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Making the most of our shut borders

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Closed Seme Border, shared by Nigeria and Benin Republic

Two months after wielding the big stick of precipitate border closure, the Federal Government on Monday November 4, 2019 laid out conditions to be met by fellow ECOWAS countries for reopening of our borders.

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyema, led a ministerial committee to announce that a tripartite meeting of Nigeria, Benin and Niger Republics must take place within two weeks to ratify certain conditions before the borders will be reopened or else we might all have to bear the discomforts it has imposed till well into 2020.

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The conditions, which are obviously meant to protect member-countries (especially Nigeria) from the illegal dumping of goods, unfair customs practices and security breaches, also aim to maintain the sanctity of the ECOWAS and continental protocols on common markets and free movement of goods and human beings within the law.

Due to decades of corruption, lack of technology and weak institutions, the Nigerian government unwittingly created conditions which encouraged neighbouring countries(especially Benin) to turn Nigeria into a dumping ground for Asian goods (especially rice) and used vehicles imported from Europe and America. Benin made equivalent of N250bn annually from dumping often re-bagged and smuggled Asian rice into Nigeria through our porous borders.

The conditions include that any goods imported into ECOWAS member-states must maintain their original manufacturer’s packaging to enable appropriate customs tariff and other regulatory applications. Goods meant for Nigeria must be escorted by the Customs officials of the country of import and handed over to their Nigerian counterparts to minimise smuggling and economic sabotage. Goods made in ECOWAS countries must satisfy the rules of origin, and all warehouses situated along the shared borders of Nigeria must be dismantled.

With regard to the movement of ECOWAS citizens across borders which has imposed grave security implications on Nigeria, country passport must be the only travel document allowed before anyone enters Nigeria through the borders.

We hope this application of stick and carrot will help bring Benin and Niger to the dialogue table with Nigeria within the stipulated time, especially ahead of the Yuletide commercial season. We want the borders to be reopened because millions of Nigerians and our neighbours are suffering collateral damages due to the closure.

However, Nigeria must go beyond depending on ECOWAS countries to help it do the work of sanitising the movement of goods and people across our borders. We must do our own homework. This includes upgrading the technology and logistics of the Customs, Immigration and other border agencies and security services to adequately administer our borders, so that even when our neighbours fail to protect us we can still adequately protect ourselves.

Unless we address our own weaknesses we will return to square one once we reopen the borders.

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