News Analysis by Emmanuella Anokam
President Muhammadu Buhari on Dec. 16 ordered the immediate reopening of four critical land borders which have been shut since Aug. 20, 2019.
The land borders approved for immediate re-opening were Seme in the Southwest, Ilela in the Northwest, Maigatari in the North-West and North-Central and Mfun in the South-South.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal Government had in August closed the land borders which were investment generators and revenue sources for the movement of goods.
The borders were closed based on genuine reasons which included smuggling of arms and light weapons, drug peddling and unguarded influx of prohibited items into Nigeria’s trade environment through the borders.
The closure was also to checkmate the influx of fake and sub-standard goods into Nigeria and to ensure that farmers breathe enough for the sustenance of their livelihoods as well as self-sufficiency especially with regard to the production and consumption of local food items in the country.
Dr Ken Ukaoha, President, National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS) however stated that the closure had serious implications on trade competitiveness and exports to galvanise revenue necessary for the revival and stability of domestic economy in view of the menace caused by COVID-19 on the nation’s purse.
On the Government side, he noted that Nigeria had complaint several times about poor implementation of and adherence to the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme (ETLS) and other regional trade related protocols such as the Inter-State Transit Protocol by her neighbours.
This has no doubt resulted in massive smuggling, drug peddling, proliferation of small arms and light weapons (which has exacerbated Nigeria’s insecurity challenge), etc as well as formed part of the reasons for the border closure.
According to the trade expert, the truth remains that goods belonging to traders and other Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) including perishable items and processed commodities with expiry dates were stranded at the borders for several months during the closure.
He said to worsen the matter, the COVID-19 and its induced lock down policy rather contributed to further sealing of the borders, with huge loss on intra-regional trade and economic development.
Ukaoha decried huge economic losses occasioned by the border closure to genuine traders with legitimate transaction, especially goods with expiry dates that got stranded at the borders.
“The situation is worsened by the fact that there is no discourse about considerations for compensation, so that the genuine traders are not punished alongside with smugglers,’’ he noted.
Ukaoha, however, called on documentation on the costs and benefits of the border closure, the identifiable legal gaps and future possible approaches and alternatives, as well as recommendations for improving domestic and regional competitiveness and trade infrastructure.
“We call on Government of Nigeria to produce a full documentation of all the causes, effects, actions taken, lessons learnt, costs and benefits, including quantitative analysis of other perceived impacts of the border closure.
“This would serve as a critical reference material in the event of any future and/or possible manifestation or re-occurrence of actions that led to the closure.
“More so, a documentation of goods originally stranded at the borders since the closure, the contents/classifications, and their owners as well as the process of release to their owners is imperative to avoid unnecessary legal actions and also promote use of data for border policy making.
“Cross border business actors including traders, transporters, manufacturers, farmers as well as the travelling public must avoid compromising the border officials and luring them to corrupt practices that deface the possible benefits of the border closure.
“In particular, every actor must ensure proper documentation and honest manifest and declaration of goods to avoid unnecessary delays and unjustifiable requests from border officials,’’ Ukaoha advised.
He further advised that Nigerian consumer public must show great sense of responsibility and patriotism by changing their attitude, their taste and their quest for foreign goods and commodities in place of domestic products.
This, he said was what led to massive importation and smuggling through the borders, which ultimately stifled local production capacity, thereby inflicting serious harm on producers, farmers and local service providers while also eroding the economy as a whole.
Speaking about border law enforcement agencies, he advised that they must manage the borders effectively without compromise to ensure that substandard products, prohibited items including drugs, small arms and light weapons were not trafficked or peddled across the borders into the country.
The expert further advised that a process of reprimanding unscrupulous officials must be put in place so as to serve as warning to perpetrators of illicit cross border activities and deter others from corrupt practices.
He said that lessons learnt by enforcement agencies during the period of border closure must now be displayed for effective regulation, management and coordination of the borders and the corridors.
In this same vain, Dr Chijioke Ekechukwu, an Economist noted that it would be important to recognise the reason for the closure of the borders in the first place.
Ekechukwu recalled that among the reasons was to give local rice production a boost, as the open borders could not check the influx of prohibited imported rice.
He noted that much as the border closer achieved its purpose of growing local rice production, and reduced small weapon importation, it worked against the ECOWAS Trade Treaty which allowed for free entry and exit of genuine goods.
He added that it also undermined the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) purpose and objective.
According to him, Nigeria has always been a major Trade Hub for Africa, so within the period of lock down, many Nigerian Traders that supplied the African market made lots of losses in business as their African buyers could not come.
The reopening of our borders therefore is a good development as we have taken back our dominant position in African Trade and Economic activities as well as the experience allowing for stock taking to prevent reoccurrence and its economic and social impact on Nigeria and Nigerians.