By Stephen Ubanna
Between August 2019, and December 31, 2020, the Nigerian Borders across the country with the neighbouring countries of Benin Republic, Niger and the Central African country of Cameroon, had been closed , to traffic over alleged smuggling of the Asian country of Thailand par boiled rice , small and light arms into the country.
The Border closure which was said to be at the instance of President Muhammadu Buhari, a retired army General, to force Patrice Talon, of Benin, Muhammadou Issoufou, Niger and Paul Biya , of Cameroon, to join Nigeria in the anti-smuggling war by blocking the illegal routes used by smugglers in their respective countries.
The Border closure decision may have had a telling effect on the economy of other countries in the West African sub-region, particular, that there was pressure on the Nigerian President from different quarters including the Leadership of the African Union, AU, to reopen the closed borders for return of normal business between the neighbouring countries
. At different times , the Nigerian President had shifted the goal post on the reopening of the closed Borders on the advice of Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel, and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, who sources said may have lost face with the Presidency.
Recall that Babaga Munguno, a retired Major General and Chairman , Operation Swift Response, popular, Border Drills, who incidentally is the National Security Adviser, NSA, overseeing the Border closure had on November 13, 2020, at the instance of the Katsina state born Nigerian President given the nod to Ali, the Customs Comptroller General , and who is the Vice Chairman of the Border Drills , to release the over N300 million dutiable trucks laddn goods trapped at the Seme /Krrake Border Community, between Nigeria and Benin.
The trapped trucks laden goods, according Tony Nwabunike , President , Association of Nigerian licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, are worth over N130 billion in the market. The NSA, who, security experts said has the ears of the Nigerian President may have issued the directive, with hope that Ali, the Customs boss will implement it but that was how he could go.
Last December, Hajia Zainab Ahmed, minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning may have lend her voice to the good news of government plans to reopen the closed Borders for full business to resume with the neighbouring countries when she told Journalists after a Federal Executive Council, FEC, mid- last December, that the Nigerian President has approved the reopening of Seme border, south west Nigeria, Mfun border between Nigeria and Cameroon, in Cross river state, south-south Nigeria, Ilela and Maigatari borders in Jigawa state, north west which ,links Nigeria and Niger Republic.
Many had expected Ali, the Customs boss to act on the ministerial order by communicating with the Customs Coordinators, at the Zonal offices and Area Comptrollers at the Land Border Commands overseeing the four border routes linking Nigeria and the three neighbouring countries but he failed to do so.
Maritime analysts believe that if he Customs Comptroller General had Communicated to the Customs Coordinators, who are Assistant Comptroller Generals at the Zonal offices and the Customs Area Comptrollers to implement the government order for full restoration of business transactions between the countries , it would have paved the way for the reopening of the other borders, which are scattered across the country which are yet to be reopened.
Going by the minister’s Statement, all the other Borders that were still closed for human and cargo traffic ought to have been opened before December 31, 2020. Note that there are about 84 , government approved entry points into Nigeria that are scattered all over the south west, north west, north central, north east and south-south Nigeria . This is in addition to the 1,499 illegal routes used by smugglers to carry out their nefarious trade.
Ali may have been acting out a script of the Presidency by refusing to give the nod to the Customs Zonal Coordinators and the Area Comptrollers at the Federal Operations Units, FOUS, Border Drills and Comptroller General of Customs Zonal Coordinators and the land Border Command Comptrollers in the states where the Reopened Border routes are located forful business operations.
The Customs Comptroller General may have waited for the reopening of the Border routes between Nigeria and the Two West African countries and Cameroon until the President makes the announcement to carry weight.. The opportunity may have come on Friday, January 1, 2021, while giving his new message to Nigerians. He may have gladdened the heart of Benin and other West African countries business men that Nigeria is again opened for full business for those willing’’ to conduct their business in a fair and equitable way’’.
He may have agreed to critics claim that the closing of the borders across the country with the neighbouring countries had a negative impact on the country’s economy going by his Statement. He had said that the reopening of the closed borders with the three neighbouring countries, both in the West and Central African sub-regions, ‘’will improve the economy , as the country is now ready to do business with them.
Analysts believe that Ali may have shot himself on the leg for holding back the reopening of the four borders initially approved by the Nigeria President until now that all the closed borders across the country have been opened by the Nigerian president instead of opening it up in piece meals.
With the latest presidential order reopening the closed borders across the country with the neighbouring countries, Ali, the Customs boss has no excuse to give to Nigerians for not allowing the borders to be opened for full business with the neighbouring countries.
T Ever since the Nigeria President made the announcement reopening all the border routes across the country with the neighbouring countries,there have been jubilations in the Camp of the over 2,400 Nigerian Companies which manufactured products , including Dngote Industries and BUA Group, which products are registered by the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, Trade Liberalisation Scheme,TLS, popular, ETLS, to participate in the economic bloc trade.
It is instructive to note of the 1,900 products that are marketed, t in the sub-regional market, a ministry of Foreign Affairs source disclosed that between 60-70 percent of it are manufactured by Nigerian Companies alone. This may have informed why the Nigerian President is optimistic that the reopening of the closed borders ‘’ will improve the economy’’.
The Nigerian President may have seen the reason to reopen the closed borders across the country when he found out that Nigerian manufactured products, particular, cement and Confectionaries are in high demand in other West and Central African countries This is evident with the high demand of Dangote Industries and the BUA Group, cement.
Until the final reopening of the land borders across the country by the Nigerian President on January 1, 2021, the Buhari Administration had given authorization to Dangote Cement, a subsidiary of Dangote Industries, which has Aliko Dangote, a multi-billionaire as its President, to export its manufactured cement to Niger and Togo, both ECOWAS , member countries last November.
Although, that the Nigerian Companies Cement manufacturers have opened up trade with the two West Africa countries after a prolonged blockade, which gives them an edge over other ETLS, registered Companies, officials of Dangote Industries, particular, may have learnt their lesson the hard way as arrangement are on the way to grow the trade with the neighbouring countries using the’’ sea channels’’ to avoid being caught unawares again by the government with its usual Border Closure policy. Vintage Dangote.`