By MUSA ILALLAH
It is no longer in doubt that Nigeria has for decades now become a ‘father Christmas’ kind of some sorts to most of its neighbouring countries like Niger, Benin , Chad and Cameroun among others. This is largely due to its magnanimity as the giant of Africa and the porous nature of our land and maritime borders.
Taking a cursory look at the situation which allows ‘importers’ to move goods into Nigeria and exporters take goods out of the country through legitimate and illegitimate means through the maritime and land borders, one wonders at what cost Nigeria had suffered all along. The most beneficiary of the illegal imports is Benin Republic where businesses thrive by cutting corners against Nigeria’s interests in terms of evading paying customs and excise duties by importers. Facing the reality of the times with increasing financial burdens against dwindling revenue generation for Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari in his usual patriotism ordered a partial closure of all our entrant points into Nigeria by sea and land pending when issues related to illegal smuggling of goods particularly Rice and other food items, vehicles and other sundry items across our borders into our country and smuggling of petroleum products out of the country will be sorted out.
President Buhari during an interaction with his Beninois counterpart, Patrice Talon during the 7th International Conference for African Development in Tokyo, Japan explained that the temporary closure was due to massive smuggling across the corridor which makes Nigeria lose billions of dollars as revenue that would have accrued into the treasury of Nigeria. Most worrisome is the fact that as a result of the activities of smugglers, those countries make fortunes out of the situation while Nigeria looses.
An Abuja based daily Newspaper, Peoples Daily in its Editorial on Friday October 4, 2019 said; ‘’the border closures have been difficult decisions for the Nigerian Government to take, given that Nigeria is an economic giant in the West African Region. To keep providing the buffer, Nigeria must make sure her economy is not hurt by smuggling’’.
Unfortunately, the regional economic bloc, ECOWAS, of which Nigeria was a founding member, has been too critical of government’s action. ECOWAS through its Parliament Speaker, Moustapha Cisse Lo said: ‘the closure of the Nigerian borders with Benin more than a month ago and with Niger are a hindrance to the achievement of the community’s main objective for the creation of a prosperous, borderless West African region where peace and harmony prevail.
However, while our neighbours particularly Benin Republic have been agonised by the closure, Nigeria’s fortune in terms of revenue generation seem to be swelling up with billions of Naira into its kitty. The closure of the border has forced importers to ship their cargos into Nigeria through Apapa and Tin Can Island instead of Benin.
Briefing National Assembly members recently in Abuja, the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Col Hameed Ali, Retired, disclosed that Nigeria is now better off with the action. Revenue generation had since the closure increased significantly for Nigeria. In the words of Ali, ‘there was a day in September when we collected N9.2 billion’. Presently, the country averagely makes between N4.7bn to N5.8bn daily since the borders were closed. According to Ali, ‘’closing the border was worth taking the risk’’.
Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Customs Service, Hameed Ali added: “When we closed the border, my fear was that our revenue was going to drop. To be honest, our revenue kept increasing. It has never happened before’’.
While wishing that the closure continues, Col Ali said ‘’for us, it is a welcome situation’’.
The accruing benefits of the closure of our borders do not begin and end with smuggled goods into Nigeria alone. Even the illegal taking out of petroleum products from Nigeria to other neighbouring countries where it sells more has been nipped in the bud. While records before the closure show that we consume an average of 53million litres of fuel daily, today our consumption is less. In the words of CG Hameed Ali, “About 10.2million litres of fuel have now been cut down from what we assume, we have been consuming “.
In the same vein, the value of the Nigerian home grown rice which is largely supported by the Buhari administration under its CBN funded Anchor Borrowers programme has significantly increased since the closure. Though most of the beneficiaries of the increase are not farmers but unscrupulous middle men and rice processors, the feeling is that farmers stand a good chance to substantially benefit from the closure from the current farming season with good market prices for their Rice.
Disturbed by the development and the consequences staring farmers in the face, the Rice Processors Association of Nigeria, RIPAN has convened a meeting of stakeholders comprising of farmers, CBN, federal ministry of Agriculture, Rice Millers Association of Nigeria, small and medium millers association among others to review the border closure against the background of current increase of Nigerian rice in the markets. RIPAN has accused rice distributors, wholesalers, and retailers for engaging in exploitative act of jerking up prices of the local rice.
For President Muhammadu Buhari, he has done his best for an average small or large scale farmer in the country have value for his money and labour by enhancing his status in the society. First, PMB’s support through the anchor borrowers programme and secondly, by stopping importation of Rice and thirdly, by closing all our maritime and land borders to stop smuggling of foreign rice into Nigeria.
Like the President of the Philippines , Rorigo Duterte on fighting corruption and smuggling in his country said ‘before a place can really be developed or become a viable place to do business, you have to establish law and order’.
Truly, Nigeria cannot progress unless and until we enforce our laws to the strictest. It is therefore in this spirit that the CG of Nigeria Customs has thrown his weight behind a continuous closure of our maritime and land borders. He has of recent moved to impound luxury cars brought into the country without paying due duties on them to the government. We must all support him in supporting the government to pay our dues to government o enable it discharge its statutorily duties of providing good governance to all Nigerians.
We must all consciously and patriotically support government in killing the dual devils of corruption and smuggling before they kill the Nigerian economy and ultimately kill all Nigerians. This is a civic responsibility on our shoulders.
The Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement, AfCTA offers a unique window to address all knotty issues with regards to import and export of goods across our land and maritime borders. Even Vice President Osinbajo had said that the agreement, to which Nigeria is signatory, is a laudable development that builds on existing regional initiatives and presents opportunities for increased collaboration and economic integration among African economies.
He said while these are the early days of the trade agreement, there is no doubt that Nigeria would enjoy significant benefits from the agreement
For Nigeria, it is a season of reaping the windfall and dividends of border closure. Let the status core remain and the borders be put on permanent lock and key until and unless correct measures are taken to make Importers do legitimate businesses and Nigeria earn more revenue.
Ilallah wrote in via
email@example.com. He is reachable at
EMEKA ANYAOKU STREET, ABUJA