President Muhammadu Buhari
By Johnbosco Agbakwuru -Abuja
The harsh economic situation occasioned by the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic and negative impact of the border closure on the private sector and the ordinary Nigerians made President Muhammadu Buhari to order the re-opening of shut land borders, a top Presidency source has revealed.
The top Presidency source who spoke on the condition of anonymity on Sunday, said that President Buhari had to order for the immediate re-opening of four land borders upon realization that ordinary Nigerians and the private sector were taking the brunt of the closure.
Besides, the President was convinced that the Federal Government had already achieved its strategic purpose for the closure which was to signal Nigeria’s dissatisfaction regarding some of the criminalities taking place around the borders.
The source further disclosed that the Buhari administration felt it had already made the point by signaling to some of the neighboring countries that Nigeria would no longer sit by and allow some of the untoward economic onslaught against the country to go unchecked.
The source said, “According to the report of a Presidential Committee which recommended the reopening of the border, one of the significant issues that stood out in the summary of the Committee’s findings and recommendations include the negative impact of the border closure on the private sector.
“The report noted, among other things, that the continued closure had negatively impacted some private sector businesses in Nigeria.
“Other fresh facts that emerged from the report on why the Federal Government reopened the borders that were shut about 15 months ago on August 20, 2019 was the very high inventory of unsold finished manufactured goods, especially those with market base and significant presence in West Africa, which ultimately led to unemployment and poor credit rating.
”At the onset of its work, the Committee led by the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, had ordered a comprehensive but objective impact assessment which revealed that “despite the significant benefits of the partial border closure in helping to curb the activities of smugglers, irregular migrants and other forms of criminality, among other benefits; the Committee’s findings revealed that the policy was potentially detrimental to Nigeria’s overall immediate and long term economic, security, diplomatic and social interests,” a top government source explained on Sunday.
“Another particular reason the Zainab Ahmed Committee highlighted in its findings and recommendations was the fact that Nigeria, as a signatory to the recently signed African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement, and member of ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme (ETLS), needed to remove all barriers to ensure free movement of goods across the continent and work towards opening the land borders before the commencement of the treaty on January 1, 2021.
“The Committee, which reportedly won the praise of both the President and the Federal Executive Council for its work also stated that the prolonged border closure had indirectly limited Nigeria’s market, especially as the country is regarded as the most industrialised country in the ECOWAS region and a leading member of the ETLS.
“Its report then added that the border closure affected Nigeria’s capacity to strengthen the workforce of relevant Government security agencies with modern facilities (surveillance cameras, drones); as well as funding for training, to effectively monitor the entry and exit points in the event of a Joint Border Operation.
“Despite the issues raised by the Committee, the report noted that the partial border closure “significantly reduced the prevalence of illegalities around the borders and positively impacted such key sectors of the Nigerian economy like oil & gas, agriculture, industry, etc.”
“The Committee further recommended that with the reopening of the borders, appropriate border management and control measures are put in place to curb smuggling and other criminal activities perpetuated through illegal unmanned routes.
“It said these measures would also check possible abuse of the efforts of government towards enhancing its economic interests and national security.”
It will be recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari had actually approved the immediate reopening of four land borders, namely: Seme (South-West), Illela (North-West), Maigatari (North West/North East) and Mfum (South South) as announced last week after the Federal Executive Council, FEC, meeting by the Minister of Finance; while the remaining borders would be re-opened on or before December 31, 2020.
Also recall that the Inter-Ministerial Committee was established to comprehensively assess the impact of the closure and make appropriate recommendations to the President on the matter.
The Committee, chaired by the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning comprises the Minister of Foreign Affairs; Minister of Interior; Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment (FMITI); Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning; Office of the National Security Adviser; Comptroller-General, Nigerian Customs Service; Comptroller-General, Nigerian Immigration Service; and Director, Home Finance Department who served as the Secretary.
The Federal government had closed the borders citing the need to reduce smuggling activities, armed banditry, human trafficking, irregular migration, proliferation of small arms and light weapons, and other trans-border crimes. It also highlighted the porosity of the country’s land borders as being serious threat to the nation’s economy.
The reopening of the borders had met with excitement, because of the restoration of economic activities but a top government source assured that “it’s not going to be business as usual regarding some of the criminal activities which the President wants to ensure are effectively curtailed.