It's almost seven weeks since Nigeria shut its land borders against our West and Central African brothers. There has been this talk about the gains of the closure by officials and agents of the federal government. The other day, I heard the Comptroller-General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (retired), saying that more ships were now berthing at Nigerian ports because of the closure. He is anticipating more revenue for the government because of the closure. The likes of Hameed Ali try to hype the limited gains of the closure to justify an incongruity. The truth that must be told is that the pain on troubled Nigerians outweighs the little gain being celebrated.
First, Hameed Ali and his boys must face the fact that despite the closure of the land borders, smuggling still persists. The Customs boss should visit the rice market in Sango, Ogun State, if he still does not understand what I am talking about. Here, he would see all varieties of imported rice. Closure of the formal borders only means the smugglers now follow longer informal routes, with higher cost. The smugglers simply pass the extra cost to Nigerian consumers. So who is feeling the heat? Certainly, not the smugglers.
Petroleum products are also still being smuggled out through illegal routes. I always shudder when I hear the Nigerian government talking about a reduction in consumption of petroleum products following the border closure. Which reduction? If we have a good government in place with good policies, then, this country should be exporting refined petroleum products to the rest of West Africa and earning forex.
Hammed Ali should also (in camouflage) visit border posts between Nigeria and Niger Republic up North, where smugglers use illegal routes to sneak in bags of rice, bales of second-hand clothes and other contrabands. At bush paths, crooked security operatives work with smugglers. Government has not banned the importation of rice. It is the importation through land borders that is forbidden. Government must dump this rule and allow rice to come in through land borders. This will enhance government's revenue and reduce the pain on Nigerian consumers. In the long run, government should work on fixing the quality and price of locally-produced rice. If we can get this right, local rice will naturally push out the imported ones.
As for illegal arms and ammunition, those who smuggle them in don't even follow the shut border posts. Most illegal arms come in through illegal land routes and the sea ports. This is why armed robbers, bandits and terrorists are still getting quality arms and ammunition despite the border closure. What has to be fixed here is our failed leadership; not shutting of land borders.
Nigerians involved in legal trans-West Africa businesses are gasping for breath because of the closure. There are Nigerian factories that produce largely for the West African markets. The goods are transported by land to these countries. These Nigerian companies pay taxes and earn forex for this country. They are the ones now hindered from doing their legitimate businesses by this pointless border closure.
The indefinite closure of our borders is evidently hurting the Nigerian economy and massive (legal) cross-border economic activities. As the President of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mr. Babatunde Ruwase remarked recently, the closure will not serve as solution to smuggling.
The prices of food predominantly imported through land borders are on the rise. Many business owners plying legitimate trade across the borders are struggling for survival. We should be thinking about expanding trade to countries within the West African sub-region, instead of shutting our borders.
I was excited seeing human rights lawyer Femi Falana, join concerned Nigerians calling for the immediate opening of our land borders. He said it would be in the national interest for the government to end the closure. Falana added: "Border closure is inconsistent with the letter and spirit of ECOWAS Protocol on Free Movement of Persons, Residence and Establishment and the African Continental Free Trade Agreement. The endorsement of the IMF is a deliberate design to weaken the ECOWAS regional integration agenda. The borders should be reopened without any further delay as it cannot be sustained for too long without serious repercussions for the Nigerian economy.
"The closure is tantamount to imposing undue punishment on law-abiding corporate bodies and community citizens because of the criminal activities of a few trans-border smugglers. The smugglers in Nigeria and the neighbouring countries are well-known by the security agencies. Without official connivance, the crime of smuggling cannot thrive in the region."
The long and the short of my epistle to President Buhari today is that the land borders must be reopened immediately to reduce the pain on devastated Nigerians.
As for Hammed Ali, he has no business celebrating the border closure and should stop deceiving Nigerians with jaundiced collection figures. By now, Customs should be talking about generating at least N10 trillion annually for the Nigerian government. Unfortunately, very little has changed at the NCS. This agency is still floundering despite its potential, because of massive corruption. Try clearing a car at any of our ports and you will understand what I am talking about. Also, visit the land borders and experience Customs-sanctioned smuggling.
Ali's men will then turn around to hunt the traders in their shops across our cities and towns. I can vividly remember the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption, PACAC, Prof. Itse Sagay, saying that the Customs was still drenched in corruption even under the Buhari administration. He said: "There is no difference in Customs since May 29, 2015. If you go to Tin Can Island, it is business as usual."
Hameed Ali has not pragmatically responded to Sagay's allegation. Fighting corruption in the Customs requires more than grandstanding. We need a brilliant and tactical head for Customs. Again, this government should start thinking about privatising the collection of Customs and Excise duties. This is another way of reducing the sleaze in this agency and moving close to the N10 trillion annual revenue target from our ports, which I talked about.
Blood, Tears in Kaduna Communities
Thousands of residents of 17 villages in Igabi Local Government Area of Kaduna State have become refugees in their state, no thanks to militias which the Kaduna State Government prefers to call bandits. Scores of well-armed attackers invaded these communities last Sunday, killing and maiming. Homes and property were destroyed by the rampaging militias. Many had to flee because security agents failed to respond appropriately to their distress calls. It is a big shame that Governor Nasir el-rufai and security agents have again failed these people. They simply look the other way while human lives are destroyed.
