The initial reason given by the government for closing the land borders was to forestall the ever increasing rate of smuggling of prohibited items, arms and ammunition and insecurity in the country. The border drill exercise put in place to curb the menace across Nigeria porous borders, is however, not adequate. Despite the ongoing operation, we still have our markets flooded with prohibited items such as foreign rice and poultry products. Vehicles conveying these products are moving in droves everyday through the still many porous routes, especially on the northern corridors where regulations and monitoring are very minimal or totally absent. The land border has been closed for this long and is affecting our foreign exchange that even exportable products that could enhance foreign earning and positively strengthen the naira against other foreign currencies are blocked. The initial success recorded are now defeated because the neighbouring countries have moved on with alternative measures to boost their economy and as such will not be willing to corporate with Nigeria in any joint policy (security, bilateral trade agreement etc) in future. Nigeria’s government would have succeeded but her indefinite stand has affected the whole process and lost her dignity among the ECOWAS countries. The economy of Benin Republic that nosedived during the first quarter of the closure has recovered tremendously and they are no longer relying on Nigeria for survival. Their gross domestic product (GDP) annual growth recorded a short fall in 2019 (6.4%) compared to the preceding year 2018 (6.5%) has now recovered in the first quarter of this year 2020 (6.7%). Some of the ECOWAS countries that were dependent on Nigeria for self-reliance, economic growth, sustenance and sufficiency before the closure of Nigeria borders barely one year ago have recorded remarkable improvement. They source some of their consumable products from Ghana and other countries beyond the expectation of the book makers.
I was part of the people that supported the border closure because we needed it for our neighbouring countries to know that Nigeria is not a dumping ground but I am of the opinion that the border closure should have lasted for three months. Now that the border closure is a year already, it is no more adding value to the economy of the country and it is actually against the ECOWAS protocol which Nigeria is a signatory to. It is unfortunate that the policy makers of this country are either confused or they don’t know what to do. The border closure up to a year is belated and it is something we are not supposed to be discussing now because it has not achieved its desired result. Whether we like it or not, people are still smuggling things into the country. The preponderant number of persons that are supposed to guide the border are now going after already exited cargoes from the port. I think the issue of the border closure has been over stressed and it has placed Nigeria before other countries as a lawless country. Lawless in the sense that, in the ECOWAS protocol, there are conventions and there are things that need to be done. I would say if the border closure has lasted for like three months, it would have sent a signal to neighbouring countries. For instance, at Banjul, if you have a consignment or cargo that is going through their frontiers, do you know that Customs do not need to follow the consignment because a microchip would have been fixed on the cargo and the cargo movement will be monitored? I was thinking our Customs officers would have come up with a compendium of agreement and Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with neighbouring countries for the border to be opened but all these things have not been put in place. The problem we have in Nigeria is that our Customs officers and military men keep parading themselves at the border intimidating people.
Although, the government did not tell us why they closed the border in the first place but I feel it is because of security reasons. There were a lot of small arms coming in through the border; the closure didn’t have anything to do with Customs clearance. I believe it has actually stem the inflow of small arms across our borders into Nigeria If you look at it from that point of view, the closure to a reasonable extent reduce the inflow of small arms and ammunitions into the country but on a macroeconomic level, it is not doing us good because we cannot live in isolation of other people. I believe by now if COVID-19 has not affected the world, the border would have been opened but in order to stop people from other areas from infecting us with COVID-19 that is why the border has remained closed. I feel it is time to open the borders because normalcy is returning gradually in the country.
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