The Nigerian Customs authority has spent the last month ‘experimenting’ with the country’s road borders. But not all the country’s road borders, just the ones that connect the Southern parts of Nigeria to neighbouring countries, Benin Republic and Cameroon. Comptroller General Hameed Ali has claimed he is closing the borders to prevent the smuggling of rice and other banned substances into the country, substances whose ban in 2017 has done little to nothing to stem their illegal flow into the country.
After several years of negotiations, 53 of the 55 countries in Africa, finally agreed to sign the African Continental Free Trade Agreement. An essential document that opens the borders of the countries of Africa to each other for travel and trade, dropping tariffs and a majority of the pre-existing bans and lowering the cost of migrating between countries. Extensive research has proven that residual colonial laws and interests (British, French and Portuguese businesses and financial interests gain more if they import to the west directly from their former colonies) and removing these barriers will increase the economic profile of the continent as a whole. However, Nigeria, under President Buhari refused to sign the contract. Some argue that President Buhari’s reasons for hesitating on the agreement were legitimate (he insisted that certain concessions be made for Nigeria) but eventually he changed his mind and signed the contract.
The agreement is supposed to come into effect early 2020, so the Customs current decision to close borders and ‘beg’ indigenous producers of rice, tomatoes and the other food products the ban is supposed to protect suggests Nigeria doesn’t quite understand the AfCTFA is legally binding, or they have no intentions of honouring the agreement. There is precedent for this, the country is currently fighting several international legal suits demanding that the country honour other agreements.
If Nigeria doesn’t honour the AfCTFA, we will become a pariah on the continent; or at least, a worse pariah than we are right now. Comptroller Hameed Ali has some justification to do, to Nigeria and the African Union.