“All goods, for now, are banned from being exported or imported through our land borders and that is to ensure that we have total control over what comes in,” – Hameed Ali, comptroller-general of the Nigerian Customs Service.
The entire country has spent the last week trying to make sense of this quote from Comptroller-General Hameed Ali, a man who spent much of 2017 and 2018 in the Nigerian news cycle for defying the Nigerian government. Smugglign has somehow become Nigeria’s biggest ticket topic, inspiring rash actions that belie understanding or logic. As an import heavy country where poverty is rising, trade is not only important to the country’s sustainability, it is also vital to lifting people out of poverty. For cross border land trade to be ground completely to a halt as a response to the government’s spurious claim of ‘rice smuggling’ is worrying at the very least.
But then again, this is only one in a long line of illogical decision that have been taken by the Nigerian government since President Buhari began his second term. The government has announced it is returning tolls to Nigerian roads, a welcome development if not that there is no public transportation to benefit from the implementation of this new directive. Private transportation dominates Nigerian roads because the government has consistently failed in providing a safe/reliable alternative.
And now, after a proposed increase in vat was slammed at the Nigerian senate, Nigerian banks have begun to charge for customers to perform USSD transactions, the very tool the government promised Nigerians would allow banks reach the country’s unbanked and provide them access to banking services. If the unbanked have to pay to use a service that doesn’t even require internet access then where exactly is the government’s commitment to help usher Nigeria into a cashless economy. No trade, increased taxation and threats to the livelihoods of Nigerians is how the Nigerian government intends to usher its citizens into an era of prosperity.
The IMF says we have no cause to worry, but with increasing prices in Nigeria’s markets, it is hard to trust that this government will prove everyone wrong.