Abuja — Senators have expressed divergent views on the interim closure of the land borders across the country by the federal government.
They spoke on the issue yesterday through a motion sponsored by Senator Adamu Aliero (APC, Kebbi Central) and 10 others. The lawmakers, however, praised the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration on the border closure as they acknowledged that the supply of arms and ammunition to Boko Haram and the Islamic State of West Africa (ISWA) had been checked by the measure.
Those, who supported the action, declared that the Nigerian economy is experiencing positive derivatives that are impacting on the country. For instance, fuel smuggling, according to them, has significantly declined, thereby saving the country billions of scarce foreign exchange spent by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to import fuel into the country.
Aliero argued that the manufacturing sector has breathed a sigh of relief from the ongoing economic boost resulting in factories bouncing back to produce items such as tomato puree, milk, chicken, fish and even toothpicks as a result of the border closure.
"Concerns over deteriorating security situation in Nigeria are slowing down particularly because arms smuggling through the borders and foreign fighters coming to boost the insurgency of Boko Haram and their Islamic State of West Africa (ISWA) collaborators have been jolted," he added.
But dissenting views came from senators, who represent people in the border towns. They lamented that the action had made devastating effects on their constituents.
Say Nigeria has over 1,000 illegal routes
The lawmakers said that Nigeria has over 1,000 illegal land border routes, arguing that only 87 routes were legal. They averred that the closure of the borders did not affect the illegal routes because people involved in illicit businesses were still having a field day.
Senator Abba Moro (PDP, Benue) said that Nigeria was administering a wrong dose of medicine to the ailment, insisting that the closure of the land borders was wrong.
Moro, a former minister of interior, said: "Nigeria has only 87 legal land border routes. We have over 1,000 illegal routes and the Nigeria Immigration Service can't man them. When you close the legitimate routes, the illegal ones are used."
Senator Emmanuel Bwacha (PDP, Taraba) called for long-term solutions to the menace, arguing that the temporal closure of the land borders would not make the desired impact.
In his contribution, Senator Gabriel Suswam (PDP, Benue) said that Nigeria should be mindful of the free trade agreement and the ECOWAS protocols it signed. He declared that closing the borders may amount to violating the agreement.
"The issue of the African free trade agreement signed by Nigeria that allows the country to open the borders and the ECOWAS must be looked into," Suswam said.
The minority leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, said that the motion was a mere image laundering for the federal government as he asserted that the situation projected in the motion was far from what prevails in the country.
He said that Nigeria would be very far from what they want to gain if it does not close the over 1,000 illegal land borders.
Senator Ade Francis Fadahunsi (APC, Osun Central) said that during the dry season, everywhere in the North is an illegal border route and charged the government to find lasting solutions to the problem.
After the deliberation, the Senate commended President Muhammadu Buhari for his decision to temporarily shut down all land borders to address the security challenges and the persistent smuggling of petroleum products which adversely affect the economy and the wellbeing of the people.
The Senate urged the ministries of Foreign Affairs and Interior to intensify diplomatic contacts with the Republic of Benin, Cameroun, Niger and Chad to take urgent measures to stop their lands from being used as smuggling bases.
The lawmakers appealed to friendly countries not to see the border closure as a punitive measure targeted at them but a necessary action to save the Nigerian economy from collapse as well as protect their people from terrorism and insecurity.
While the lawmakers called for a review of Nigeria border control mechanism for effective manning of the routes, the Senate President, Senator Ahmad Lawan, prayed that the resolution will be adhered to by the executive arm of government.
We'll Pass PIB In 2020 - Senate
Also yesterday, Lawan restated that the Senate would pass the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) in 2020.
During the inauguration of the 69 Senate standing committees, Lawan said that the PIB which had been in the National Assembly for long would be passed before the end of 2020.
He said: "Our petroleum industry is almost stagnant and for long needing profound reform. Our oil and gas related committees, are therefore expected to work hard to take the lead in our determination to reform this vital sector.
"It is the desire, indeed, the design of this Senate that the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) is passed before the end of 2020," Lawan said.
On why the committees were not inaugurated one after another, Lawan said it was to save time.
"This occasion is a departure from previous ways of inaugurating the committees. We have resorted to this in order to save precious time," Lawan said, adding that with the receipt of the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF), the preparations for the 2020 Appropriation Bill is on top gear, and could be received soon.
"Our committees need to be ready to perform their functions. Time, therefore, is of essence. Like I said in my speech on our resumption on Tuesday, the committees are the engine room of our activities. As a result, effective and efficient performance by our committees is imperative for the success of this Senate," he said.
"As we set to start our committees' activities, the Senate expects the total cooperation of the executive arm of government. The Senate expects the ministers and heads of agencies to be forthcoming and responsive to the engagement requests of our committees.
"Our committees will undertake regular oversights with a view to ensuring that government programmes and projects are properly executed for the benefit of our citizens. We will give the committees all the support to function at their optimum, just as we enjoin them to leave no stone unturned in the bid to execute their mandates. Our target is to achieve the set goals of taking Nigeria to the next level," he said.
Meanwhile, the Senate has received the 9th legislative agenda report which was presented and read by Aliero.
Lawmakers were allowed to study the document for debate today.
The lawmakers also received the National Assembly Inauguration Bill standing on the name of Suswam which was read for the first time.
The Lagos State Special Economic Assistance Programme Bill sponsored by Senator Remi Tinubu (Lagos) was also read for the first time.