- Joint patrol with neighbours yet to start
The federal government said yesterday it is yet to decide the date for the reopening of Nigeria’s land borders.
The government had in August closed the country’s borders with Niger, Benin, Cameroon and Chad in an exercise code-named ‘Operation Exercise Swift Response’.
The action also led to joint border operations by a combined team of Nigerian security agencies which was greeted by mixed reactions from some stakeholders.
Importation of foodstuff, including rice and other consumables had been banned, while illegal export of petroleum products was met with stiffer sanctions, including stoppage of supplies to communities located 20 kilometres to the borders.
Different government officials had initially hinted the likelihood of reopening the borders in January.
But speaking with journalists yesterday in Abuja, the Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment, Hajiya Mariam Katagum, said the federal government had not taken a position on when exactly the borders would be reopened.
Instead, she said Nigeria had held strategic meetings with Benin and Niger to reach an agreement on modalities for reopening the borders.
She said one of the fallouts of the meeting was the setting up of a joint border patrol team made up of security personnel from customs, Air Force and other security agencies.
The minister said the decision to reopen the border would be based on recommendations from the patrol team, on whether Niger and Benin republics have complied with trade protocols.
“We had the strategic meeting with the three countries and what we agreed with our neighbours is to activate a joint border patrol comprising the customs, all the security agencies and ensure compliance with the actual protocol laid by ECOWAS.
“The committee met on November 25 and it is only when that committee is certain that all the countries are respecting the ECOWAS protocol that they will recommend the day for the opening of the border,” she said.
President Muhammadu Buhari was quoted to have said earlier in November that the borders would be opened on January 31, 2020.
But later in December, he said the closure would remain until the situation improved.
Buhari said his administration’s directive on the border closure was meant to curb smuggling, especially of rice, and that so far, the closures had saved the country huge sums on import bills.
He said his administration was betting on the same measures to rekindle the country’s agricultural rebirth.
The Comptroller-General of Customs, retired Colonel Hameed Ali, had also said the borders would not be reopened any time soon.
“The issue of 31st January is an operational programme. What we do in operations like this is that you set time for logistics and other tactical requirements.
“So, the issue of 31st January is not a terminal date. If all these things are put together and we reach an agreement, we could even relax all these things before the 31st of January. So, it is not sacrosanct, but it is not a terminal date. We can also surpass January 31st and still hold on to what we are doing,” he said.
Joint patrol yet to take-off
Findings by Daily Trust have shown that the joint patrol between Nigeria and Niger is yet to take off, at least in border areas along Jibiya and Kongolam in Katsina State.
A security source in Katsina who is among the pioneer personnel that launched the operation said the Nigerian patrol team comprising customs, immigration, DSS operatives and military, was awaiting the circular to be redeployed anytime from today.
“We were supposed to be relieved today by another team but the circular is yet to come. We heard that the NSA (National Security Adviser) had asked for the deployment of more personnel to the border to tackle smugglers that open more illegal routes,” he said.
Asked to comment on what they noticed during their stay at the border communities, he said “When the operation started, there were about 109 illegal routes that we blocked but the smugglers later opened new ones that are even more than the old ones.”
He also admitted that there were compromises by the patrol team at the border due to alleged failure of government to pay some of them their full allowances.
“If the government is serious about this, more personnel should be deployed and our daily allowances be paid in full. The worst paid are the army, immigration and the police,” he said.
FG’s conditions for reopening borders
Several weeks after Nigeria closed its land borders against its West African neighbours, the federal government unfolded conditions that ECOWAS member states must adhere to before it reopens them. Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, revealed the conditions at a meeting in Abuja in November.
Among the conditions is that any imports coming from outside the ECOWAS region and imported into an ECOWAS member state must maintain its original packaging.
He added that they must be escorted from the port of arrival directly to the designated entry point on the Nigerian border and presented to Nigerian Customs with their original packaging. Compromises will not be tolerated, the government said. Another condition is that goods produced predominantly in ECOWAS member states must satisfy ECOWAS rules of origin to avoid any possibility of downplay.
Goods must be majorly produced in ECOWAS countries but if they are coming from outside ECOWAS, the value addition must be over 30 per cent for it to be accepted within the framework of the Economic Trade Liberalisation Scheme that ECOWAS countries have to promote trade among themselves. The federal government also demanded that all warehouses along the shared borders of Nigeria must be dismantled.
Experts, LCCI, condemn continued closure
Akpan Hogan Ekpo, Executive Chairman of the Foundation for Economic Research and Training in Lagos said: “The Nigerian approach to border closure is not like the Chinese approach that we are quick to reference as a model.
“The Chinese approach was a comprehensive one. In our case, we just said oh! They are bringing in rice, let us close the borders.
“You close your border so that the factories in your economy can produce or can start new products and it will only last for a while. We call it the infant industry argument. But there is the question of when to stop because you have to be competitive,” he said.
He further argued that Nigeria must have a “comprehensive approach and selective engagement with its neighbours, not fighting with them.”
Similarly, the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria and the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the federal government should not allow the closure of the Nigeria-Benin border to jeopardise the business of entrepreneurs on that corridor.
Daily Trust correspondents who visited some localities observed that business activities were gradually going down in border towns. At the Nigeria-Niger border town of Maigatari in Jigawa State, livestock trading, which is the major commercial activity, has been greatly affected as supply comes from Niger Republic.
The chairman of livestock dealers in the area, Kabiru Aminu Maigatari, told Daily Trust that commercial activities in the livestock market also known as “kara” has dropped by more than half. In Ogun State, the chairman of the Community Development Association (CDA), Iwoye-Kute, a border community in the state, Ahmed Ismaila, told Daily Trust that residents were still battling for survival over the fuel ban as well as the border closure.
He said apart from the struggle to get fuel, transporters have increased fare thereby compounding the woes of the border residents.
Ismaila said a litre of petrol is sold for N350, while transport fare from Abeokuta to Iwoye-Ketu has increased to N1,500 from N1,000.
Traders, motorcyclists and Nigerians resident at Ajasor town near the Ikom-Cameroon border, as well as those in Bakassi, have described the federal government’s continued closure of the Nigerian borders as a sheer waste of time.
They claimed that the action will further encourage cross border smugglers to devise more ways to carry out their illegal businesses.
Mrs Grace Abeng who brings tomatoes and vegetables from Cameroon, said the extension of the time from January 2020 is insensitive on the side of government.
“I can tell you that despite the closure, illegal trading is still going on across the border. Our boys still bring in tomatoes and other vegetables from Cameroon. They know how to settle the Ambazonia boys as well as our own officials,” she said.