The Inside Story Why Buhari Reopened Idiroko Land Border Post and Others, With A Promise To Reopen More

 By Stephen Ubanna

Barely three months after he was elected and sworn in as President and Commander –In-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, C-In-C, of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, for his second term in office in 2019, Muhammadu Buhari Buhari, a retired Army General, had ordered the closure of the borders with the neighboring West African countries of Benin, Niger, Chad and the Central African country of Cameroon.

In closing all the borders with the three neighboring West African countries and Cameroon, across the coutry, the Katsina state born Nigerian President had said that the Nigerian government wants ‘’to reduce the smuggling the illegal inflow of the Asian countries of Thailand par boiled rice and Indian produced Agricultural rice, imported through the ports of Benin, Cotonou, Bollore port, both in Republic of Benin and Duala port in Cameroon into the Nigerian market.

The Nigerian President was optimistic that the border closure would go a long way to stop the outflow of subsidised imported Premium Motor Spirit, PMS, popular, petrol, for local use through unapproved routes into these neighbouring countries. More importantly the retired Army General, had justified the border closure by ‘’the need to support the domestic agricultural sector and accelerate national productivity sector’’.

The unilateral border closure by the Nigerian President in 2019, may have acted as a temporary brake on foreign rice smuggling into the country from Benin Republic and Cameroon as well as the outflow of petrol into these three West African countries and Cameroon. 

Suffice it to say that smuggling of foreign rice and Petrol take place between Nigeria, described as the largest economy   in the African Continent and the neighbouring West and Central African countries because of the price differentials of the Commodities.

President Koffo Addo, Piledd Up Pressure On Buhari To Reopen Closed Borders

 Indeed, given the effect of the Nigerian President action on the economies of these neighbouring countries forced the intervention of Nana Kofo Addo, the President of Ghana and other Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, countries and the African Union, UN, to facilitate the reopening of the Land borders to ensure free movement of goods and services between the countries.

Patrice Talon, the President of Republic of Benin had visited the Nigerian President on January, 2021, to plead for the reopening of the closed borders because of its adverse effect on the country’s economy which was at the brink of collapse. The duo had held a closed door meeting where the Nigeria President was said to have expressed his ‘’displeasure at the turn of smuggling across the border’’. The message was very clear to Talon: Go back to your country and stop the smuggling and I will reopen the borders. A tall order.

  Note that prior to the Beninoa President’s visit ,  the retired Army General had  given assurance in  December 16, 2020, that the Nigerian Government would reopen its land borders  with Benin, Niger, Chad, and  Cameroon. 

 The Beninoa President may have been moved by the worsening state of the country’s economy which was dependent on Nigerian economy, to provide a draft agreement to Buhari, during the visit, providing that  ‘’Nigerian Customs and Police Personnel may be stationed, at the Autonomous Port of Benin, Cotonou, mostly used by the transit cargo importers, in order to carry  out the necessary controls on the Nigeria -bound goods.

President Talon Of Benin Republic Visited Buhari To Facilitate The Reopening Of The Closed Borders

A working group was said to have been set up between the two countries ‘’to resolve the regulatory issues that may arise due to the implementation of the policy. The Nigerian President may have gladdened the heart of his Beninoa Counterpart when he said that he is not ‘’opposed to the transit of goods’’.

 Recall that many had expected the Nigerian President to reopen the closed borders across the country with the neighbouring countries with the visit of his Beninoa Counterpart immediately to show his respect for him. He failed to do so.

This may have forced him and his Economic Management Team to go back to the drawing board to fine tune the local economy and reduce its dependence on Nigerian economy. The fallout was the opening of its economy to the Asian country of China to fill the vacuum left by Nigeria by exporting those items sourced from the Nigerian market.

The Benin government was said to have tightened up security at the borders to ensure that made in Nigerian goods, particular, Cement, did not enter the Benin  market.  The country Gendarmes were said to have put a close watch on the Dagote Cement Factory at Ibeshe, Ogun state, to ensure that it would enter the country’s market. This was how, Dangote cement lost the cement market in Benin Republic to China and may be difficult to reverse for now.

The border closure may have forced the residents of the Communities to look for alternative means of survival  as smuggling of foreign par boiled rice into the Nigerian market from the several unapproved routes in the south west states of Ogun, Oyo, ad south –south state Cross River including  Kebbi, Sokoto and Katsina, Buhari’s  home state, became more pronounced.

