Hope Of Reopening Closed Land Borders Hang In The Balance; Tinubu Moves To Help Farmers

By Stephen Ubanna

When Wale Adeniyi, Acting Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, told Bola Ahmed Tinubu, President and Commander –In-Chief, C –in –C, of the Nigerian Armed Forces, after a recent private meeting at the villa that ‘’not all the Land border Areas with the West African countries of Benin Republic, Niger and Chad, including the Central African country of Cameroun were opened by former President Muhammadu Buhari, before leaving office  on May 29, 2023.

 The Customs Comptroller General had said   that six strategic land borders across the country were reopened in 2021 by the former Katsina state born Nigerian President stressing that’’ there are ongoing processes to review the situation’’, many had expected the former Lagos state governor to take the bold initiative to reopen the remaining borders.

 Although, the Customs helmsman had said that the former President had reopened six strategic borders in 2021, but available records shows that the former Nigerian President had ordered the reopening of the first four strategic borders which  include Seme, Illela, Sokoto, Maigatari, Jigawa and Mfun, in Cross river state.

 These was said to have been  quickly  followed by the reopening of   Idiroko in Ogun state,  Jibiya, Katsina, home state of the former Nigerian President,  Kamba, Kebbi  state  and Ikom, Cross river state, in 2022, thus bringing the total number  of strategic land  borders  opened by the Buhari’s Administration,  between 2021 and May 29, 203, to eight.

Adeniyi: Acting CG Customs

  The Customs new boss was said to have requested for Presidential support to further improve the country’s Land borders and stop the massive smuggling of Contraband, particular, foreign rice into the country.   He was aid to have also visited Nuhu Ribadu, a former Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and now National Security Adviser, NSA, to seek security support on the nation’s border areas as well.

The Customs Comptroller General who had worked closely with five former Comptroller Generals of the service, had said   that ‘’the porous  nature  of the nation’s Land borders had necessitated  the visit to the NSA  to fashion  out the best approach  to tackle  the menace of smuggling  which have  had diverse  effects  in  the country’s economy and security over the years’’.    

 Until the CG, of Customs, visit to the NSA, many had expected Tinubu to have adopted the same strategy used in removing the fuel subsidy and the unification of the country’s multiple exchange rates policy on assumption of office to reopen the closed Land borders across the country. They got it wrong.

This is because the Nigerian President may not have wished to go against his electioneering campaign promises ‘’not to reopen the nation’s closed  land borders  following ‘’the massive smuggling of foreign parboiled and Agricultural rice produced by farmers from the Asian country of Thailand and Agricultural rice from  India into Nigeria ’’.

 Recall that Tinubu,  had urged farmers,  during his electioneering Campaigns in the 36 states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT,    not to be complacent  by following  any of  the Opposition Political  party Candidates   who will seek to reverse  the country’s  food security policy being implemented by the ruling  APC.

He may have alluded to Atiku Abubakar, a former Vice President, during former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s eight years in government and who had claimed to be more knowledgeable about border issues than his closest rivals in the country’s   last Presidential election. Atiku, particular, has vowed to reopen all the nation’s close Land borders if elected as the next Nigerian President.From Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara, Katsina, Yobe , Borno, Cross river, to Akwa Ibom states, Atiku’s message to the people was the same: to reopen the closed borders.

Giving reasons for his plan to reopen the closed borders, across the country, the former Opposition People Democratic Candidate   he had said that reopening the closed Land borders with the neighbouring countries of Benin Republic, Niger, Chad and Cameroun, will’’ foster trade and investment between n Nigeria and the countries’’.

The former Nigerian Vice President had declared that ‘’nobody should stop Nigeria, the most populous country in the African Continent from trading with its neighbours’’.  But that was how far he could go. He lost the February 25, 2023, Presidential election to Tinubu of the APC, who had vowed to continue with the legacies of his Predecessor in office: keep the borders closed to protect the interest of Nigerian rice farmers.

