President Muhammadu Buhari ordered a partial closure of the land border on August 20. According to him, it was due to massive smuggling activities, especially rice.
Fact available has it that Benin imports 1.2 million metric tons of rice annually, against its population of about 11 million people. Cameroon imported 728,443 metric tons of rice according to National Statistics Institute (INS) in 2017, against a population of about 24 million. That same year Niger imported rice worth $53.9 million, about 135 metric tons of rice for a population of 21 million. Nigeria on the other hand imported 1.3 million metric tons in 2017 for a population of over 190 million people. It means massive loads of rice have found their way to Nigeria with paltry duty accruing to the federal government. This trend is threatening Nigeria's domestic rice production.
The agreement among the ECOWAS member states on goods coming into the country states that, the goods must be containerized and taken through the border where they can be assessed and attested that they are not smuggled items. The border closure was therefore as a result of the failure of the neighboring countries to fulfill their obligations.
What are the impacts of Nigeria's border closure?
Today, ironically billions of naira is accruing to government purse from payment of duties. At present, the Christian Poultry farmers are singing halleluiah while the Muslim Poultry farmers are shouting Alhamdulillahi as a result of high demand for local chickens.
The trend of border closure globally is that each time a border is closed, the economy of the local country is negatively impacted. Who would have imagined that the closure of land border would bring more money for us? According to the Custom Boss, " 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." He added that the agency has been making between N4.7 billion to N5.8 billion daily more than the agency used to generate before the closure. In a similar vein, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources , Timipre Sylva said that "there is a drop in fuel consumption by eight million litres a day."
Of the basic elements in the world, food has proved more important to the human race than other basic necessities of shelter and clothing. It is the most important crop of the developing world. According to ricepedia.org/rice-as-food/, rice is by far the most important food crop for people in low and lower-middle income countries. Ricepedia.org also has it that more than 3.5 billion people depend on rice for more than 20% of their daily calories. No wonder millions of people who are in extreme poverty are crying to government to reopen the border.
What is happening at our borders at the moment?
Report has it that strict compliance reigned at the main border post between the two countries ( Benin and Nigeria) but illegal businesses still thrive at some bush paths. A reliable source has it that there are over a thousand routes in the country where illegal business still booms. What are we doing about these illegal routes?
The Minister of Information and Culture , Alh. Lai Mohammed says "there is no gain without pain and Nigerians must endure the temporary effects of the border closure to reap the attendant benefits." The crux of this statement in all honesty is lack of continuity in government policies and how long are we going to continue this endurance race? The Customs boss, Col Hameed Ali (rtd) has reiterated few days ago that the land borders will remain closed pending when Benin and other neighboring countries stop taking Nigeria for smuggling destination. He emphasized that the closure would remain in place until neighboring countries duly comply with the ECOWAS protocols on transit of goods. But is that the permanent solution?
What are we doing to attract more investors in agriculture? What are we doing to make investors have confidence in us? A comprehensive appraisal of the problems at all borders should be taken and analyzed, then we can come up with appropriate solutions.
But what is paramount to the masses is to get quality food at affordable prices. Would the government be able to guarantee this in the long run? If the answer is in the affirmative then, the fleeting suffering is worth waiting for, but if not, a permanent solution is what must be rummaged for.
Olusanya Anjorin, Lagos