The recent closure of Seme Border, the popular Nigerian border with Benin Republic, has observably been yielding the intended benefits. Smuggling of items into Nigerian side of the border has drastically reduced while a clear message has been delivered to the government and people of Benin Republic.
One commodity that has witnessed a remarkable drop in its rate of smuggling is petroleum motor spirit (PMS). Barely three weeks after the border closure, the pump price of petrol dropped in many filling stations in Lagos and Ogun States. Instead of the official pump price of N145 per litre, many petrol stations now sell at N144 per litre and N143 per litre. The price of diesel also crashed to N210 per litre.
According to analysts, the development shows that part of the nearly 60 million litres of petrol said to be consumed daily in Nigeria were being smuggled into the neighbouring countries, especially Benin and Niger Republics. Thus, Nigeria has been importing and subsidizing fuel for both countries.
The effect of the border closure on petroleum products consumption was confirmed by the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mele Kyari, who disclosed that the volume of petrol evacuated from depots to filling stations across the country had dropped significantly.
Kyari said via twitter that the drop in petrol evacuation from the depots may have been influenced by Nigeria’s closure of its borders with Benin Republic in August. There is no doubt that if the trend is sustained, this will reduce the country’s annual petroleum products importation and consumption.
Even though President Buhari’s main target, rice, still finds its way into the country through bush parts, the quantity that comes in through the ingenuity of the locals is relatively so insignificant to detract from the effectiveness of the border closure.
But by far, the greatest achievement of the Federal Government’s action is the clear, unambiguous message that has been delivered to Benin Republic. All these years, the Nigerian neighbour has demonstrated how not to be a good neighbor, as both the government and its people have gleefully been sabotaging the Nigerian economy. The country’s parasitic economy has been knocking a lot of holes on, and doing a lot of harm to Nigeria’s economy.
Smuggling of contraband and trade goods into Nigeria appears to be the major economic resource of the country. It is the business that sustains the country’s ports and customs revenue. Hence, the government does everything to sustain the business including always looking for loopholes in Nigeria’s often faulty economic policies and import supervision process. For instance, if Nigeria raises duty on rice or any commodity, Benin Republic will respond with crashing the duty of the commodity to the barest minimum so as to attract more of the cargoes to Benin to be smuggled into Nigeria.
It is a known fact that most economic policies and regulations, such as the rice policy and the automotive policy could not work because of massive smuggling of these commodities into Nigeria through Benin Republic. The country provides all the necessary incentives to unpatriotic Nigerian importers and businessmen to sabotage their country’s economic policies. It also keeps its own citizens busy with smuggling business by encouraging massive importation of commodities that are not consumed locally.
Benin Republic, for instance, is known to eat its own local rice while encouraging large scale importation of rice meant for the Nigerian market. All this has continued over the years in spite of entreaties, appeals, warning signals and meetings with the government on the need to curb the high rate of smuggling into Nigeria.
Miffed by the uncooperative attitude of the Benin government in combating smuggling across Nigeria’s borders, and the manifest harmful effects the practice was having on Nigeria, the government of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, many years ago, took the same action of closing the border. However, the effect of the closure was very minimal since it was opened after a few days following a hurried visit of his Beninese counterpart who came with a tale of untold hardship that the border closure had caused his people.
Interestingly, the incumbent President of the country, Patrice Talon, has made a similar plea, but President Buhari has stuck to his gun. President Buhari vehemently told the Beninese President that the border will be opened after Nigerian security agencies have been able to evolve adequate measures to curb massive smuggling activities, especially of rice, along the border. Patrice Talon had told President Buhari after securing audience with him at the 7th Tokyo International Conference for African Development (TICAD7), in Yokohama, Japan last month that the border restriction had caused severe hardship to his people.
We commend President Buhari for taking such a decisive action against the ever-increasing rate of smuggling on the Benin-Seme border. We equally commend the security agencies that have been carrying out this joint assignment with dedication and seriousness.
However, we believe that smuggling along this most popular Nigerian border cannot be stamped out in one fell-swoop. This is why we call on the President to quickly summon the meeting with the leaders of Benin and Niger which he had earlier talked about in order to determine measures to effectively check smuggling along their common borders.
The quick resolution of the crisis and the re-opening of the borders have become necessary to minimize unintended consequences. There is no doubt that genuine businessmen have been counting their losses since the closure. There are reports of many truck- loads of perishable goods that are trapped by the border closure, and which may have gone completely bad, and thus rendered their owners bankrupt. Some peasants, petty traders and commercial motorcycle (okada) riders who draw their daily bread from a buzzling Seme border have been starving with their families.
President Buhari should, therefore, be quick in restoring life at the borders since the point has been made, and in order not to throw away the baby with the bathwater.