The Federal Government is insisting on its listed conditions that must be met before it would reopen the nation’s land borders, closed since August 18.
Recently, the government extended the closure till January 31, 2020, when it said the action would be reviewed, but again changed from the specific to say until its neighbouring countries comply with certain conditions.
Unarguably, the action has continued to generate great controversy, particularly on the pains and gains of the exercise.
Indeed, the action has pitched the government against some interest and professional groups, including Nigeria’s foremost private sector organisation, the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) and cross-border traders, among others, on the one hand and key government officials, among them the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmad, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Godwin Emefiele and farmers’ associations, on the other hand.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Geoffrey Onyema, who rolled out the conditions to be met before the border would be re-opened, said they would be presented to Benin and Niger governments at a meeting.
Onyeama said that only travel documents would be the official passport allowed for anybody coming into the country through the land borders as no form of identity cards would henceforth be acceptable unlike before.
He said that Nigeria has directed that goods imported into the country must have at least 30 per cent local input, stressing further that the country would no longer tolerate repackaging of imported goods, stressing that goods imported for the Nigerian market must be escorted directly from the port of member-state to the borders.
The minister noted that the preconditions to allow goods and humans into the country would apply to all ECOWAS member states, explaining that the conditions are aimed at ensuring Nigeria does not end up a dumping ground.
Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Godwin Emefiele, who is among those who know the aim, as well as the direction and impact of the action has been a strident defender of the border closure, arguing that it is yielding positive economic results for the country.
He had at different fora listed the economic gains of the closure.
He is convinced that the measure was well thought out and should be followed through until all loose ends, with regards to commodities’ smuggling, especially rice; poultry products, are tackled and tied.
Emefiele said the closure was justified and inevitable if its (CBN’s) efforts in revamping the economy must be felt and appreciated by farmers and the real sector to which most of its intervention efforts are directed.
For Emefiele, but for the border closure, rice farmers would have continuously suffered losses from unsold stocks of rice and other food crops that had been stocked in warehouses.
Corroborating what Onyeama said Emefiele said that there must be productive engagement with Nigeria’s neighbours that are involved in using their ports and land space as landing ports for foreign goods that are then freighted into Nigeria using clandestine routes.
The present reality is that the pain has continued to pang and take a toll on citizens of all the countries involved.
Expectedly, there has been pressure from the Benin Republic and the Niger Republic – Western and Northern neighbouring countries – because of the effect the border closure has had on their economy.
Togo and Ghana have been clamouring for the borders to be reopened without further delay as the situation is hitting their economies.
The issues leading to the border closure have been festering for a long time, and it is common knowledge that several attempts to resolve them have yielded little or no results.
The Seme Border which has attained the status of being the most active, in terms of cross-border trade and which serves as a transnational national travel route along the West African Coast, has posed a unique problem for the country.
In addition to its fluidity which makes its policing, or manning difficult, if not impossible, it is inhabited by non-distinguishable nationalities, among them Nigerians, Benenois and Togolese, who over the years have fused, making it a futile exercise to attempt to draw any line of demarcation.
Added to this is the fact that nearly all the border settlers on both sides of the divide engage in the cross and trans-border businesses, both legitimate and otherwise.
The closure of the border, therefore, even for a moment, signposts economic danger, or hardship as it is bound to impact directly on the very fabric of the border settlers’ existence, or livelihood and commercial engagement. This is without prejudice to the other larger economic and security considerations, which the government claimed are key and necessitated the border closure, as in this case, so that the affected countries will have the opportunity to address the issues holistically and in an enduring manner.
Senator Shehu Sani does not support the reason for the border closure, saying that the idea of an African Free Trade means countries must show great tolerance with one another.
“You can’t sign an African Free Trade Agreement and close your borders,” he argued.
According to him, “the closure of the nation’s border is not in line with the overall objectives of the agreement. The idea of an African Free Trade Area is that our future and destiny are tied to each other. But there are challenges that we have to be ready to face. One of which is the one that we are experiencing in the country today”.
Ghanaians had earlier told Nigerians doing business in their country to quit their shops by November 14, 2019, or be forcibly evicted in apparent retaliation against the Federal Government closure of the borders.
The ultimatum was issued by the Ghana Union of Traders’ Associations (GUTA) and the Ghana Electrical Dealers Association (GEDA).
Some of the notices sighted at strategic locations in markets across Ghana, especially in Kumasi, read: “Attention! Attention! Attention! According to the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC) Law Act 865 Section 27A, you are not to be in our market. We are by this notice informing you to leave our market by 14th November 2019. By GUTA.”
Another notice states: “Warning! Warning! Warning! The agreement between GUTA, GEDA and the foreigners in our market place is up. So, the foreigners are given up to this weekend to abide by the agreement to leave our market places or they will be forcefully compelled to abide by it. By GEDA and GUTA.”
Indeed, the president of the Nigeria Union of Traders Association, Ghana (NUTAG), Chukwuemeka Nnaji, raised the alarm that all was no longer well with them in Ghana.
He said that despite the discussions between Nigerian and Ghanaian governments at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the ordeal of Nigerian traders in Ghana has even escalated as the Ghana Union Traders Association took a different turn by attacking businesses in the Ashanti region.
In their assessment of the closure, most Nigerians are of the view that aside from the awareness created, not much has been achieved given the fact that smuggling has not stopped as the situation gets harder on their daily welfare.
Legal practitioner, Frank Abiodun told Sunday Sun that “they (FG) are talking of strengthening the economy, stopping smuggling, stopping rice importation and poultry products and all that, but have they been able to do it? The answer is no. Rather unknown to them the retaliation by those countries will soon come and we will be worse for it. Ghana has started I am sure you know”.
Businesswoman, Mrs Blessing Njoku, said that the pain is getting worse, insisting that the gain, if any, is not being felt by Nigerians.
She urged the Federal Government to re-open the borders as the pain has become unbearable.
President of MAN, Mansur Ahmed, argued that although the government might have the good intention of protecting businesses in Nigeria, it must also ensure that the action did not affect Nigerian entrepreneurs operating genuine trans-border businesses.
Also, LCCI Director-General, Muda Yusuf cautioned the government to be more strategic and tactical in dealing with the problem so that Nigerians doing genuine businesses along that corridor would not also suffer, saying, “we should develop the culture of tackling the causes of problems, not fighting the symptoms. This is the way to solve a problem sustainably.”
He said that government agencies at the borders have not lived up to their mandates.
Foremost Niger Delta activist and Coordinator of Ijaw Monitoring Group (IMG), Comrade Joseph Evah, has asked President Buhari to open the border against the backdrop of the pain it has caused, warning that the continued closure is not in the best interest of the people.
He had told Sunday Sun that “President Buhari should open the border. I read the story from the Finance Minister on what Nigeria is losing from the border closure. Other countries may unite to punish us back. In Ghana, Sierra Leone and Liberia, etc Nigerian banks are there, if they gang-up against us in this region we may not be able to fight the situation or contain the disaster that will follow it. If you are using it to teach a lesson to people you must have a limit, the borders must be opened before Christmas and the New Year period.
“You don’t just wake up one morning and advise the president to close the border. You can close the border for one or two weeks in other to make the other countries see how they can team to arrest smuggling, Nigeria cannot close border without negotiating with the Benin Republic, Togo and Ghana, if we behave like that they will also retaliate, if they retaliate in another way it can also harm our economy, we cannot live in isolation.
“No country can live in isolation to think that they can do it alone; no country has everything that it needs, so Nigeria should open the border before they give a wrong signal that will create a problem for the country.”