…Neighbouring countries’ engage in diplomatic fence mending
…Smugglers’ illegal routes Uncovered
…Food Prices rise weeks to Christmas
Recently, the Federal Republic of Nigeria confirmed that it has closed its borders to prevent illegal movement of all goods through the country’s land borders. The exercise, code-named, ‘Ex-Swift Response’, was being jointly conducted by the customs, immigration, police and military personnel and coordinated by the Office of the National Security Adviser.
Though the move, which began like a rumour in August, has been met with harsh criticism and even anger from neighbours and regional integration advocates, President Muhammadu Buhari administration insisted that the decision was a tactic to curb insecurity and smuggling in to the country certain goods, especially agricultural produce like rice, which the country intends to internally increase their production locally.
Some experts have Nigeria’s heavy dependence on oil and other dysfunctional economic policies for creating environment for informal cross-border trade (ICBT) between it and its neighbours, mainly Benin and Togo, to flourish. For instance, the maximum age of cars banned from import has varied over time as more 8 years old were banned in 1995, and 5 years banned in 2001, and in 2007 it was back to 8 years while the maximum age of 15 years banned in 2018.
In addition, imports are banned via land borders since 2016, while rice imports are banned through land borders since 2013.
The wide gap between the official and black-market rates of the naira, Nigeria’s subsidised fuel prices, among others have been seen by opinion leaders as responsible for the rise in informal cross-border trade.
However, the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd), has maintained that the closure of Nigerian borders would last until the protocols on movement of goods and persons as established by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are strictly adhered to by the neighboring countries.
The customs boss who spoke recently during his operational visit to Idiroko border in Ogun State, insisted that there is no end in sight to the partial closure of land borders until the condition is met.
He noted that adherence to protocols on movement of persons and goods would ensure mutual benefit of the countries and enhance coexistence, saying that the action was never intended to end within 28 days.
“There are three reasons why we go round. First is to convey Mr. President’s commendation to our troops and personnel that have been deployed to carry out those drills.
“Second is to further explain to them the reasons why we are doing this drill and third is to get feedback on the ground as to the successes and challenges.
“It was never meant to end at the end of the 28th day. As for planning purposes, we take it step by step. Phase one was when we put 28 days. The border drill has no definitive end, but what we believe we want is that we want to establish relationship with our neighbours and this relationship is mutual.
“And unless we get to that point, where we now sit down and agree on the way we can complement one another, the way we can adhere to the protocols of movement of goods and persons, we would not have achieved.
“So, we will keep this drill going on until we get to the point where we now sit down and agree on the basic things that will mutually benefit us and mutually enhance our coexistence and ensure that the protocols established by ECOWAS, not by Nigeria, are adhered to strictly,” the Customs DG said.
Diplomatic Fence Mending
In the bid to mitigate the effects of the protracted border closure by Nigeria, some neighbouring countries have been engaging diplomatic fence mending with Nigeria.
The President of Benin Republic Patrice Talon met with his Nigerian counterpart during the Seventh Tokyo International Conference for African Development (TICAD7), in Yokohama, Japan.
The Nigerian President explained at the meeting that the limited closure of the country’s western border was to allow Nigeria’s security forces develop a strategy on how to stem the dangerous trend and its wider ramifications.
President Talon said he called on the Nigerian President as a result of the severe impact the closure of the Nigerian border was having on his people.
Responding to the concerns raised by Nigeria, President Talon on the magnitude of suffering caused by the closure, President Buhari said he had taken note and would reconsider reopening in the not-too-distant future.
He, however, disclosed that a meeting with his counterparts from Benin and Niger Republics would soon be called to determine strict and comprehensive measures to curtail the level of smuggling across their borders.
Also recently, a Ghanaian delegation led by Mr. Charles Owiredu, a Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration has presented copies of the documents containing particulars of Ghanaian drivers and traders stranded at the Seme-Krake border to the Nigerian Authorities.
A statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration said the presentation of the documents was at the request of the Nigerian officials at the first Abuja meeting on the borders closure.
It said the delegation which included; Mr. Carlos Ahenkorah, a Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry, Mr. Seidu Yakubu, a Deputy Commmissioner of Customs, and senior officers from Ghana’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration held meetings with Colonel Hameed Ali, the Comptroller General of Customs Services, Nigeria, on the need to re-open the Nigerian borders.
It noted that the delegation also held discussions with Hajia Yalwaji Katagum, the Nigerian Minister of State for Trade, Industry and Investment, and Mr. Zubairu Dada, the Nigerian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.
