IT is quite obvious that the closure of Nigeria’s land borders with neighbouring countries could have been far better handled. The slamming “with immediate effect” smacked of a typical knee-jerk military approach which has never done Nigeria any good.
The Federal Government could have met with all stakeholders in the economy to ensure that when taken, the measure would be a win-win for all rather than seeming to discriminate in favour of farmers alone. Manufacturers are also important to the economy, and so are other legitimate cross-border merchants.
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Adequate consultations and preparations could have prevented large-scale losses. Who will compensate those forced to lose revenue, especially the LCCI, which might lose exhibitors from the sub-region in this year’s Lagos Trade Fair?
Secondly, this closure cannot endure forever. It has to be lifted after some time. How are we preparing to ensure that we do not return to the status quo after the bravura of unilateral border closure?
How are we reforming the Customs Service and speeding up our port operations to make Nigeria (rather than Benin) the preferred destination for legitimate importers and exporters? How do we clean up the Apapa gridlock to ease the non-oil revenue corridors into the ports?
We inflicted the problems that led to the border closure on ourselves. While our inept and corrupt port operations are only able to clear 200,000 vehicles per year, the Benin ports clear over 400,000 vehicles of which over 80 per cent are smuggled into Nigeria.
If our Customs were technologically-efficient the volume of smuggling would be much less and more controllable. Benin Republic only exploited our inept and backward system to their own advantage. Without addressing this issue we will be back to square one as soon as the borders are reopened.
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Why can’t we develop all our other ports outside Lagos, such as the seaports at Warri, Koko, Port Harcourt, Onne, Ibaka and Calabar? Why not implement our abandoned river port projects at Onitsha, Lokoja and Baro; and the dry ports and export processing zones to show our seriousness as a farming, manufacturing and trading nation?
Experts also advise that Nigeria should explore the possibility of getting ECOWAS to adopt a common Customs Union, including the proposed common currency to exploit and share the full benefits of belonging to a unified large market.
Perhaps when we jointly tackle the issues of smuggling, movement of goods, people and arms together we might be able to do it better than as units.
It is not yet too late for the Federal Government to sit together with experts and relevant stakeholders to adopt permanent solutions to our Customs, smuggling, security and migration challenges to ensure that when the borders are reopened they will not be shut any time soon.