 Even the outflow of subsidised Petrol from the Nigerian market into Benin became more manifest. This is evident with the consistent seizure of thousands of bags of foreign of 50Kg each and Jerry cans of Petrol of 25 litres by the various Customs Interventionist Units and adhoc Team across the country.

The government may have embarked on the phased reopening of the  closed borders with the neighboring  West African countries and Cameroon to give the ECOWAS  Leaders the assurance that he did not want to keep the borders under lock and key for too long to ease the suffering of the  people.

 Recall that in December 16, 2020, he had reopened  Seme, in south west Nigeria, described as the busies border post  in the West African sub-region and the African Continent in general,   Ilela, Maigatari and Mfun, out of the eight major land borders in the country.

 He may hve left  out  Idiroko,  in the south west geopolitical region,   Jibiya  border post in Katsina, and   Kamba border post in Kebbi,  states, both in north west Nigeria  as well as Ikom border post in Cross river state, south-south geopolitical region due to unfavourable  security reports.

W However, with barely, few months to the 2023, general elections, and precisely 13 months to the expiration of his Administration, Buhari has reopened, Idioroko, Jibiya, Kamba and Ikom, four additional major border posts in the country. He may not have received any applause from the people because of the  anger in the Land as  most the cross –border traders have  lost their Customers in the Talon home country.

Ali: CG, Customs

In breaking the news on Friday, April 22, 2022,  at the instance of Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller Geneal of Nigerian Customs Service, NCS,   Elton Edorhe, a Deputy Comptroller General of Customs, DCG, overseeingthe service Enforcement, Inspection and Investigation, E.I&I,  had confirmed  that the  FG,  has directed   the reopening of  four additional  border posts  closed in August, 2019 as part  of policy  geared towards efforts ‘’to prevent  the smuggling of illegal  arms,  food and foreign agricultural  products  into the country in order to stimulate local production’’.

The Customs DCG, had revealed in the circular, announcing the reopening of the four additional border posts that ‘it is with immediate effect’’. The newly reopened border posts are Idiroko, Jibiya, Kamba and Iom. At Idiroko land border, the people may have seen the reopening of the border post as making no difference   as it has destroyed their business over the last two years and sent many to their untimely graves.

Idiroko Land Border Post: Now Reopened

Some three months ago, Tony Nwabunike, a Lagos based Freight Forwarder and President Association of Nigerian Licensced Customs Agents, ANLCA, had said that  ‘’the reduction  in transborder  trade has contributed immensely  to the weakness of the naira to the dollar and other world major currencies.

He noted that Nigeria  had lost  more than 300,000 jobs  while over 300 business outfits  have been shut down  to due he border closure.  He had urged  the Nigerian government ‘’to reopen land border posts with less threat  of criminality activities  I order to allow cross-border trading  activities to resume with its accompanying benefits of economic benefits and job creation’’.

 Informed sources told The Value News that the government may have been encouraged to reopen the additional four major borders, across the country with little or no pressure from the aggrieved countries or the ECOWAS Leadership but on the recommendation of the Customs Authorities and other security Agencies of improved security at the land border communities.

 But financial analysts believe that the Nigerian Authorities may have taken advantage of the Continental Free Trade Agreement, CFTA, to reopen the additional busy border posts to benefit from the market and reduce its trading with China.

There are indications that under the CFTA trading bloc, Nigeria stands to gain from increased access to cheaper goods and services from other African countries, as its intra-Africa trade is currently low. It is on record that as at 2018, the share of the country’s exports in the African Continent was a mere 13.2% but in 2020, Nigeria’s main trading partner was the Asian country of China.   

An elated Edorhe, had said that   ‘’the remaining border posts still closed will be reopened on or before December 2022’’. He has warned the cross –border traders, particular, residents of the border Communities, not to think that reopening the Land border posts is an opportunity to smuggle Contraband into the country.

 Hear him: the ban on the importation of foreign rice, poultry products among other items remain in place’’, meaning that any person caught with such Contraband will lose it to government. The revised Import Prohibition list of goods as contained in the ECOWAS Common External Tariff, 2022 -2026, which had been adopted by the Nigerian government for implementation, with effect from April 1, 2022, had retained all the banned items in 2017-2021 ECOWAS CET which includes foot wears, Cocoa Butter, Spaghetti Noodles, Fruit juice, Tramadol, Codeine, used motor vehicles, and bagged cement.

Many believe  that Buhari may have given the Customs Interventionist Units more job to do  with the Imort Adjustment  Tax, IAT,  with additional taxes and levy on 172  tariff lines of the extant  ECOWAS CET annex 1, as it encourage more smuggling of these items through  unapproved routes into the country.

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