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.
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’’.