The statement said the first meeting which took place at the office of the Comptroller General Col. Hameed Ibrahim Ali in Abuja ended on a positive note.
It said the Abuja discussions centred on the need for Nigerian authorities to implement its part of the agreement reached a couple of weeks ago saying if Ghana submitted information about companies and drivers stuck at the Seme-Krake border, they would create a safe passage for them to enter Nigeria with their goods.
It said the agreement was reached when Madam Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey, Ghana’s Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration and Mr. Alan Kyeremanten, Ghana’s Minister of Trade and Industry, met their Nigerian counterparts on October 16.
It recounted that at the said meeting, which also took place in Abuja, the Nigerian authorities explained that the aim of the border closure was to prevent the entry of contraband goods from Benin including; rice and Ghana was not the target.
The statement added after extensive discussions on expeditious action to lessen the continued negative impact of the border closure on Ghana, the two customs entities agreed to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).
The MoU would include; the exchange of Manifest of goods emanating from both countries and pre-shipment arrangements as it was agreed that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration would kick-start the process by requesting the Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority to submit the draft MoU on the said customs cooperation for the consideration of the Nigerian authorities.
Smugglers’ illegal routes to beat customs
There were media reports of most smugglers of banned items devising new methods to beat security authorities at the closed borders.
One of the areas, reports say, is at Illela, in Illela Local Government Area of Sokoto State, a border town between Nigeria and Niger Republic.
It was reported that more than 100 illegal routes are now being used by the smugglers to bring banned items such as rice, vegetable oil and even second hand clothes, among others, into the country.
A security official who spoke on condition of anonymity was said to have disclosed that the border closure had no major effects on the smugglers in the area, saying they were making use of illegal routes.
He said: “we are here monitoring the activities of these people, but we have limited power to do much.
“Our duty is to man this border and ensure that no one crosses or passes through it, but we cannot go and monitor illegal routes which are not part of our duty,” he added.
Food Prices Hike May Mar Christmas celebration
Less than eight weeks to Christmas celebration, many Nigerians are expressing frustration and pains over recent hike in the prices of food, decline in business activities, and inflation as a result of continued border closure.
There has been reports of the marginal increase in prices of such food items. Some traders in the markets have lamented that border closure is affecting business activities, adding that local rice, which would have been a better alternative, is short in supply.
According to a rice seller, the closure of the borders has affected the importation of foreign goods into the country. He bemoaned the adverse effect the closure is having on his business, which in turn affects his survival and that of this entire family.
Because of prices of rice, both local and foreign, have swollen, many are unable to afford them, even as some traders are hoarding food items with the intention of selling at more exorbitant prices during the Christmas rush.
Border closure good but bad for Nigeria – LCCI
The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) on Thursday said the temporary closure of Nigeria’s land borders by the Federal Government was both good and bad for the economy.
Mr. Gabriel Idahosa, Vice President and Chairman, Trade Promotion Board of LCCI, who made the assertion said that Idahosa said that the closure had, however, not affected the participation of West African countries in the ongoing 2019 Lagos International Trade Fair at the Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS), Lagos.
He noted that no fewer than 2, 000 exhibitors from Nigeria, China, Japan, Ghana, India, European Union, Indonesia, Taiwan, Bangladesh, India, Cameroon, Benin Republic and Ethiopia are participating in the fair.
“The view of LCCI is that the border closure is good and bad.
“Good in the sense that it has forced us to address certain fundamental issues in our economy.
“We spend a lot of foreign currency to import petroleum products which are taken across the border, while we keep draining our foreign exchange to import the petroleum products.
“It has shown clearly from the volume of products we have now that this has been going on.
“On the other hand, it has also shown that our capacities to produce some of our products like rice and fishes are actually there, and if we continue to grow these capacities then, we can become truly self-sufficient”, the LCCI vice president said.
He said that the closure had also compelled a lot of small and medium scale businesses to formalise and be properly documented by governments from all the affected countries, including Nigeria.
He noted that on the flip side, the border closure had brought temporary suffering and loss of millions of dollars by some businesses within and outside Nigeria.
“People are paying higher for the local products at the moment.
“Also, some distributors of the foreign products are suffering loss of business because they had invested in becoming distributors from those countries.
“Their warehouses are currently empty because they have not got local suppliers to replace their foreign partners.
“The temporary hardship in terms of volume of trade is felt by both sides.
“Some companies in Ghana claimed they have lost up to two million dollars during the short period before the processes were put in place to resume exportation between both countries.
“Similarly, some Nigerian companies exporting to these countries have lost some monies, but gradually, those losses are being mitigated,” Idahosa said.