By Afe Babalola
LAST week, I began an examination of the issues relating to the closure of Nigeria’s borders, its effect on the nation’s economy and production of locally made goods. This week, I intend to proceed on a discourse of the pros and cons of the closure while identifying areas government can improve upon to address problems which brought about a need for the closure in the first instance.
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First and foremost, it is important to recognise that all nations have an inherent right to close their borders to all forms of external influence, including trade and commerce. In certain countries, border control focuses exclusively on curtailing the import of foreign agricultural products.
For instance, Australia restricts the importation of virtually all food and wood products. Similar restrictions occur in Canada and New Zealand. Furthermore, the cross-border influx of narcotics in some countries has dire consequences such as capital punishment.
In the United States, it was reported that Mexico is a transit country for South American cocaine destined for the United States and a major country of origin for heroin and marijuana.
Between 50 and 70 percent of the cocaine smuggled into the United States transited Mexico, entering primarily by land across the southwest border. In addition, about 23 percent of the heroin smuggled into the United States originated in Mexico. Beyond narcotics, porous borders equally account for the spate of illegal immigrations across borders. This is very much true of Nigeria where porous borders enable citizens of neighbouring countries to cross unhindered into Nigeria.
Concerns about the closure
Beyond the positive effects of Nigeria’s border closure, certain concerns have been raised about the continued closure. Firstly, it has been argued that rather than focus on the volume of import into Nigeria, more attention should be paid towards improving export. In this respect, it is stated that South Africa which has a lesser population compared to Nigeria, imports more than us. However that country balances the equation by exporting more than we currently manage. So if Nigeria can actually improve export, there will be less need to worry about importation.
The second concern is related to the first and it is that by closing the land borders, the few Nigerian manufacturers who before now had been exporting their products to neighbouring countries can no longer get their goods out. This not only further reduces the volume of export but also brings to these manufacturers the risk that they may have lost vital markets by the time the borders are eventually reopened.
Again while Nigerian rice farmers are happy about the government’s decision to close the nation’s border, there are concerns about whether domestic food production can meet domestic demand. In 2017, demand for rice in Nigeria reached 6.7 million tonnes, almost double the 3.7 million tonnes produced domestically. The wide gap between the production and consumption of items are usually bridged with imports. The border closure has caused the consignments of many importers of perishable goods to be trapped across border, thus incurring losses amounting to several millions of naira.
Therefore, due to the inability of Nigerians to buy these imported products, there was a corresponding increase in demand of local products, like rice and poultry, therefore making the price of locally made rice skyrocket. Since the border closure, the price of a 50 kilogrammes bag of rice has increased from N9,000 to about N25,000.
As noted by experts, there has been increase in inflation. Nonso Obikili, the Director at the Turgot Centre for Economics and Policy Research noted that: “…already we are seeing effects on prices and inflation and I’m sure we will see effects on Q3 Gross Domestic Product GDP once that data comes out in November. Exports are also restricted, which will stop movements of cocoa and sesame seeds via land borders.”
On his part, the Director-General of Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, LCCI, also opined that: “it is important to reckon with the costs, supply chain disruptions and losses that business and individuals have suffered as a result of the closure… Jobs have been lost, prices have skyrocketed, legitimate exports to the sub-region have been halted, intermediate products for some manufacturers have been cut off, some multinational companies have been de-linked from their sister companies in the sub-region.”
Finally there is the issue of good neighbourliness and the economic and security effects of the closure on neighbouring countries. There are concerns that Nigeria’s border closure has had severe economic effects on Benin Republic through which several goods have found their way into Nigeria.
Therefore, the continued closure of the border may severely affect the economy of some of Nigeria’s neighbours, which may ultimately have a negative impact on Nigeria itself. The same applies to Niger which gets most of its imports through Nigeria. There is no way economic and security conflagrations in these countries will not affect Nigeria.
At the height of the fight against insurgency, Nigeria sought the help of some of the neighbouring countries to assist in the fight against Boko Haram and they readily lent their support by their membership of a joint task force created for that purpose. However, with the recent closure of our borders despite pleas from the government of some of the countries whose economies are being affected by the closure, their ability or willingness to readily lend their support towards future collaborations on security issues.
Need for self examination
While the closure of the Nigeria border certainly has many benefits accruable to Nigerians, it yet challenges the Nigerian government to make every effort towards the development of our local economy, particularly towards empowering the growth of locally made products and the empowerment of our local manufacturers.
It has been reported that since the closure of our borders, the Nigeria Customs has recorded a huge drop in the volume of smuggled goods. This, however, calls for some self-assessment as it basically confirms that prior to the close of the borders, the smuggled goods were coming in through official border crossings and not through bush paths. If it were not so, the closing of the borders would not have had such a profound effect. It means that government must pay more attention to the Customs Service.
There is, therefore, a need to ensure that our borders are more fortified in terms of the proper orientation of those manning our borders – the Nigerian Customs Service and Nigerian Immigration Service. This could be achieved through immediate reorganization of the custom service particularly towards ensuring that the incidence of bribery is reduced to its barest minimum.