By Stephen Ubanna
Those who think that President Muhammadu closure of the Borders across the country which had affected the free movement of goods and services between the West African countries of Nigeria, Republic of Benin and Niger, particular , will be permanent , may have to do a do a rethink.
Hajia Zainab Ahmed , minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning has made it clear to those that cares to listen that it is a temporary measure basically to force the two neighbouring countries to comply with the the the International Law on transit cargoes and the Economic , Community of West African States, ECOWAS, Trade Liberalisation Scheme, ECOWAS ETLs.
Hajia Ahmed is optimistic that the issues raised by the government with the neigbouring countries would soon be resolved to facilitate the reopening of the Borders. She disclosed that discussions with the countries on the Border closure have reached advanced stage , noting that the government is expecting every party to respect the Transit Cargo Codes and the ECOWAS ETLS Protocols, which all the countries are committed to.
Already, Issoufou Mohammad, President of Niger, with the backing of the country’s National Assembly , was said to have banned the re-exportation of rice , in any form to Nigeria. This is just one area of the government Complaints as it want the country to go further than that by ensuring total blockage of its borders to forestall smugglers from using it to further sabotage Nigeria’s economy.
Recall that Lai Mohammed , the minister of Information and Culture, had said on Monday, November 25, 2019, at Seme/Krake , a Joint Border Community between Nigeria and Republic of Benin that the Borders across the country were closed because the neighbouring countries were opening their ports to far flung countries to use and dump their manufactured and Agricultural goods, which were smuggled into the Nigeria market through the country porous borders, thus turning the country into third party goods. The minister may have alluded to the Asian countries of China, India, Thailand and Malaysia including the European country of France.
The minister lamented that goods on the government prohibition list such as second hand clothing, foreign par boiled rice, and processed Vegetable oil had always found their way into the country through unapproved routes from these countries.
The minister who could no longer bear the pressure within and outside the African Continent to give reasons for the Border Closure, was said to have been asked to use her position in the Buhari Administration to influence the reopening of the Borders across the country to the ease the suffering of the people.
She was said said to have told those that cares to listen that the government has taken the step at this early stage to close the Borders with the neighbouring countries cross the country to ensure that when it starts the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement , AfCFTA there will not be any reason to worry about abuse by the trading partners.
Indeed , this had been the major worry of the Katsina state born Nigerian President when he signed the AfCTA deal with Patrick talon, his counterpart at Benin at the extra-ordinary meeting of the African Heads of States and Government , in Niamey , Niger , last July.
Many believe that this may have been what had delayed the president from appending his signature to AfCFTA working document when several other African countries had signed it including Ghana and South Africa. Note the only country for now, that had not signed the AfCFTA, document, is the Southern African country of Eriterea.
As a prelude to reopening the closed Borders, the parties ongoing discussions at Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Nigeria, which started on Sunday, November 24, 2019 were said to have ended last Wednesday, November 27, 2019.
Security watchers believe that the neighbouring countries of Benin and Niger, according Business analysts, may have learnt their lesson from the Border closure because of the adverse effects on their economies in the last three months.
Hajia Ahmed, the minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning , said that much , ‘’I hope our neighbours will respect the outcomes of those discussions and agreement that we are all committed to and then the Borders will be reopened for normal movement of goods and services between the neighbouring countries without hindrance to resume.
Note that the Republic of Benin and Niger, may not be alone in feeling the pinch of the Border closure. Even Nigeria was not left out despite efforts by Godwin Emefiele, the governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, to discredit the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, report about the astronomical rise of the Inflation rate in the country’s economy.
The minister, who is deeply involved in running the nation’s economy and an insider of the Buhari Administration appears to have agreed with the NBS report, when she said that the ‘’increase in the prices of food items that had been witnessed in the country since September and now was propelled by the Border closure.
She noted that the country had not noticed inflation for several months until the government came up with the Border Drills on August 26, 2019, which resulted in the partial closure of the Borders across the country. Emefiele, the CBN , governor had earlier said t that the Border Closure had resulted in the scarcity of some basic food items in the country. The food items that were said to have been worse hit in the astronomical rise in the inflation rate are Cereals, rice and fish, which are mostly consumed in the country.
In a related development, the United Nations High Commission For Refuges, UNHCR, had said that that there are about 218,00 Nigeria refuges in the West African countries of Niger and Tchad including the Central African country of Camerron. These waas said to have been confirmed by the UNHCR country Representative , Anthonio Canhandula, urging the government to created the enabling environment that would facilitate the return of the refuges to the country .
Politcal analysts believe that the refuge situation in these countries may have been made oworse both for the Border closure. Note that the Border Drills Operatives, alone , had arrested over 260 illegal immigrants in the country in the last three months
. Prior to the Border Drills, Nigeria was said to have been accommodating over 46,000 refuges, from Cameroon alone, which according Canhandula, the UNHCR, country Representative were spread across Benue, Cross River and Taraba states.