BORDER CLOSURE: Who benefits, if at all?
by Abba Dukawa
Proportionately Nigeria has not sufficiently improved its capacity toward attaining food self-sufficiency. It is now almost two years, since Buhari's administration shut Nigeria’s land borders.
The policy of shutting the borders was to achieve food security, curtail the importation of drugs and proliferation of small arms that threaten the country’s security.
As the controversy raged over the closure of specifically land borders, a Minister from the North where the closure of land borders has the most impact was reported to have expressed views that turn out to be contrary to President Buhari's who’d indicated his intention to reopen the border. It is unfortunate that a minister would contradict the president’s decision. To insist on the closure even when Nigerians, the electorates are suffering is not done in a democratic setting. As Minister he should not be seen to promote policies that unleash hardship on the masses that brought the administration to power. It would be assumed that he enjoys seeing innocent Nigerians being punished by the border closure.
What minister is benefiting from the border closure? Does he want to add another colossal damage to the administration already tattered image?
The closure of the borders clearly violated the spirit and the letter of the ECOWAS and African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which mandates the free movement of goods and people. The bloc is dominated by Nigeria by virtue of the size of its economy and its regional influence. That minister referenced should not forget that AfCFTA is an opportunity for Nigerian business.
Unfortunately, shutting land borders has failed to stop the flow of arms into the country. Insurgents, militants, bandits, kidnappers, name them, carry arms freely and kill at will. Smuggling of rice into Nigeria has continued to thrive. Nigeria apparently has not gained much from closing its borders. It seems far from achieving its stated objectives.
In fact, some say nothing has changed except that the policy has caused serious hardship and impoverished more than 2/3rds of the more than 200 million Nigerians who are either without food or can’t afford the price of foodstuff as it is beyond their affordability in a country where millions of poor citizens live below the poverty line.
Annually, Nigeria consumes 6.7 million tons of rice annually. It produces 3.5 million tons locally with a deficit of 3.2 million tons. Without looking to its impact on the teming populace's wellbeing the closure only provoked increment of prices of most commodities.
For instance, rice, the staple food in the country is increasingly unaffordable. A 50kg bag of imported rice which used to sell for about N14,000 now sells for about N25,000, while the price of local rice has risen from about N11,000 to about N20,000.
Since the closure, local rice millers have found an opportunity to exploit the market with the masses paying the price of the border closure.
At the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic the Federal Government took roughly 40,000 tonnes of millet and sorghum from the regional economic bloc’s (ECOWAS) strategic stocks. So far 30,000 tonnes has reportedly been distributed to relieve the negative impact of COVID-19.
In general, border closure is clearly counter-productive. It is like chasing shadows rather than the substance. The war against smuggled rice should have been fought on mechanized farms and modern rice mills that can process farm produce to international standards.
Last month, the government stealthily gave the Dangote Group and other companies special permission to import maize. With this waiver granted to these companies, it is obvious that the government of Nigeria has mistaken border closure for an efficient path to food security; an objective not achieved and still causing hardship to the masses.
Right from day one when Buhari's administration made its decision to shut the borders known, economy watchers dismissed the closure. The border closure has not halted massive smuggling of rice and arms importation into the country, among others.
As the policy and its enforcers have failed woefully the government has no more reason to continue to punish innocent Nigerians with land border closure.
Dukawa, a Journalist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org