Communities in Igabi LG have for years been battling the militia over the persistent invasion of their farmlands by herders. Daily, they kidnap, kill and take away their goods and animals. The village head of Unguwan Gibe, Jibrin Abdullahi, puts it aptly: "The problem started when vigilante decided to help the community to deal with the bandits in their hideout. The bandits don't allow us to go to farm and the vigilantes wanted to bring an end to this, but when they reached the bandits hideout, they were overpowered and the bandits said since the community had decided to attack them, we will not have peace. That was why they ferociously attacked us."
Abdullahi identified the villages that were displaced as Tura, Unguwan Gebi, Unguwan Dangauta, Unguwan Nayawu, Unguwan Makeri, Jagani, Sabon Gida, Dallatu, Unguwan Alhaji Ahmadu, Sabon Gari, Kusau, Gidan Sarkin Noma, Unguwan Pati, Unguwan Tofa and Sauran Giwa.
For now, over 2000 people from the affected communities are living in squalid conditions at the emergency refugee camp located at Birnin Yero Primary School. El-rufai and security agents in Kaduna State must do the needful for these traumatised people. Residents of these communities want to return to their homes. Militias who have turned Igabi LG into their home must be cleared for peace to reign. I am disappointed that this nonsense is happening in El-rufai's Kaduna. The pounded communities see this governor and security agents as having compromised. El-rufai has to show leadership and end these killings. He has to amend his ways and learn to govern dispassionately. My beloved El-rufai, you must show greater commitment to ending the carnage across Kaduna State.
Governor David Umahi's Illogicalities
On the one hand, Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi was on Tuesday talking about Ebonyi people suffering and the need to give them attention. On the other hand, same day, he was distributing 68 Sport Utility Vehicles to political appointees, coordinators of local government areas development centres, permanent secretaries and members of the state's House of Assembly. Almost N1.5 billion spent on official vehicles in just one day, in a state like Ebonyi that still has huge challenges with public utilities? This was what this governor did on Tuesday in Abakaliki. It is irreconcilable. Umahi can't be talking about tackling poverty and touching lives, at the same time, spending on luxuries. This same governor admitted that most of his people struggle for a meal a day. So, why this profligacy? Just imagine what N1.5 billion would do to Ebonyi's public schools, roads and hospitals? Umahi must stop spending billions of Naira on luxury vehicles for public office holders.
No doubt, this governor has done fairly well in the state in the last four years. For me, Umahi's performance in four years outstrips that of his two predecessors who spent 16 years. But he could do more by cutting frivolous expenses like he did on the 68 SUVs.
On the flip side, this governor must stop intimidating and threatening journalists who dare to focus on the low sides of his government. My dear Umahi, you need these criticisms to ginger you into better performance.
President Tunde Bakare
I guess some of us can safely start calling the Serving Overseer of the Latter Rain Assembly, Pastor Tunde Bakare, Mr. President in waiting. I have repeatedly watched the 2018 video in which he declared that he would succeed President Buhari come 2023. The enthusiasm of his members was infectious as they hailed, clapped and praised him. I have also watched a follow up early this month in which Bakare stated that nothing had changed in his 2018 declaration.
The temptation to start calling him Mr. President in waiting is real. With the fire in his voice, members of his church say his prediction looks good to happen. His supporters want us to forget about his failed prediction in 1999 that Obasanjo would die and won't be sworn in as President. Baba Iyabo was sworn in, did a second term and was almost doing a third term. Perhaps, God forgave Baba Iyabo all his sins and changed his mind about the doom predicted by Bakare back then.
Bakare did not even talk about the slightest possibility of Almighty God changing his mind about making him President in 2023. For him, it's a done deal, nothing can change it. Bakare has been anointed by God. Take it to the mountain top, in the scheme of things as far as politics of Nigeria is concerned, Buhari is No 15 and Bakare is No 16. He wants us to note that God has prepared him for this assignment for over 30 years. This pastor says he is the Joshua that will begin to distribute resources to anxious Nigerians. The temptation to start calling the Serving Overseer of the Latter Rain Assembly "Mr. President in waiting" is really strong, but I have been resisting it.
Well, I am a fan of Pastor Bakare. I like him a great deal but I am not an admirer of priestly predictions, particularly in this part of the world. It's even worse, when it comes to politics. This is where the founder of the Latter Rain Assembly and I disagree. I don't have the slightest belief that he would become President in 2023. If he wants to become President in 2023, he should look beyond spiritualism and focus more on practical Nigerian politics. He should focus more on surmounting the practical challenges.
Bakare has all it takes to run Nigeria. He believes in one Nigeria and that it is better for us to work together by getting the best of the North and the best of the South to think through the road path for the greatness of this nation. But it takes more than prophecy, ability and beliefs to win a Presidential election in distressed Nigeria. My dear Bakare, I wish you best of luck in 2023.