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Pres. Buhari orders reopening of land borders

experts raise smuggling alert as FG retains rice, poultry ban

President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the immediate reopening of four of Nigeria’s land borders.

The Presidency made this known in a tweet today. “President Buhari has directed the immediate opening of four land borders: Seme, Illela, Maigatari, and Mfun,” @NGRPresident tweeted.

Nigeria had in August 2019 closed its land borders to curtail illegal importation of drugs, small arms and agricultural products into country from neighbouring West African nations.

The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, had last month hinted on the reopening of the nation’s borders.

Ahmed had said the presidential committee set up on the matter had completed its job and had recommended the reopening of the borders.

The minister, on Wednesday, after a Federal Executive Council meeting (FEC), disclosed the reopening of Seme Border in Lagos State, Illela Border in Sokoto State, Maigatari Border in Jigawa State, and Mfun Border in Cross River State.

According to her, other borders would be reopened before December 31, 2020.

Ahmed also disclosed that rice and poultry products remained banned.

The FEC meeting was presided over by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo. Buhari, who is currently on a private visit to his hometown, Daura, in Katsina State, participated in the meeting virtually.

However, groups, including the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Poultry Association of Nigeria and the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria, in their separate reactions to the President’s decision, said government must ensure proper monitoring of borders to prevent smuggling.

The Federal Government had in August 2019 closed its land borders to curtail smuggling.

The four affected borders, according to the minister, are Seme border in South- West, Ilela border in the North- West, Mfun border in the South -South and Maigatari border in the North-West.

She said others would be reopened on or before December 31, 2020.

She added that the ban on the importation of commodities such rice and poultry products was still in force despite the reopening.

Ahmed said, “I am here to report that the President approved the recommendations of the committee that I chaired with the Minister of Trade and Investment, Minister of Interior, Minister of Foreign Affairs, National Security Adviser and Comptroller-General of Customs as members.

“This committee was mandated to review and advise on the reopening of the Nigerian borders and after recommendations, the President approved the reopening of four land borders, namely Seme in the South-West, Ilela in the North-West, Maitagari in the North-West of the country and Mfun in the South -South.

“So, these four land borders will be reopened immediately while the remaining borders are directed to be reopened on or before December 31, 2020.

“Mr President has also directed on the reopening of the borders that, while others are being reopened, the ban on importation of rice, poultry and other banned products still subsists and will be implemented by the border patrol team.”

The Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Niyi Adebayo, said the closure of the borders was beneficial to the country.

He said, “We have many advantages of the border closure. According to him,  the security agencies have been able to see the problems at the borders, particularly with regard to smuggling.

Adebayo stated, “As you are all aware, before the border closure, a lot of petroleum products were being smuggled out from the borders to West African countries and the border closure has created a situation that has tactically stopped that. They have been able to calculate the amount of petroleum products being smuggled out by calculating the amount that is being lifted now compared to what was being lifted before.

“The issue of smuggling of rice to the country has reduced drastically and we are hoping that our agencies will be able to sustain that so also is the issue of poultry smuggling.

“Also, very important is the issue of importation of small arms and weapons into the country that also has stopped. We are hoping and we are sure that this time around, our security agencies will be able to see that that doesn’t reoccur.

“These are the issues that caused the closure of the borders in the first place and we have been able to put a stop to them.”

But farmers’ groups, which reacted to the reopening of the four borders, advised the Federal Government not to allow smuggling.

The Director-General of the PAN, Onallo Akpa, told one of our correspondents that the government must keep to its word by ensuring that frozen chicken was not smuggled into Nigeria again.

He said, “The Federal Government closed the borders and it has decided to open it up again and said it is for the good of all of us.

“However, the government must keep its promise that it made to us, poultry farmers. It assured us that frozen chicken would not be smuggled into Nigeria again.

“It assured us that the customs have been put on red alert to stop the smuggling of frozen chicken and that poultry imports into Nigeria has been banned. So it must keep to its words.”

The National President of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Kabir Ibrahim, told one of our correspondents that the land borders would definitely be opened due to the trade agreements among African nations.

He, however, stated that the reopening of Nigeria’s borders would lead to the depletion of the country’s food.

Ibrahim said, “Opening our borders is what we must do because we have just ratified the Africa Continental Free Trade Area. So our borders have to be opened for us to be able to interact with our neighbours and do business.

“However, that could cause a flight of what we have in Nigeria because most of the people on the other side of our borders are people that we traditionally feed.

“So most likely food will go out of Nigeria to those places. The counter- reaction is very minimal because those people have very little to offer to Nigeria. Therefore Nigeria’s food could be depleted by the opening of its borders.”

On his part, the Director General of the LCCI, Dr Muda Yusuf, in an interview with The PUNCH, said although he supported the reopening of the four borders, government must strengthen border policing.

He said it was a welcome development and timely in view of the recently ratified  African Continental Free Trade Area by the Federal Government.

According to him, the move will also benefit small businesses and manufacturers that depend on cross border trade to grow their businesses.

He, however, noted that the security agencies needed to strengthen border policing in order prevent indiscriminate cross-border trade.

Yusuf said, “It is a welcome development. It would be beneficial to the economy and in consonance with the recently ratified AfCFTA. Many small businesses depend on cross-border trade.  Many manufacturers also leverage the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme to boost their business.  Many also source their raw materials from countries in the sub-region.

“But there is a need to strengthen the border policing and management mechanisms to avoid a relapse into the conditions that led to the closure in the first place.  The biggest challenge with border management is an institutional issue.  We need to demand accountability from the institutions that have the responsibility for border policing and management.”

The President of the Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Al-Mujtaba Abubakar, stated that the eventual reopening of borders by the Federal Government was a decision that should have been taken earlier considering the devastating impact on the economy.

He said, “The failure of the closure to yield intended target of the government calls attention to the need for government to always consult widely before adopting a policy option. The border closure decision was hastily taken without adopting the standard practice in policy formulation process.

“We want to note that the closure has inflicted a lot of damage on small businesses which depend for raw materials on cross border trade. Many SMEs had collapsed and many genuine businessmen ran out of market.”

He added, “Worst still, the closure did not stop smuggling, leading to double loss for the nation.

“It is particularly sad that even when the policy failure has been established, the government waited until compelled by AFCTA to reverse the border closure decision.  In the spirit of AfCTFA, Nigeria actually has no choice than to reopen the border.”

The ACCI expressed hope that policy makers would learn a very bitter lesson from this particular case.

The Director General, Nigerian American chamber of Commerce, Mr Sola Obadimu, stressed that constant closure and re-opening of the land border showed that the government had no strategy to support businesses and make them competitive on the continent.

Unlike Nigeria, he said the South African government had a strategy that allowed the government to support local businesses and facilitate the expansion of their businesses in other African countries.

According to him, inconsistent government policies are not helping businesses to make relevant businesses decisions as it is jeopardising their investment.

Obadimu stated that even though the Nigerian government had signed the AfCFTA treaty, Nigeria businesses would not be able to compete due to the high cost of production caused by poor infrastructure and power supply.

He said the only advantage Nigerian had over other countries was the huge population

            ADAPTED FROM THE PUNCH

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