By Stephen Ubanna
For much of last month and now, there had been rumour making the rounds that President Muhammadu Buhari had bowed to pressure from the Authority of Heads of States and Government of Economic Comic of West African States member countries, the Leadership of the National Assembly and the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, MAN, who had unsold ELS goods in their warehouses to reopen the borders for normal trade with the countries to resume.
The rumour became pronounced with January 20, 2021, alleged to have been set for the reopening of the nation’s closed borders with the neighbouring West African countries of Benin Republic, Niger, and the Central African country of Cameroon. President Muhammadu Buhari may have allowed the rumour mongers to exhaust their arsenal before opening up on the government’s next plan on the border closure.
The Katsina state born Nigerian President , may have taken advantage of a recent meeting with the governors of the 36 states of the Federation at the Presidential Villa to speak out. The governors were said to have been led to the meeting by Kayode Fayemi, a former minister of Solid minerals and now governor of Ekiti state, south west Nigeria andChairman of the Nigerian’s Governor’s Forum, NGF. The governors who were seated on a round table at the Villa were said to have listened with rapt attention , making contribution where necessary.
Given an insider information why the government took the bold initiative to close the borders with the the three neighbouring countries, the Nigerian President had said that it was basically ‘’to control the smuggling of weapons and drugs including Contraband and other items into the country’’. He believes that ‘’ the message has sunk in with the neighbouring countries’’ who are now ready to work with Nigeria to contain the smugglers.
He had told the governors to be on red alert as the sub-region is no longer safe, with the collapse of the regime of the former Libyan leader, late Muammar Gaddafi, and the cross-border movement of weapons and Criminals’’.
The Nigerian President who could not hide his feelings had given an insight of the efforts that had been made by President Muhammadou Issofou, of Niger , led leadership of ECOWAS Authority of Heads of States and Government to look into the Nigeria border closure. The ECOWAS highest decision making body had set up the President Roch Marc Kabore of Burkina Faso Committee. The Committee, according to him, had a mandate ‘’to study and make a full report on the country’s border closure with the neighbouring countries’’.
He noted that the decision to set up the Committee was taken at an extraordinary session of ECOWAS Leaders in Addis Ababa, Capital of Ethiopian, and headquarters of the African Union, AU. The Committee was said to have submitted its report which, insidrs said favoured the reopening of the Nigeria closed borders with the neigbouring countries but yet to be considered by the ECOWAS , Authority of Heads of States and government.
Recall, that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, a Professor of Law, who spoke during a webinar,organised by the African Report, on Thursday, November 26, 2020, had given an insight of ‘’government’s plan towards reopening of the border’’ .
Osinbajo who may have taken advantage of one of the questions asked on the continued closure of the nation’s land borders despite preparations for the implementation of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement, AfCTA, was forced to speak out
. ‘’The government is working with the neighboring countries on the terms of reopening the borders’’, he had said. As a prelude to the reopening the closed borders he had cited the joint border patrols to control smuggling along the borders, stressing that’’ soon the closed borders will be opened’’. He may have gladdened the heart of Nigerians when he said that the government would not continue to close the borders across the country with the neighbouring countries as it is committed to AfCTA’’.
Many believe that the continued closure of the Nigeria’s borders with the neighbouring countries could be traced to Godwin Emefiele, governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, and Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel, and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, who they said have the ears of the Nigerian President.
Emefiele, had reportedly said that for the Nigeria closed borders to be opened, ‘’there must first be ‘’concrete engagements with the countries that are involved in using their ports for bringing in foods meant for local Consumption.The CBN governor had said that the food items that had landed in their countries are transshipped or smuggled into Nigeria , thus undermining the country’s economic policy.
He may have won the heart of the President when he said that since the borders across the country with the neighbouring countries were closed in August18, 2019, the local rice millers no longer have problem of unsold stock in their warehouse. He further stated that there have been increased patronage of locally produced poultry products and improved job creation in the country.
Ali, the Customs Comptroller General, who is an arch supporter of the border closure because of the service improved revenue collection, and seizure of multi-billion naira Contraband in different parts of the country over the last two years, had told those that cares to listen that ‘’ reopening the closed borders across the country depend on the actions of the neighbouring countries’’ , stating that ‘’as long as the countries and Nigeria were not in accord on what goods should be imported or exported in their countries, the borders would remain closed. Bad news for the countries.
He had alluded to the fact that the Asian country of China where Nigerian business men rush to go and buy almost everything for sales in the country had closed its borders with neighbouring countries for 40 years to emerge as a world economic power. He may have seen that Buhari had cue into the border closure that he had said We must grow Nigeria , eat Nigeria’’.
He maintains that the border closure with the neighbouring countries is a ‘’win-win for Nigeria’’, citing the Abakaliki and Kebbi rice farmers , who had risen up to the challenge. This may have informed why he has ignored Babaga Munguno, a retired Major General and National Security Adviser, order, which was said to be at the instance of the Nigerian President to release the over N314 million dutiable goods, which the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, under the close watch of Tony Iju nwabunike, had said had a market value of over N130 billion, trapped at the Seme/Krake joint border between Nigeria and Benin Republic since August 18, 2019 .
The letter allegedly authorising the release of the trucks laden goods was said to have been signed by, E. I. A. Ndagi, an Army Major General, in the office of the NSA, on November 13, 2020, and addressed to the Customs Comptroller General.
Although, the Nigerian President has weight the apetite of Nigerians of the government’s plan to reopen the closed borders across the country with the neighbouring countries, soon, he may need to go a little bit further by giving a timeline for the reopening of the borders instead of still keeping the Nigerians in the dark.