ClosureBy Suleiman Umaru
When President Muhammadu Buhari acted based on security reports and briefings by Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel, and Comptroller, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, to close the borders across the country with neighbouring West African countries of Benin Republic, Niger and the Central African country of Cameron, on August, 2019, not many people expected it to drag on this long.
The Katsina state born Nigerian President had said that the closed Border Communities across the country would be reopened on January 31, 2020 but that was how far he could go. Not only has he defaulted in the promise but the gold post had been shifted several times , fueling speculations that the border closure may be indefinite as a way of forcing the entire West African countries to honour the Economic Community of West Africa States, ECOWAS, Trade protocols and including Cameroon to honour all the bilateral Agreements with Nigeria.
The Katsina state born Nigerian President had said that the decision to close the border with the neighbouring African countries was taken ‘’to stop the massive smuggling of Foreign parboiled rice, Vehicles and other prohibited items through the land border into the country’’. He had told those that cares to listen that the border closure was also ‘’aimed at securing the nation’s land maritime borders’’.
A n aggrieved Buhari had said that the massive smuggling of rice into the country from the porous borders in the north west , South west and north central states Border states Kwara, Niger, home state of Former military President General Ibrahim Babangida and general Abdulsalami Abubakar, a rtd Army General and a former Head of State, Benue and Kogi , had threatened the country’s self-sufficiency in rice production.
The Border closure may have affected other West African countries that they no ,longer see it as problem between Nigerian and the three African countries but the entire African Continent . From Benin, Togo, Niger, Ghana, Cameroon to South Africa, the story I the same: Nigerian traders were attacked at various markers. The most recent was the attack at Suame Magazine in Kumasi in the Ashanti region by Ghanaians who vowed vowed to evict Foreigners, particular Nigerians from the market.
The Leaders of the Nigerian Traders Association in the market had accused the local traders and the Ghana Union Traders Association of targeting its members and forcefully evicting them from their their shops. NThe Ghanaian government may have been worried of a repraisal attack in Nigeria that Nana Akufo –Addo, the Ghanaian President had read out to Buhar, to assure him that the siyuation is under control.
The people of Niger, Ghana and other African countries have every reason to be unhappy with Nigerians and their home government because of the shortages of materials imported from Nigeria by these neighbouring African countries. There are fears that the Border closure if not quickly resolved would affect the actualization of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agremment, AfCTA, which is expected to take off soon.
Given the intervention of the ECOWAS, at the Sub –regional level and African leaders, at the individual level, particular, Akufo Addo, the Ghanaian President, to force his Nigerian counterpart to reopen the closed borders with the neighbouring Benin, Niger and Cameroon, in order to return the economy of the West African and Central African Sub-Region by to normalcy, the Nigerian President appear not to be a hurry to do so. He had said that’’the reopening of the closed borders with the neighbouring countries would be determined by the report of the ECOWAS tripartite committee made up of Nigeria, Benin Republic and Niger.
Note that Marc Christian Kabore , the President of Bukina Faso, who is the Chairman of the Committee mandated to resolve the border closure issue was said to have met with Presidents Patrick Talon of Benin Republic, Mahamadow Issoufou, the President of Niger and who is incidentally the Chairman , of the ECOWAS.
The Burkina Faso President was said to have also visited the Nigeria President, who could not hide his feeling as he told him that reopening the bordesr with the neighbouring countries may be a hard a hard decision to take now. ‘’Our problem is the national security , the inflow of weapons , ammunitions and drugs from these countries into Nigeria.
He may have made the Burkina Faso President and ECOWAS border Committee Chairman to understand that since the border closure last year August, ‘’there had been a decline in banditry and criminals using such weapons. He had opined that the local rice farmers are now able to sell their rice as the massive flooding of the Nigerian market with foreign par boiled rice had stopped.
Political Observers believe that the Nigerian President may not have been fair to his fellow country men with the continuous closure of the land borders as banditry and killings had been on the rise in the north western states of Kaduna and his home state, Katsina.
The question on the lips of most was: if no weapons and ammunitions enter into the country since the border closure , over a year ago, where are the weapons used by the bandits in these two , north western states of Kaduna and Katsina, particular, obtained ? What of Foreign rice , these had continued to flood the Nigerian market, forcing a bag of ‘’50’’ locally produced rice to sell at N24,000.00 per bag, almost at par , with the Asian country of Thailand par boiled rice, smuggled from the Porous borders across the country. virtually all the ship loads of foreign rice discharged at the Autonomous port of Cotonou, Benin Republic, end up in the Nigerian market.
The thousands of ‘’50’’ bags of Foreign rice smuggled into the country from the different porous borders across the country from Benin, Niger and Cameroon , which had fallen into the waiting hands of the various NCS , Formations, across the country, particular, Federal Operations Unit, FOUs, Border Drill sectors and the Comptroller General of Customs, CGC, Strike Force, across the country speaks volume.
The south east states of Anambra, Abia, Eboyi, Enugu, and Imo and the south- south states of Edo , Delta, Rivers, and Bayelsa states may not share border Communiites with the West African countries of Beni or Niger, but Kayode Olusemire Comptroller, FOU, Zone C, oweeeri , Imo state , overseeing the these south east and south-south states, have continued to intercept , thousands of bags rice including vehicles and other items smuggled into the region from the south west.
The only state that many believe share boundary both on land and sea with the Central African country of Cameroon was Cross river state. The state border Communities with the Central African country o at Ikom and Bakasi axis of the state cannot be Compare to the Border situation in the north central states of Kwara, Niger, benueor, Kogi . The situation is the same at the south west states of Ogun, and Oyo as well as the north eastern states, of Borno , Yobe . The border situation appears to be more worrisome in the north western states of Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto, Kebbi Kano and Jigawa where is no difference between the states and the land locked country of Niger .
This may have informed why terrorism and banditry are on the rise in the two regions and why imported goods , particular, Foreign rice, vehicles, textiles and second hand clothing and items meant for these land locked countries end up in Kano, markets for distribution to other markets in the region.
In spite of the fact that there is no end in sight to the massive smuggling of Foreign rice and other Contraband including vehicles into the country through the land borders Buhari, was said to have given his words to Kabore, his Burkina Faso President that he will move speedily to reopen the closed borders as soon he receives the ECOWAS committee report on the close borders.
This may have informed why the pressure have shifted from the Nigerian President in the recent time to the Burkina Faso president in order to hasten efforts to submit the report to the ECOWAS Secrretariat and Mahamadow, the President of Niger and will who in turn present it before the Authority of Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS, for approval and the Nigeria President for implementation without delay.