By Gbenga Oloniniran
It should go without dispute that the rights to self determination for any country cannot be overemphasised, like it should be for individuals, it is one of such values of democracy and freedom. As an ‘independent’ entity, Nigeria can choose to close or open its borders at reasonable will. In the interests of the nation as they claim, Nigeria may take such decision but in wisdom and sincerity. In sincerity, it may do so for the benefits of improving her economy and local production; in wisdom, it must know when to do it without neglecting adequate provisions to manage the effects. Nevertheless, if the interest is genuine, we may never have to bother so much on border closure too. (We will come back to this).
Three months since the border closure, we have seen the Central Bank of Nigeria’s Governor (Godwin Emefiele) jubilate in the media over what he described as positive results of the border closure, especially how the step has successfully boosted ‘economy in the country’ and more especially for ‘the farmers’. What is not clear is whether this economy has indeed been boosted for the all the people or just for the farmers, then which farmers? If it is for the people, we would expect that by now the town should have been painted with celebrations and not just a one man celebration as of Emefiele. If the economy has indeed been boosted for the farmers, perhaps we should rather think those farmers are the Obasanjos’ who run the big Ota Farms and in other places; the Maizube farms of Abubakar Abdusalami or the Sebore farms of Muritala Nyeko, and their political likes. We should not forget the Umza of Kano (Kingpin of Rice Processors Association of Nigeria, those of whom we should best regard as the Emefiele calibers and political farmers. Just as many of these political farmers may get the largest share of budget earmarked for agriculture, the likes of Emefiele led CBN would not hesitate to disburse it to them too. These cabals are the country. Not quite long has Emefiele expressly stated, as written in Punch, that Umza had since called to inform him on how they needed to sell the thousand scores of rice in their warehouses, and of course border closure was the way forward. It’s a “padi padi policy and arrangement”.
The poor and larger category of farmers are still very much stranded with the same age long barriers to productivity, that is, lack of funds and machineries, infestations, bad roads and other challenges while the Emefiele farming gang are getting richer on the poverty of the other many average farmers.
The people really have to start telling their stories themselves and tackle misrepresentations from the ruling elite whose political policies are more successful in the media than in the obtainable reality. Nigeria is too large a place with too many poor people, and to use the privileged rich as parameter for successful economy is a fraudulent representation of the Nigerian people. With bag of the so called Nigerian rice selling around 26 000 naira, while the foreign rice which we may pretend not to know how it still enters the country, but perhaps through “influential smuggling” now ( the type that makes customs bosses richer), the rice is selling between 28,000 naira to 30,000 naira. Apparently, we are in for a big mess, because not even the implementation of 30,000 naira minimum wage can suffice for this terrible hike. Labor might have to begin to push for higher minimum wage. Encouraging local economy cannot be independent of an encouraging local purchasing power. Of a possible fact too, we should not be caught unaware if this is another way of getting at the people, beyond the outrageous VATs already imposed. Also, why the people prefer foreign rice to locally made rice a question still begging for answers and a connection to the challenges of our farmers.
Simple outlook on these events tells us that in order to fight smuggling and encourage local production (local economy), closing the borders first is merely putting cart before the horse. A robust funding and environmental enabling policies in our major sectors would have aided our local production and by extension would chase out importations and smuggling. By now, perhaps we could have been discussing how to accommodate immigrants and not sudden border closure that has neither benefited the local mass of people nor the international trading counterparts. Any serious government will produce before closing borders against importation. The simple exposure of this insincerity is why borders have not been closed against importation of petroleum and other products if indeed we are attempting to sustain local economy. Building local production is however yet to find an abode in the country where the majority of our resources and sectors are privatised in the hands of a few cabals. Olusegun Obasanjo has recently gone to media to campaign diversification of economy to agriculture because Oil has failed. Indeed, agricultural economy would likely fail again as it once did, and just like the fate suffered by petroleum, we are only diversifying into the pockets of some cabals whose interests are always represented in the policies of CBN, Customs and other agencies.
The success of border closure on the economy has remained in the media while the economy of the real people worsens with visible realities. If not in other ways, some Nigerians know how much they now spend on a spoon of rice at “Mama Put joint.” Protesting the small quantity of rice sold to you by mama is a futile effort when you remember the cost of a bowl of rice in the market. The food seller does not even look your face as she sells. Her gestures show that she equally laments too. We are in this mess together! Only the Emefieles and the ruling elite are spared!
Nigeria is still a place where its leaders are playing game of chess on the backs of the people. Our resources are the shares they bet with, and the rule of the game (policies) favor the highest bidders. When the people are able to rise and raise heads, all their little games are over.
Gbenga Oloniniran can be reached at Gbengaoloniniran@gmail.com