By Stephen Ubanna
Between 1984 and now, there have been incessant closure of Nigeria’s International borders with neighbouring countries of Benin Republic, Niger and the Central African country of Cameroon, by past and present governments.
Ahmed Mansur, President, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, MAN, had said that the reason for the closure of the borders with the three neighbouring African countries, to forestall the smuggling of Foreign par boiled rice, Small and Light arms into the country no longer holds water, insisting that the ruling All Progressive Congress Party , APC, government, must open the borders for normal trade to resume with the countries.
The trio, Musa Godwin Omale, a Deputy Comptroller with the Nigerian Customs Srvice, NCS, Funsho Olronfemi and Femi Ola Aiyegbajeje, both Academicians in their article ‘Legal and viable options to incessant closure of Nigeria’s International borders’’, had argued that there are legal frameworks for Combating smuggling in Nigeria which is enshrined in the Customs and Excise Management Act,CEMA,Cap45, 2004, noting that it is’’ the duty of the Officers and Men of the Service to enforce the Law’’. They did a good job on the article because of their legal background.
The trio who had alluded to a recent report of the Bureau of Statstics on the rate of smuggling, noted that ’’it is an informal trade with no official accurate records’’. They cited the items mostly smuggled into the country which include : Foreign rice, vehicles, textile materials, second hand clothing, second hand tyres, second hand bags, and Petroleum Products. Other items smuggled into the country , from the neighbouring countries, particular, Benin Republic, were tomatoes, cocoa, illicit drugs and Human trafficking.
The report of the Bureau of Statistics that there had been recorded increases in all the subsets of the Consumer price Index, CPI, showing that food prices had continued to bite due to the border closure. This may have informed why the trio had argued that there was no basis for the border closure any longer.
The trio may have given an insight to the fact that there is no end in sight to the smuggling activities in the co other countriesry as there are over 1,000 illegal routes and 79 other official routes across the country. For those who think that the issue of border closure is only peculiar to Nigeria, they may have to do a rethink, the trio with their legal knowledge insists that other countries in the region have experienced such poblems in the past. th.
It is on record that the borders between the two West African countries of Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, was closed in 2012 after 10 Ghanaians were killed in attacks by the Cote d’ Ivore armed soldiers and police . Note also that the Trump Administration in the North American country of the United States had made attempts to construct a border wall with Mexico on January 26, 2017, which may have strained the relationships between the two countries, they alluded.
The trio had also alluded to the Asian country of China which closed its borders with neighbouring countries for 25 years as a deliberate plan to facilitate its move to become an industrialised nation which was eventually achieved. Although , the situation may be different from the closure of the Nigerian borders with he neighbouring countries, but it it may not have been a complete failure.
Omale a senior Customs officer and his two legal Colleagues, who are Academicians had argued in their well researched article that ‘’ it is to stop the smuggling of manufactured goods that were not produced in in the Economic Community of West African States Trade Liberalisatiion Scheme, ECOWAS ETLS, arrangement, that had facilitated the border closure. There are about 2, 400 Nigerian Companies, participating in the ETLS and several other Companies from the economic bloc manufacturing 6,900 items for the market. But 60 -70% of the items are produced by Companies operating in Nigeria.
With Nigeria signing the African Continental Free Trade Agreement as the 53 member nation and Benin as the 54 member nation , may have encouraged the trio to call on the Buhari Administration to have a another look on the border closure for normal trade to resume between the countries.
Making reference to the report of the various Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, ant-smuggling Commands, across the country, the Authors of the Legal and Viable options for incessant closure of Nigeria’s International Borders had corroborated Customs claim that ‘’it had been easier to apprehend smuggled goods by the Customs anti-smuggling officers and other Law Enforcement agents since the border closure.
In 2019 alone, it was reported that 317 smugglers were arrested, 21,071 bags of 50Kg bags of Foreign rice , 90 vehicles, 891 drums of Premium Motor Spirit, popular, petrol , 2,665 Jerrycans of 25 litres each of vegetable oil and several bags of NPK Fertilizer used for making explosives were seized by Customs personnel.
The trio had concluded in their article that despite ”some advantages in the areas of increased revenue generation , numerous seizures of Contraband and encouraging local production of rice but the appraisal of the legal, economic, political and security implications, shows that the border closure across the country with the neighbouring countries by the Buhari government ’’may not have been the best option’’.
This may have informed why the trio had suggested that there should be far more reaching Commitments on the part of the government, regional stakeholders, and equally far reaching measures among Concerned agencies to show more Commitment in their job.
Perhaps to avoid a repeat of the government resorting to closing the borders across the countries with the neighbouring countries in the he future, the Authors of the Legal and Viable options to incessant closure of Nigeria’s International Borders had recommended ‘’ effective border control, border management , border monitoring and border protection as veritable alternatives to the incessant border closures’’. The trio were said to also advocate a proper CBM, in line with the thinking of the World Bank .