As a prelude to making the  rice and other food items available to Nigerians at the  affordable price,  the Nigerian President who appears to be in a hurry ‘’to succeed where past unelected Heads of State or the elected    Presidents had failed,  had declared a ‘’state of emergency  on food security in Nigeria’’. 

 In achieving the food security Challenges  in the country , Dele Alake,  Special Adviser to the President on  Special Duties, Communications and Strategy,  had said on Thursday, July 13, 2023,  that  he has directed  the relevant ministries and agencies  ‘’to direct all matters  pertaining  to food  and water availability  and affordability  , which are essential items to farmers to be included  within the purview of the National Security Council, NSC’’.

He noted that the Nigerian President , who is not unmindful of  the rising cost  of food   items across the country  and its effects on the purse of the citizens  had  directed also  ‘’the immediate release  of fertilizers  and grains  to farmers  and households  to mitigate  the effects  of the fuel  subsidy removal’’. There over 47 registered fertilizer companies cu fully operational in different parts of the country   blending plants used to make and process organic fertilizers for farmers use.

   Note that former President Buhari, had removed subsidy on fertilizer , which  Shehu Garba, the then,  Senior Special Assistant, Media and Publicity had said  gulped  between   N60 billion –N100 billion  annually of the Federal budget  or trillion naira  over the last eight years.  

This may have informed  why Tinubu had said that ‘’there  must be an urgent synergy  between the ministry of Agriculture  and the ministry of Water Resources to ensure  adequate irrigation  of farmlands  and to guarantee  that food is produced  all year round’’.

He may have gladdened the heart of vulnerable Nigerians when he disclosed hat that his government will create and support a National Commodity Board that will review and continuously assess food prices as well as maintain  a strategic food reserve   that will be used as a food stabilization  mechanism  for critical grains  and other food items. He was optimistic that through the National Commodity Board, to be established by the government will’’ moderate spikes and dips in food prices’’.

Not many people are surprise at the planned establishment of the National Commodity Board by the Tinubu’s Administration.   He had told some farmers in Minna, Capital of Niger, home state of Ibrahim Babangida, a retired Army General and   a former Nigerian first military President   and some Northern Agro Commodity Groups of going’’ to revamp the nation’s agricultural sector for optimal performance if elected the next Nigerian President’’.

He had told the Niger state farmers and other northern Agro-commodity groups   that the new government’s Agricultural vision would be achieved through ‘’the provision of modern farm implements atsubsdiized rates’’.

He  had stopped short at saying that a National Commodities Board would be established  when he mentioned   ‘’the National  Agricultural Commodity Directorate  instead  to  enhance food security and export’’.

A s Nigerian President, Tinubu had said  that  transportation, storage  and export  of agricultural produce  will be  improved  by working closely   with the Adeniyi led Customs, and who was said to have assured  the President    that ‘’all the bottlenecks experienced  in exporting   and importing food items as well as  intra-city  transportation of food items  through tolling  will be removed to enhance trade faciliattion’’.      

Appealing to stakeholders on board   like the  National  Commodity  Exchange, NCX,  Seed Companies,  National Seed Council and Research  Institutes,  NISAL Finance Bank,  Food Processing /Agricultural Processing  Associations, private sector  holders  and prime Anchors, small holder farmers, crop associations , fertilizer companies, blenders  and Suppliers Association, to support the government intervention efforts, , he had said that  it is the only way ‘’to moderate  spikes  and dips in food prices.’’

The Nigerian President  has made it clear to those that cares to listen that the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, under the close watch of   Folshodun Shonubi, will continue  to play  a role  of deploying  concessionary  capital/ funding  to the nation’s agricultural sector , particular, towards fertilizer, processing, mechanization, seeds, chemicals, equipment , feed   and labour, insisting that the Concessionary funds will  ensure  food is always available  and affordable.  

   He had said that  500,000 hectares  of land ,  have already  been mapped out  to increase  availability  of arable land for farming across the country, noting that  the government will collaborate    with mechanization companies  to clear much of the land  expected to  increase food  output and revenue from agricultural exports  that would engage the services of at least   five to 10 million people,  adding that   ‘’more jobs   would be created    in the value chain’’.

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