Earlier this year, the Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs Authority, Hameed Ali announced the country was closing its land borders. Not all of its land borders of course, just the the ones that saw trade and were an integral part of the country’s economic pipeline. The reasons given do carry some merit. The country has seen a surge in crime, violence and insecurity and closing the land borders made it significantly harder to smuggle in weapons. There was also the secondary objective of ensuring that ‘smuggled’ rice and other items branded as contraband by the federal government and endorsed by the Central Bank of Nigeria couldn’t make its way into Nigeria.
However, in the intervening months, it has become clear that the border closure has led to an increase in food prices across the country while doing marginal damage to smuggling. Corrupt border officials still allow contraband enter the country provided enough money exchanges hands, a surcharge that is eventually passed on to the citizens, half of whom have fallen into extreme poverty in the last 4 years. The government seems unfazed, and Hameed Ali has reassured Nigerians that a little suffering is no incentive to relax the order closing the borders.
Now, the Nigerian government has announced it is unsure when or how the borders will be reopened. This is in contravention of the AfCTFA deal that Nigeria signed along with 57 other African countries, an initiative that is supposed to improve intra-African trade. The Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment, Mariam Katagum during a public address this week, assured journalists that the government is in tri-lateral talks with Niger and Benin Republic to reopen the borders, but but talks have stalled on disagreements about pooling resource to create an extra-national border control unit. and until this, and other demands are met, the borders will stay closed.
“We had the strategic meeting with the three countries and what we agreed with our neighbors is to activate a joint border patrol and that border patrol comprising the customs, all the security agencies and ensure to try to follow the actual protocol laid by ECOWAS.
“The committee met on November 25 and it is only when that committee is certain that all the countries are respecting the ECOWAS protocol that they will recommend a day for the opening of the border.”
There is talk of a stakeholder’s meeting to get input from Nigerian interests affected by the border closure, but at this point, Nigerians have been pretty clear about what they want. Will the government listen to them?
We will have to wait and see.