The Nigerian closed borders appear to be close to its reopening. The Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geofrey Onyeama, said a consensus has been reached to that effect by the three neighboring countries, Nigeria, Niger, and Benin Republic.
A four hour meeting held last week gave birth to the hope that the borders will be opened under the watch of joint border patrol. The communiqué of the meeting revealed that the countries have agreed on a provision of such a measure of security around the border areas, as the solution to many of its problem which smuggling and human trafficking are paramount.
Onyeama disclosed that a meeting has been billed for 25 and 26 of November, where the security personnel designated by each country to make up the joint patrol team will deliberate on the modalities to be implemented in order to minimize, or if possible, halt smuggling activities completely.
He said there have been some measures agreed upon which includes establishment of a committee by the three countries that is made up of ministers of Finance, Trade, Foreign Affairs, Customs, Immigration and National Security Adviser. They must work together to contain the prevalence of smuggling.
“Also, the establishment of Trade Facilitation Committee among the three countries, comprising ministers of Finance and Trade in order to promote intra-regional trade among the three countries as well as put in place sanctions against smuggling of goods and to ensure persons from the three countries enter/exit each other’s states with valid Ecowas recognized travel documents through recognized control posts,” he said.
The Minister explained that the Committee will do more. He said they will formulate inter alia measures and actions that would facilitate and improve other measures already taken to curtail smuggling of rice and other contraband goods.
Other challenges regarding goods and services that are not approved in the Ecowas Trade Liberalization Scheme (ETLS), were also discussed besides the issue of free movement of people with valid Ecowas means of identification and the operation of illegal warehousing along the border lines.
“The meeting acknowledged smuggling of goods as well as human trafficking as a collective violation of Ecowas protocols on ETLS and free movement that pose severe economic and security threats to intra-regional trade and free movement. Border closure always has an impact at the end the day, it is about the mischief we are addressing.
“The mischief in our case is in the area of food security and also security itself through smuggling of small weapons and light arms and human trafficking. The mischief we are addressing is much more important than the cost. The costs are high, the benefits are high,” he said.
The impact of the border closure is telling terribly on both countries that the need to act fast in addressing the challenges that resulted in the shutdown cannot be over-emphasized. apart from hunger emanating from high cost of food items, businesses within the countries in West Africa have suffered massive losses estimated at over N5 trillion.
While Nigeria is exerting the big brother muscle over the other countries, its businesses are suffering even more. Exporters in Nigeria are expressing fear that they may not stay in business if this situation continues for long. Land borders command the highest percentage of intra-African trade and provide cheap alternative for SMEs that operate beyond borders. So the longer the borders stay closed, the higher the price businesses have to pay.
The Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reported year on year headline inflation at 11.61 percent in October 2019, from 11.24 percent in September, the highest in 18 months. Food inflation came at all time high at 14.09 percent in October, from 13.51 percent in September. The major contributor to these increases is the closed borders. Apart from the claim by the Nigerian Custom Service that it is generating N5 billion daily, courtesy of the closed borders, it has been losses on all sides.
There have been reports of heavy smuggling activities in the Nigeria-Niger border that are orchestrated by the customs and security agents who are supposed to be the watchdog. It is perceived as an indication that closure will not solve the problem of smuggling in the borders.
While there has been applause about the proposed multi-national joint task-force that will patrol the borders and effect the needed security that will tame smuggling and human trafficking, there is also concern that eventually, corruption will get in the way and things will go back being business as usual.