Amaechi Ogbonna and Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Washington DC
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has charged authorities in Nigeria, Benin Republic, Niger and other neighbouring countries to urgently resolve the lingering issues that precipitated the recent closure of land borders to mitigate the negative consequences of the policy on their various economies.
While acknowledging the closure of Nigeria’s borders with some neighbouring countries over issues bordering on illegal trade could be a valid ground for Nigerian government’s action, Mr Abebe Selassie, director of the African Department at the IMF, who spoke at a media briefing on the sidelines of the World Bank/IMF Annual Meetings in Washington D.C. said that it was important also for the country to be mindful of its big brother role in supporting the economies of weaker nations around it in the spirit of regional and continental trade integration initiatives like the ECOWAS and AfCFTA.
“If the border closure is to be sustained for a long time, it will definitely have an impact on Benin and Niger which, of course, rely quite extensively on the big brother next door,’’ he said.
He, however, expressed the IMF optimism for a speedy resolution of the issues as the action was already taking a toll on the economies of the country’s neighbours.
Responding to a question on whether the closure negates the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, AfCFTA, Selassie said that although free trade was critical to the economic growth of the continent, it must be legal and in line with agreements.
“On the border closure in Nigeria which has been impacting Benin and Niger, our understanding is that the action reflects concerns about smuggling that has been taking place. It is about illegal trade, which is not what you want to facilitate,’’ Selassie said.
The IMF warning came against the backdrop of rising concerns within the Nigerian business community, including importers on the drag in goods clearance at the land borders with its attendant rising cost of staple foods like rice and other cereals consumed largely in the country.
Last Wednesday, Nigeria’s Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, said the borders were closed to curb illegal trading activities by Nigeria’s neighbours.
Responding to a question on reasons for the closure, Ahmed said: “ We needed to close the borders because we are not getting cooperation from our neigbouring countries. We have over the years committed to some alliances, bilateral agreements, but our neigbours are not respecting those agreements and at this time when the President had signed Nigeria up to the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), it becomes more important for us to make sure that everybody complies with the commitments made therein.”