Border Closure:Hope Brightens As AU Intervenes, ECOWAS Set Up Kabore Committee To Study The Situation And Make Their Report

Stephen Ubanna

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.

Paul Kagame: President, Rwanda And Chairman, African Union

 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.

Issoufou: President, Niger And Chairman ECOWAS

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.

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