NIGERIA: GAINS AND PAINS OF CLOSURE OF THE NATION’S LAND BORDERS

Nigeria’s recent border closure, ostensibly aimed at eliminating the flow of smuggled goods, enhancing national
security and also protecting the interest of local manufacturers, has become a subject of Local, National, Sub-regional and even global discourse, considering the country’s status as the giant of Africa in terms of her population, land mass, natural resources and its robust marketing cum commercial value to the African continent and the world
at large. The aftermath of this border closure pronouncement by the Federal Government therefore means that the ban on both legitimate and illegitimate movement of all sorts of goods in and out of the country through the land border has come into effect.

As a result, all goods can only be allowed into the country through our seaports and airports in order to ensure that thorough screening and proper certification of such goods are being carried out by the relevant authorities like the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Immigration Service (NIS) and other agencies responsible for conducting such trans-border certification duties. This also means that importation and exportation of goods between Nigeria and her neighboring countries in the West African sub-region can reach a well-defined mutual agreement on types and kinds of goods that should be allowed in and out of the country in line with the reconstituted ECOWAS protocol. Reacting on the immediate gains of the recent border closure policy, the Controller- General of the NCS, Col. Hammed Ali (rtd) disclosed that contrary to his initial fears of dwindling revenue projection, the revenue base of the service after enforcement of the pronouncement had greatly increased by not less than 2.5 trillion naira.

The development, he revealed had also led to the seizure of 2.3 trillion naira worth of smuggled goods such as guns, rice, textiles, automobiles, petroleum products, several agricultural products and other contraband goods since the policy came into effect.

…Nigeria needs to fix the structural, institutional and political shortcomings that perpetuate the phenomenon of smuggling and increase vulnerabilities.

The Customs Boss also asked Nigerians to be patient, pointing out that the exercise was done to send a warning signal to neighboring countries like Niger, Benin Republic and Chad whose inactive posture simply means they are directly or indirectly aiding and abetting transborder crimes thereby causing untold hardship to local manufacturers and informal sector workers in Nigeria. But on the other hand, a leader of organized labour in Cross River State, Comrade Bisong described the border closure policy as a further strain on the struggling economy, adding that the policy was an implicit admission of the ineptitude and incompetence of the Nigerian Customs and Immigration
Services as well as sister agencies operating at the nation’s land borders. According to him, a cost-benefit analysis by the Custom’s boss as well as the result of supply chains disruptions are incomparable as prices of goods are now rapidly on the increase, several jobs have been lost, legitimate import and export businesses across the sub-region
have been strangled, economic activities of border communities have been disrupted with the consequence of poverty, unemployment, crime and criminality waiting to explode. Comrade Bisong however observed that while appreciating the Federal Government’s quest to tighten security in our nation’s borders in a bid to minimize smuggling, he stressed the need for government to put palliative measures in place to cushion the effect of the policy
which has taken its toll on the informal sector workers, individuals and corporate bodies who are doing legitimate business across the borders.

Similarly, briefing newsmen in Lagos as reported by the Telegraph, the Director General of Lagos Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Mr. Muda Yusuf posited that “while not diminishing the importance of security in the border management process, it is also true that neighboring countries have been sabotaging the Nigerian government’s efforts to curb smuggling and check insecurity, the government has a duty to manage the situation and
deploy appropriate response. According to him, over 90 percent of Nigeria’s trade with the West African sub-region was by road, adding that export of goods such as agricultural products, detergents, toothpastes, plastic products, steel products, kitchen utensils, grains, ginger, onions among others have been affected adversely.

These are sources of livelihood of Nigerians doing legitimate business and there are thousands of transporters who make a living from these legitimate trading activities. These are costs that would run into hundreds of billions of naira hence, we must weigh the costs and benefits because most often, we do not count the cost of government
policy on citizens and business. Therefore, we should not underestimate the contributions of trade and commerce to the economy of the country, Yusuf noted.

…there are more turbulent storms waiting for local manufacturers and MSMEs as the country’s GDP is set to lose N20 trillion according to the World Bank. The choice is therefore left for the Federal Government to rethink.

In comparing and contrasting the views from the aforementioned stakeholders, one is therefore poised to agree that Nigeria needs to fix the structural, institutional and political shortcomings that perpetuate the phenomenon of
smuggling and increase vulnerabilities. “And unless our country addresses these shortcomings, it would be difficult
to put an end to the problems of smuggling. Therefore, our institutional capacity to police the porous borders across the country needs immediate attention. Secondly, the need to deploy both ground and aerial technology in
surveillance of our nation’s borders cannot be overemphasized. Again, the weak productivity in the domestic economy which aggravates production and operating costs, thus impacting adversely on domestic prices and competitiveness, high transportation costs and weak domestic connectivity which affects domestics prices, high poverty incidence which makes majority of citizens crave for cheap products, including food items must be looked into.

As a matter of fact, the Federal Government should review the high and prohibitive import tariff, which creates compliance and enforcement challenges for the Nigerian Custom Service and also perpetuate corruption, foreign
exchange policy, which incentivizes imports and penalizes domestic products and exports, unsustainable subsidy regime on petroleum products, high transaction costs, high charges, combat corruption and ensure adequate equipment at the nation’s port making the cost of clearing cargo at the ports very prohibitive.

To this end, there are more turbulent storms waiting for local manufacturers and MSMEs as the country’s GDP is set to lose N20 trillion according to the World Bank. The choice is therefore left for the Federal Government to rethink.

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