By Levinus Nwabughiogu
The closure of land borders by security agents in August may have its positive impact as envisaged by government but cries from the people and the House of Representatives clearly show that all is not well with communities in affected areas.
If mixed reactions had trailed the closure of Nigeria’s land borders with its neighbours in the north and western hemispheres, palpable fury took the air when government further announced a ban on the distribution of petroleum products to the communities at the borders.
Nigerians woke up in August to the news of the closure of land borders. Of course, while it has lasted, the decision has practically made the importation of goods, especially food items and other consumables, virtually impossible
For now, only the sea and airports are operational.
In some way, the action of government through the Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, is justifiable.
For starters, the land borders are profoundly porous and this has rendered Nigeria vulnerable. All manner of goods and services pass through them mostly unchecked. Smuggling and other illicit businesses thrive there.
Local industries are stifled and discouraged as patronage for their goods and services falls.
Manufacturing and creativity suffer.
National security is at stake.
The disturbing endpoint in all of this is that the country is disadvantaged, commercially and economically.
At a time the economy is in dire straits, every loophole has to be plugged and this, among others, is basically what jolted government to take the action of closing the borders.
The closure and concomitants of hardships
This development, however, has not gone on since August without its concomitants of worries, hardships and suffering on the people.
While the long term objective may be to restore all treaties entered into by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and to stimulate local economy, the present reality is that Nigerians, especially the common man and the poorest of the poor, have seen the worst days as prices of goods have unfathomably skyrocketed in the recent time.
But while the people were still nursing their wounds and swallowing hard, the Comptroller General of Customs, Hameed Ali, on November 6, issued a directive that no petroleum product should be discharged in any gas station within 20 kilometres to the closed borders.
To many people, this is adding salt to injury and wantonly declaring harakiri on the people whose means of livelihood are largely determined by the by products of oil and gas in the border communities. The directive subsequently elicited outcry among the citizenry. How would they survive?
Sada Soli’s motion in focus
Perhaps, it was this question that jolted Hon Sada Soli, the member representing Kaita/Jibia Federal Constituency of Katsina State in the House of Representatives, to put up a motion under matters of urgent public importance, urging Customs to lift the ban on the distribution of fuel to the border areas.
The motion was entertained by the House on Tuesday, November 14, 2019.
Soli had submitted during the debate that residents of the border towns had already been affected by the border closure.
To him, denying them petroleum products, which would adversely affect the running of hospitals, businesses and the supplementing of the source of epileptic power without due consultation and enlightenment, was most insensitive to their plight.
Part of his constituency, Jibia, which is also a border community, he said, has witnessed a first-hand result of the ban as the price of petroleum products had skyrocketed beyond the reach of the common man.
Interestingly, the motion got the support of fellow members and, in passing it, the House mandated its Committees on Interior, Customs and Excise and Petroleum Resources (Downstream) to engage the Minister of Interior, the Minister of State for Petroleum, the Comptroller General of Customs and the Group Managing Director of the National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) with a view to reviewing the situation and ameliorating the suffering of Nigerians living in the border towns.
The parliament agreed that the ban on the supply of petroleum products to border communities contravened the provisions of the Customs and Excise Act as amended.
The Committee was given two weeks to report back to the House.
Coming on the heels of the resolutions by the House, two members of House of Representatives also appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to reopen the land borders.
The members were Honourables Mohammed Kazaure representing Kazaure/Roni Federal Constituency of Jigawa State and Sam Onuigbo representing Ikwuano/Umuahia North and South Federal Constituency of Abia State.
‘Over 1, 400 trucks stranded’
Kazaure said that goods belonging to Nigerians and on their way to the country before the closure had been trapped at the borders.
He said that most of the goods imported with loans were perishable, stressing that the owners would lose significantly.
He said “I am appealing to the Federal Government to open the borders. Most of the people already have goods on the seas; unfortunately, government didn’t give them notice.
“Over 1, 400 trucks, laden with goods, are trapped and some of the goods there can easily spoil. The importers didn’t expect border closure. Some of them collected bank loans.
“I am pleading with the President to allow the Customs to open the borders even if it is temporary for the people. They are the people who voted for us.
“Some of us are regretting that they voted for us”.
On his own part, Onuigbo, while commending government for closing the borders to check crimes and smuggling, however, said that genuine concerns of the people shouldn’t be ignored.
“No nation runs with porous borders because that is why you talk about territorial integrity of a nation. And when you talk about the territorial integrity of a nation, you are just stating quite clearly that entry into your country and exit must be monitored and, therefore, government, in its wisdom, just found out that some things needed to be brought under control. And I think that’s what informed the closure of the borders.
“However, you have to juxtapose that against the impact that is having on individuals, like Nigerians who are living around the border areas so that you try to ameliorate a little bit of the hardship they are going through.
“Government does not close ears to the genuine concerns of its citizens. So, it is against that background that we say you can now open the borders just within those areas and allow them to access some things.
“But also, I expect that, by now, government would have detected some of those loopholes that they need to plug at the borders so that life can, to an appreciable extent, return to normalcy”.