Read the first part of this interview HERE; it focused on the management of the nation’s borders. In this concluding part, Profesor Asiwaju insists that the unilateral border closure was completely counterproductive.
By Yinka Kolawole
IN Imeko, my own equivalent of Buhari’s Daura, the local business community whose operators have their filling stations located within less than 20 kilometres of the border, and Ilara where existing petrol stations had mushroomed over the years, have speedily found their way round the problem and have flourished and prospered by investing in putting up new and reasonably profitable filling stations along the Imeko – Abeokuta autoroute, on locations safely more than the 20-kilometre spatial limit from the border.
As at the time of border closure in August 2019, there was only one existing filling station that escaped the ban. By the time of reopening, 15 new competing stations have been along less than five kilometres of the extremely busy 70-kilometre Federal Route 102, now in a state of worrisome disrepair, linking Abeokuta, the state capital, with the border less than ten kilometres west of Imeko.
To talk, then, of who have benefitted from the closure, I would say the border business community and functionaries of the numerous border-enforcement agencies, most importantly the Nigeria Customs and Immigration Services as well as Nigeria Police, who also profit from rents collected from the business operators.
Those who suffered were the strangely innocent law-abiding citizens who have had to endure unbridled human rights abuses and, of course, the government whose gain in revenue collection would not appear to have been any substantially different from or more than in normal times.
Government has, in the course of the border closure lost so much in image, especially in the weighing scale of human rights abuses and havoc wreaked on such regular socio-economic operations as peasant agriculture, petty trading, carpentry, iron welding, barbing and hairdressing salons, tailoring and fashion shops, hospitalities and road transportation, to mention just the leading examples of small-scale economic operations that suffered untold losses as a result of the ill-advised 15-month unilateral border closure.
Unilateral border closure
The losses by our predominantly peasant farmers, traders and local transport operators was especially colossal at the clamping down of the closure. For example, in the border areas of Ogun State, where the harvesting and marketing of tomatoes and peppers, as well as watermelon and new yams, were peaking in this region famous as the food basket and large-scale production of predominantly seasonal and fresh but perishable foods on which the urban centres outside the region on both sides of the border depend for their vital food supplies.
Also immediately adversely affected were satellites of big-time agro-industrial establishments, such as the fully mechanised cassava multiplication – Afolabi Farm in Idose village group area and O’dua Investment Cassava Industrial Production Plant, all in the outskirts of Imeko.
Were the initial objectives of the closure achieved and with the reopening, what lessons have been learnt, if any?
As already noted, not only were there no indications that the objectives for the closure were realised; the staggering evidence is that the unilateral border closure was completely counterproductive.
As we reflected in our aforementioned lecture in Unilag, December 2019, the decision by the executive arm of government was debated in the Senate on September 25; and much of the largely spirited debate was critical of the border closure to the overall consensus that it be very brief, in view of sufferings imposed on the masses in the border areas. To say nothing of our being portrayed to neighbours as being insensitive to terms of agreements with them on matters of cooperation and regional integration.
For the human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, the unilateral border closure was roundly condemnable because it is ‘illegal, immoral and economically senseless’. For Falana, as for several others like him, including Kayode Oladele, immediate past member of the House of Representatives, representing Imeko/Afon-Yewa North Federal Constituency, who recently made a press statement on the reopening of the borders, ‘it (the border closure) cannot be defended under the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, Protocols on Free Movement of Persons, and Goods’ and that ‘punishing millions of citizens for the offence of a few smugglers is immoral’.
All of these are aside the widely reported brutalities of overzealous border- enforcement agencies, especially men of the Nigeria Customs Preventive Service, involving the extra-judicial and related killings, including innocent school children, in many a border community in Ogun State over the period of the border closure enforcement of the last 15 months or so.
The lesson of ‘unilateral border closures’ as a state practice, for us in Nigeria, as it has been in wider world historical experience of it, is that it does nobody any good; and, if and when, it must be strictly limited in duration and for purposes, such as those of public safety, that must be made known to the people to be affected.
SME operators have spoken against the reopening of the land borders. What’s your view?
