By Marie-Therese Nanlong
Since President Muhammadu Buhari unexpectedly ordered the closure of the nation’s borders about four months ago due to smuggling activities from neighbouring countries, which he says threatened the self-sufficiency policy of his administration; reactions have continued to trail the development.
The President had argued that Nigerians are going back to their farms hence the need to stop activities of smugglers of products especially rice, tomatoes and others which are being cultivated in commercial quantities in the country.
The initial partial closure had subsequently expanded into the suspension of imports and exports across all land borders in the country; while the rampant illegal activities have dropped and customs revenue raised according to government sources, there still exists some negative impacts of the policy.
While some small scale business operators have hailed the development, many others have called for a review as the exercise though may check smuggling but has rather driven up prices of many basic commodities.
Prices of staple food has risen; legitimate businesses along those corridors are suffering and as a small scale business owner, Uchechi Eze in Jos said, “the closure has had positive and negative impacts on the economy but legitimate small businesses should not be made to suffer, that is why I am calling on the federal government to reopen the borders.”
A small scale farmer, Alice Bala from Mikang local government area of the State added that though the policy is aimed at assisting local farmers and ensuring food security, “prices of other things like second hand shoes and clothes which were within the reach of the poor have skyrocketed and these are also putting pressure on poor families.
However, the Founder/Executive Director, Jos Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, JOCCIMA, Dr. Idris Nubuya expressed mixed feelings about the closure.
According to him, “The intention of border closure is good but the procedure used in its implementation is what we are saying should be reviewed as soon as possible. It is good for government to protect small businesses to grow but there was hardly any notice given before the border closure took place.
“We have to say repeatedly as an umbrella body of micro, small and medium enterprises in Plateau that a major mode of transportation of goods out of the shores of Nigeria is by land. For us in Plateau State as we speak, for over a decade, our inland container depot has not yet started. That would have been beneficial, easier, and cheaper for us from the port to transport our goods.
“Since that is not available, we are forced to export our products by roads through the borders. With this closure, it has affected negatively, more so that the government has not given a timeline for reopening the borders. It has negative effects to us as shippers in Plateau state; our common position is that it has affected us negatively. We are calling on the federal government to review the procedures for implementation and reopen the borders.”
Speaking on the smuggling argument, he stated, “When government says there has been smuggling into Nigeria, it shows the various agencies vested with the responsibilities have not been doing their jobs because if they have been doing that, the smuggling will be minimal and wouldn’t have precipitated the closure of the border.
“If you close the borders, have you taken care of what led to the closure in the first place? The security architecture at the border has to be seriously considered, there is a need to rejig it so that these over 1, 000 porous borders that we are told will not be the case. We have seen that even with the closure of the border, smuggling activities are still taking place through these porous borders.
“Now we find out that our neighbours are also negatively affected because there is this import of what we need in Plateau, in Nigeria that is no longer forthcoming. There has to be a complete shift from land import and export to ports, of course by air; very expensive.
“We have protocols but with this closure, are we not in breach of these protocols whereby the ECOWAS region is even talking about a single currency. What happens now? Some of these countries have expressed their concerns because the closure is adversely affecting them too.”