The reopening of our borders

President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered the “immediate” partial reopening of some of Nigeria’s land borders, ending a 16-month shutdown. Four of the main land borders reopened immediately, with others to follow by Dec. 31, Finance Minister Zainab Ahmed told reporters Wednesday Dec. 16. A ban on imports of rice, poultry and other products would remain in place and be enforced by border-patrols officers, she said.

The President’s decision was based on the recommendation of a presidential committee. It had observed that the border closure had raised food prices, resulting in shortages that affected ordinary Nigerians. It also restricted regional trade. Reopening the borders, hopefully, will help smooth the implementation of the African Continental Free-Trade Area, a continent-wide agreement that comes into effect on Jan. 1. It will also help rein in transport costs that had surged because of the restrictions on moving goods to countries including Ghana and neighboring Benin.

Buhari ordered the frontiers closed in August 2019 to halt the smuggling of rice, arms and drugs into Africa’s largest economy. The action brought once-thriving border towns to a near-standstill, with supply constraints contributing to the highest Nigerian inflation rate in almost three years. Food costs, which account for more than half of Nigeria’s inflation basket, rose 18% in November, adding to challenges in an economy in the middle of a recession that the World Bank estimates could push 6.6 million more Nigerians into poverty.

The presidential committee was convinced that Nigeria had largely achieved the aim of the border closure which was to “curb the activities of smugglers, irregular migrants and other forms of criminality, among other benefits”, according to a source in the Presidency. Besides, he said, “the committee’s findings revealed that the policy was potentially detrimental to Nigeria’s overall immediate and long term economic, security, diplomatic and social interests.” Ghana, for example, ordered the closure of Nigerian business premises in Accra, the country’s capital to show its displeasure with the Nigerian government’s policy decision.

What finally clinched the argument was the committee’s discovery of a very high inventory of unsold finished manufactured goods, especially those with market base and significant presence in West Africa, “which ultimately led to unemployment and poor credit rating.” It also observed that the border closure affected Nigeria’s capacity to strengthen the workforce of relevant government security agencies with modern facilities (surveillance cameras, drones); as well as funding for training, to effectively monitor the entry and exit points in the event of a joint border operation.

The committee then recommended that with the reopening of the borders, “appropriate border management and control measures be put in place to curb smuggling and other criminal activities perpetuated through illegal unmanned routes.” It believed those measures would also “check possible abuse of the efforts of government towards enhancing its economic interests and national security.”

If, as the committee chaired by the finance minister said, the aim of the border closure had been achieved and it was beginning to hurt Nigeria too, then it is time to end it. We applaud Buhari for hearkening to what the experts have advised. Now is the time to move on.

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