Chinelo Obogo, Lagos
A Professor of History and border expert, Anthony Asiwaju, has condemned the unilateral border closure policy of the Federal Government, saying that official reports on its benefits are misleading.
Speaking on the topic ‘Unilateral Border Closures: Thirty-Five Years of Retrospection on Nigeria and Africa’, at the Faculty of Arts Lecture Series held at the University of Lagos at the weekend, Asiwaju said the policy is “a lazy response by the government” as it doesn’t take into account its negative implications for the country.
Asiwaju, who represented the South West in the National Boundary Commission from 2008 to 2010, advised that rather than a unilateral border closure, the government should engage neigbouring countries in policy harmonisation.
“I want to agree with the likes of Femi Falana who feel that the Federal Government has not been properly lead because border closure didn’t take into account the implications of the action for the people of this country. The official reports of the benefits emanating from this action are misleading because it is coming at an expense for the people of this country. We believe that President Muhammadu Buhari is the person we know that can be affected by the issue because in 1984, when we gave a lecture here on this issue, he responded very well to it. I hope that this one which we have had will also reach him like the last one did,” he explained.
“I support the control of informal trade which we abuse as smuggling, which I am opposed to. I am for normalising and formalising the informal. We can ban and effectively implement the banning of what we don’t want in the country, but that doesn’t have to be by way of border closure. Border closure is like a lazy response by the government. What should be done is that if we don’t want informal exchange, we should engage our neigbours in policy harmonisation. As long as we allow for a structure where what we forbid is what our neigbours accept and what we accept is what our neigbours forbid, traders will always seek profit wherever they can find it.
“The governments of our neigbours are also opposed to smuggling. In Benin Republic, the trade in petroleum products was stiffly opposed by the administration of Boni Yayi, and raids were conducted to cart away bottled petroleum products. As long as the government keeps taking impulsive actions on the borders, we are not going to get anywhere. We need to immediately engage our neigbours in West Africa and the wider Africa in radical policy harmonisation. Once the policy is the same on both sides, there would be no temptation for informal trade.
“In the 80s, when cocoa smuggling was the big deal, it was stopped because the Nigerian government needed license on cocoa exportation. Once they did that, prices leveled between us and Benin Republic and cocoa that was smuggled across started coming back. That is an example of what harmonisation can do,” he said.