Of necessity, in 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari made a bold move and ordered a partial closure of the Nigeria’s land borders prevent massive smuggling activities, especially of food items such as rice. By August 20, 2020, it will be exactly one year since the border closure.
At that time available data revealed that Nigeria’s neighbour, Benin Republic alone imported 1.2 million metric tons of rice annually while Cameroon imported 728,443 metric tons and Niger 135 metric tons. This figures stand more above the population of each of this countries.
Nigeria on the other hand imported 1.3 million metric tons in 2017 for a population of over 190 million people. Obviously for the neighbouring counties, this was quite larger than normal, an indication that there was indeed large tons of rice finding their way to Nigeria prior to border closure.
Experts warned that this importation trend posed serious threats to Nigeria’s domestic rice production. For example, statistics revealed that over 60 percent of Nigeria population depend on rice for daily food. This means that with the production and consumption of rice alone, Nigerian farmers will be empowered to be rich, thereby increasing the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Nigeria.
According to expert views, one of the most straightforward ways to combat smuggling would be to agree on a common ground of external tariff, which could help make re-exporting less profitable.
As the giant of Africa, many African countries look forward to building fruitful economic relations with Nigeria but would such relations be detrimental to Nigeria’s Economy? To many Nigerians, this is not a big puzzle.
One of the ECOWAS agreement on goods movement stipulates that goods which are coming into the member states must be containerized and taken through the border where they can be assessed and attested to ensure that they are not smuggled items. The border closure was therefore as a result of the failure of the neighbouring countries to adhere to this stipulation.
What has Nigeria Gained from the Border Closure?
Nigeria is not the only country to close its border against goods smuggling and importation of contraband products, global trends in border closure show that each time a border is closed, local country’s economy is negatively affected . Since the border closure, there has been the argument among of experts regarding its merits and demerits on the Nigerian economy. However, there are many gains to count.
According to the Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd), Customs Service was able to make between N4.7 billion to N5.8 billion daily more than it used to generate previously before the border closure. This is a sign that border closure is not altogether a bad idea, as many thought.
In a recent interview, Hameed Ali added “What we have discovered is that most of those cargoes that used to go to Benin Republic, shipped to Benin , and then discharged and smuggled into Nigeria, now that we have closed the border they are forced to bring their goods to either Apapa or Tin Can Island and we have to collect duty on them, as a matter of fact, our revenue has not reduced, it is increasing as a result of closing the border.”
Border closure has help to fight importation of contraband goods into Nigeria “We are able to completely block the influx of illicit goods, and most importantly, stopped the exportation of petroleum product which is the biggest problem we have;” Ali said. Similarly the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva affirmed that “there is a drop in fuel consumption by eight million liters a day.”
Sadly, most of the improvements in agricultural sector today in Nigeria could not be translated because neighbouring nations became hubs through which domestic goods were put out of place. Since the border closure, huge revenue from customs duties are being accrued into federation account.
“Border closures was a necessary step which help strengthen border security and promote local competitiveness in the long run, improve trade platforms and a steps towards self-sufficience”; said Uche Orji, CEO/Managing Director, Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority while delivering a keynote address at the 2019 Leadership Conference and Award in March.
Another advantage of border closure is its ability to stimulate competition among local manufacturing and thereby improve the quality and quantity of local . product. More so, it helps local production by making local goods comparable with the imported ones in terms of price. It also helps us to consume what we produce and produce what we consume .
According to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, the gains of the border closure include boosting domestic trade, job creation and enhancing Nigeria’s economic policies.
The Pains of Border Closure on Nigerians
To ordinary citizens in Nigeria, the understanding of good government policies and actions on them is to see more food on their tables. This can only be possible when they go to the market and be able to buy food stuff at affordable prices.
Although Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammad while defending the rationale behind border closure, encouraged Nigerians to look forward to the long term gains of the policy. He says “there is no gain without pain and Nigerians must endure the temporary effects of the border closure to reap the attendant benefits.”
However, there has been inflation for food items which account for roughly 60 per cent of the average Nigerian’s spending and the price of the most important staple, rice, has roughly doubled since the border was closed.
In a recent report, BBC found that border closure is affecting trade across the sub-region. The report disclosed that several goods were leading to waste of investment.
It pointed out that Nigeria’s neighbours are angry, saying the smuggling of rice mainly prompted the federal government’s action. The report identified the biggest contraband route to be between Cotonou and Lagos.
Worsened by the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic, the Federal Government on March 26 ordered the total closure of land borders
The border closure also harper informal business activities across Nigerian borders, thereby leading to the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs it provides. The value and volume of trade across these border run into several millions of naira daily which helps to provide means of livelihood to for thousands of Nigerians.
From the beginning of the border closure, reports said that there were strict compliance at the main border post between the two countries (Benin and Nigeria). However, there were still illegal businesses thriving through bush paths.
For border closure to become a sustainable solution to goods smuggling, experts said that Nigeria must address its border security, implement national trade platforms to facilitate trade networking points and competitiveness, improve domestic manufacturing as well as make significant improvement in port infrastructures for transshipment.