bad and must concern the authorities.
The government obviously has been lying to Nigerians and this has been exposed. The bottom line is that the country needs to do more in terms of food production but until that is done, it does not make sense to summarily shut the borders to keep away food coming in from other lands. The poor people who now pay more for food should not be made to bear the brunt of policy failures and inconsistencies over the years.
There also are speculations that while the border closure is being strictly implemented in the south, things are a little relaxed at the wider northern borders. If these are proven to be true, it would be a very dangerous trend that must be stopped immediately. Whatever is going on at border A should also be replicated in border B. It does not make sense to stop smugglers at one end and allow a few persons to become rich through the smuggling of goods in another part of the country.
Another question to ask is: what long term policy or program does the government have in place to effectively manage the borders? It is obvious the borders cannot be closed forever. What happens when the borders are opened again? The contrabands will start flowing in once more? A better strategy is needed and it would involve transnational and inter-agencies corporation, a stronger political will and a better understanding of the thin line between economic patriotism and trans-border corporation. Nigeria- we must remember is still a member of the Economic Community of West Africa States- ECOWAS.
ECOWAS, as we know, promote open borders, regional trade, and prosperity through trans-border economic activities. Can Nigeria remain in ECOWAS and keep her borders closed? Nigeria recently signed the African Continental Free Trade Agreement and that means the country is bound to abide by the terms of the deal. Can this be done when the borders are sealed?
Then there is the question of genuine businessmen and women who travel through the borders for legitimate business transactions. How do the authorities in Nigeria rationalize the fact that people who paid to be transported through the borders by road suddenly found that they cannot cross through or into Nigeria? Isn’t better coordination with stakeholders such as transport companies, regional chambers of commerce and trade unions needed? Must everything be done in an ad hoc manner? Is the government allergic to planning?
There is a whole lot Nigeria has to do to integrate itself into the global economy. While the country cannot continue to afford to keep its borders open to all manner of criminal economic interests, it also cannot afford to isolate itself and carry on as an island.
Yes- import is still coming in through the seas and by air but what happens to imports from our West African neighbors where it is cheaper to bring in goods through the land borders? Shouldn’t these matters be considered before the implementation of any policy of the government- even on an ad hoc basis? This article would recommend a more holistic approach to the government as the country continues the delicate task of finding the right balance between protectionism and the reality of global trade.