I am never for any form of protectionism; my natural inclination and predisposition are for healthy competition, including, of course, effective advertisement and campaign for preference for locally produced goods, like my well known choice of eko and moinmoin or akara for breakfast over bread and tea; and amala, especially of the diabetes-compliant ground unripe plantain, taken with plentiful vegetables, including okro, plus sauces of snail, fish and/or home raised organic poultry products for late lunch/early dinner, but without placing a ban or making a taboo of foreign diet in which to indulge in occasionally.
Similar rules of life apply to matters of clothes and clothing, and so on. I, therefore, have no sympathy for SMEs being unhappy with the border reopening.
How will our border management impact AfCFTA that took off on January 1, 2021, and the already existing ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme?
I am especially happy about the question of the impact of border management on the emerging AfCFTA and existing ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme. The reason for my happiness is the opportunity to repeat for the purpose of emphasis that for the highly progressive AfCFTA and ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme to elegantly take off or proceed elegantly, Nigeria must go back to the drawing board to resume and reinvigorate the border paradigm policy shift which Nigeria, at least for once, initiated for Africa in the 1980s.
Namely, moving completely away from the era of the primitive culture and obsolete tradition of indefinite unilateral border closure and re-embrace with systematic bilateral trans-border cooperation with limitrophe neighbours in ECOWAS and ECCAS to the fold end of prior development focus on adjoining strategic cross-border proximities and the deepening of African regional integration processes, on the model of history and discipline in the European Union from the Single Act 1989-1991 to date.
AfCFTA and ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme cannot and will not fly in an atmosphere of unpredictable fits of indefinite unilateral border closure and outbursts of unprogressive populism and negative ultra-nationalism.
Your recommendation on how to improve Nigeria’s land border management and how to effectively tackle the problem of porous borders and illegal immigrants
Discussing how to effectively tackle the problem of Nigeria’s porous borders and illegal immigrants must begin and end with some clarification of the two usually contested terms – nation’s ‘porous borders’ and ‘illegal immigrants’, as both tend to change meanings, depending on context and viewpoint of the user.
What makes borders ‘porous’, usually in the eyes of state coercion apparatuses, and thus making management an insoluble problem in the context of the aforementioned failure-courting conservative unilateral-border-closure approach, are, most often, exactly what make for normalcy in the eye of trans-border territorial authorities and, especially, the constituent local communities;
As agencies for the alternative transcendental policy vision of borders, as converters from barriers to bridges, as milieux for proactive exchanges and interactions for peace, security and prosperity for all, on both sides.
So positively viewed, ‘illegal’ immigration, especially the truly obnoxious human and child trafficking dimensions, becomes a matter of genuinely common concern to both government and affected trans-border populations.
I know this to be the case, not just as a student of the border phenomenon of several decades, but as well as a responsible Nigerian and African border citizen living his retirement life happily in the nation’s border area in Ogun State, even in the face of chronic infrastructural deprivations and political eclipsing by state at national and regional levels.
The point at issue here, then, if we are to effectively tackle the problem, generally though inappropriately popularised in the media as ‘porous borders’ is primarily to change the optics and, consequently, abandon obsolete and inherently futile negativity of conservative police-state management mechanisms, and concentrate, instead, on how to re-engage and re-orientate existing state apparatuses for the new cooperative border regime that has been in vogue in Nigeria and wider Africa since the 1989s, until the ill- advised re-imposition of obsolete disruptive outrage of unilateral border closure on Nigeria in August 2019.
As innovative specialised research and training programmes have been key to the success and sustenance of the paradigmatic border policy shift for Nigeria, ECOWAS and the African Union since the 1980s, I would like to conclude with a piece of long-standing advice for the inclusion of appropriate relevant courses in the training schools of the diverse border-enforcement agencies.
And for such institutions to send senior supervisory officers to the tailor-made programmes that are known to have been mounted in the African Regional Institute, Imeko, in 2006-2009 and in such other tertiary research and teaching institutions as the aforementioned NISS in Abuja, the Institute of Peace and Security Studies at the Universities of Ibadan and Ilorin.
And it is in this important connection that I wish to commend the ongoing legislative proceedings in the National Assembly, both Senate and House, for bills in rapidly advancing presentations in the two Chambers, for the establishment of a postgraduate National Institute of Border Studies in Imeko.
When realised, such an institute would fulfil a long-held dream for a Nigerian exemplar that is bound to be replicated in such other strategic African sub-regions as Nigeria with proximate neighbours in ECOWAS and ECCAS, two pillar RECs of the African Union.