There are indications that the federal government may soon are-open the country’s land borders which it closed in August last year.
The government decided initially to shut the land borders to stop smuggling activities and illicit export of locally subsidised petrol to neighbouring countries while boosting local production. Also, the action was also to combat the smuggling of arms and ammunition, as well as hard drugs into the country. The COVID-19 pandemic added impetus to that decision.
The government said that the borders would remain closed until neighbouring countries duly comply with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)protocols on transit of goods.
Since the closure, different commentators and analysts have tried to condemn the action of the government on the ground that it is hurting the economy. That of course is true, but then there comes a time when the nation needs to endure a little sacrifice to build a better tomorrow.
That was exactly the reason behind the border closure. For too long, Nigeria was turned into a dumping ground for all sorts of commodities including frozen foods, foreign rice, textile materials among others, smuggled through the borders. The unfortunate thing is that most of these commodities are sub standard and fake or are prohibited in the country.
Benin Republic became one of the world’s top importers of rice because of its Nigerian market. Almost all of the rice it imported from Thailand, Indonesia etc found its way to Nigeria through the Seme border.
The government had at various times tried to stop the influx of these commodities through diplomatic means, engaging the customs of the different countries to build a joint patrol. But that achieved very little. In fact it is clear that that country and other neighbouring African countries are taking Nigeria for a smuggling destination.
Recently when President Muhammadu Buhari met with the President of Benin Republic, Patrice Talon, on the sidelines of the seventh Tokyo International Conference for African Development (TICAD7), in Yokohama, Japan, one of the things he told him was that Nigeria had had enough of the smuggling from the Benin end of the border.
The president was right. Of course, while this newspaper agrees that no nation can afford to close its borders forever because the world has become a global village, no nation also throws its borders open to all manner of goods without control. It is also true that Nigeria cannot continue to keep its borders shut since it has appended its signature to the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). However,
the fact remains that Nigeria, as a sovereign nation, cannot sit and watch other countries batter its economy unchecked.
Given the outcry from our West African next door neighbours such as Benin, Togo and Ghana, it is clear that these countries actually depend on Nigeria for their survival. There is nothing wrong with that, but it has to be a symbiotic relationship.
While it is obvious that the closure came with its pains, there is no denying the fact that some gains have also been made. For instance, it was reported that most ofthe cargoes that used to be shipped to Benin Republic, and then discharged and smuggled into Nigeria, with the closure of the borders, the importers have been forced to bring their goods to either Apapa or Tin Can Island and pay the necessary duties to government.
Within this period, customs reported that it has been making between N4.7 billion to N5.8 billion daily–more than the agency used to generate before the closure.
While we applaud the government for the bold step it took to protect its territorial integrity, and better develop its own domestic rice production capacity, it is obvious that the customs, immigration and other security agencies have broadly failed to stop the problem of illegal importation of rice from Benin.
With tariffs on imports of rice into Benin markedly lower than the tariffs on imports of rice into Nigeria, Benin has become a major importer of rice from India, Thailand and other sources. That explains why importers prefer to go through Benin and then smuggle the goods into Nigeria.
As the government is making arrangements to reopen the borders, it is imperative that it should look back to check if the objectives for which the borders were closed in the first place have been achieved.
The President once said that the closure of the country’s borders was effected to allow Nigeria’s security forces develop a strategy to curb smuggling from Benin.Thirteen months after the border closure how far have the security agencies gone with the new strategies to man the borders?
It is also important to ask how far has the neighbouringcountries agreed to comply with the ECOWAS protocol on movement of goods?
If we cannot answer these questions in the affirmative, the whole essence of the border closure would have been a waste and the people have been made to suffer unduly