When President Muhammadu Buhari, who incidentally is a retired Army General, promised to re-open the borders with the neighbouring two West African countries of Benin Republic, Niger and the Central African country of Cameroon, across the country closed last August on January 31, 2020, not many people took him serious .
They have every reason not believe him . This is because of the attitude of Presidents Patrick Talon, particular, Mahamadou Issoufou and Paul Biya, whose countries were adversely affected by the border closure because of their refusal to stop the use of their countries to carry out the informal trade in which Nigeria had lost billions of naira over the last couple of years.
Between 2015 and 2019, The Katsina state born Nigerian President was said to have made several appeals to them to join in the fight against the smuggling of light arms and ammunitions including foreign parboiled and other prohibited items into the Nigerian market but that was how far he could go.
He was said to have made it clear to these his Benin Republic, Niger and Cameroon vounterparts that if he could b ite re-elected for a second term in office, he will not hesitate to close the borders across the country with their respective countries in order to stop the informal trade.
They may have laughed over it, believing that it is still going to be business as usual. They got it wrong. The Nigerian President was determined to stop the mess . Security watchers told the Value News that signs that the Nigerian government may close the borders with the neighbouring countries began to manifest during the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Worried by the at the increased smuggling activities across the border Communities, with these neighboring countries, the former President was said to have given the nod to Abdullahi Dikko, the then Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, to donate some operational vehicles to Benin and Niger, to support their anti-smuggling drive. The Magazine l gathered that the Nigerian Customs Authorities had donated six operational vehicles to Benin and eight to Niger.
Many believe that if the two West African Countries’ , Customs Administration had deployed the operational vehicles to their anti-smuggling drive, in their respective countries, the situation could not have been so bad as to force the Nigerian President to make do his promise of blocking all the border routes across the country with the neighbouring Benin, Niger and Cameroon.
The border closure appear to have hit the economies of virtually all the countries within the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS and the Central African Sub-regions, that some African leaders had intervened to force Buhari, to soft-pedal on the border closure to avoid a total Collapse of these countries. The Nigerian President had told Nigerians in Diaspora that he is ready to throw the borders with these countries open again if they are ready to do the right thing.
Many believe that if the retired Army General , who fought the country’s 30-month old Civil War, could have changed his mind to re-open the closed borders before now, he could have listened to Nana Akufo –Ado, the Ghanaian President who visited him last year ostensibly to discuss the border closure and the way out. ItThe Ghanaian President had pleaded with the Nigerian President to reconsider the issue of the border closure in the interest of other countries within the ECOWAS Sub-rregion , which economies are much dependent on the Nigeria for their survival .
The failure of the Ghanaian President to influence Buhari to reverse himself on the border closure may have informed why Issoufou, the President of Niger and Chairman of the Authority of Heads of States and Government of countries of the ECOWAS Sub-region to sought the intervention of Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda and Chairman, African Union to save the situation from getting worse.
The opportunity for Kagame and Buhari , to meet one -on – one to discuss the border closure issue took place last Sunday at the recent 33rd extraordinary session of the U, at Addisa Ababa, Ethiopia.
Garba Shehu, senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity who confirmed the meeting of the two African leaders said the the issue was discussed. The AU Chairman may have X-rayed the adverse effects of the border closure on the economies of the entire West and Central African Sub-regions and its implication to the planned African Continental Free Trade Area, AfCTA.
The Authority of the Heads of State and Government, of ECOWAS, may have taken advantage of the AU meeting , with hope that Buhari, the Nigerian President will not object to decision to resolve the crisis to set up the Roch Marc Christian Kabore, Committee to address the issue and other pressing regional matters. Note that Kabore is the President of Burkina Faso, a member country of the ECOWAS Subregion.
The Committee, according Geoffrey Onyeama, the minister of Foreign Affairs, who was said to have travelled to Addis Ababa, for the AU, 33rd extraordinary session , meeting was mandated to carry out full study of the circumstances that led to the border closure from the affected countries and make a report to the Authority of Heads of State and Governments of ECOWAS, which in turn, will be passed it to the AU, for consideration. The minister may have alluded to this when he said the report of the Committee will determine the next step to be taken by the government.
There is no gainsaying the fact that the Nigerian border closure may have informed the reason why the French speaking countries of Cote d’Ivore, Togo, Benin and Niger which were initially enthusiastic about the planned introduction of ECO, as the single currency to be used in the Sub-regional transactions and means of Foreign Exchange, are no longer interested in supporting it.
The AU , leadership may have known that the foot –dragging of the French –speaking countries on the ECO , may spell a disaster on the single currenecy Project that it was discussed at the AU, Addis Ababa , meeting. ‘’The AU meeting discussed the West Africa’s new single currency, The ECO’’, Onyeama had said.
In spite of the attitude of Benin Republic and the other French-speaking countries to the ECO single currency project, because of the Nigeria Border closure issue and the refusal of Buhari to bow to pressure both within and southside the Subregion , Onyeama, the minister of Foreign Affairs has made it clear to those that cares to listen that ‘’Nigeria’s position on the ECO single c currency for the Sub-region has not changed’’. By February 26, 2020, the border closure would have enered its 6th month. With the intervention f the AU and the Authority of Heads of State and Governments of the ECOWAS, Sub-region, there are indications that the crisis will be resolved soon for free movement of goods and Services within the Sub-region to resume.