(NEWS INVESTIGATORS) President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the reopening of four land borders in three of the six geopolitical zones of the country with immediate effect.
These include Seme border in the South- West, Illela and Maigatari borders in the North- West, and Mfun border in the South-South.
However, the ban on importation of rice, poultry, among others remained enforced, the federal government said on Wednesday.
With the latest development, import and export of approved goods would begin in earnest after months of closure, a development that impeded businesses and social activities.
Our correspondents report that the news of the reopening of the borders had elicited thunderous applause in the affected communities with residents saying life will come back to normal.
Millions of Nigerians had decried the closure of the borders, saying the development had aggravated poverty, made the cost of basic needs high and crippled the source of livelihood of many.
The closure of the borders had also grossly affected the economic fortunes of neighbouring Benin and Niger Republics, Chad, Cameroon, Ghana, among others.
Government had at the onset said the borders were closed to stop importation of contrabands including arms and ammunitions, boost agriculture and protect local economy.
A big reprieve
The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Hajiya Zainab Ahmed disclosed the reopening of the four borders after the 28th virtual Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo at the Council Chamber of State House, Abuja.
President Buhari participated at the meeting virtually from his country home in Daura, Katsina State.
Hajiya Zainab said the remaining officially recognised borders would be reopened on or before December 31, 2020.
She said: “The president has approved the recommendations of the committee that I chaired with the ministers of trade and investment, interior, foreign affairs, national security adviser and comptroller general of Customs.”
The finance minister said the committee was mandated to review and advise on the reopening of the Nigerian borders and after they submitted their recommendations, the president agreed that the borders should be reopened.
The Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Otunba Niyi Adebayo, while fielding questions from State House reporters on the advantages in the border closure, said: “It allowed the security agencies to access the problems at the borders particularly concerning smuggling.
“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 number of petroleum products being smuggled out by calculating the amount that is being lifted now compared to what was being lifted before”.
Nigeria, the largest economy and the most prosperous of the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), closed its land borders in August last year on account of the proliferation of illegal importation of drugs, small arms and agricultural products coming from neighbouring West African countries.
Daily Trust reports that besides the items announced by the finance minister, key items on the prohibition list on the Customs website include live or dead birds like frozen poultry; pork, beef, bird’s eggs, excluding hatching eggs; refined vegetable oils and fats (includes mayonnaise); cane or beet sugar and chemically pure sucrose; spaghetti/noodles.
Others include bagged cement; medicaments like paracetamol: carpets and other textile material, used cars of over 15 years, parboiled rice; toothpick, among others.
Border reopening long overdue- Experts
The President of the Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI), Alhaji Al-Mujtaba Abubakar said the federal government should have reopened the borders long ago.
“The border closure was hastily taken without adopting the standard practice in the policy formulation process,” he said on Wednesday.
He said many SMEs had collapsed and many genuine businessmen ran out of the market even as the closure did not stop smuggling, leading to a double loss for the nation.
The industrialist said it was sad that even when the policy failure was established, the government waited until compelled by AFCTA to reverse the border closure decision.
“In the spirit of AfCTFA, Nigeria has no choice than to reopen the border. We hope that policymakers will learn a very bitter lesson from this particular case,” he said.
Similarly, the Managing Director of BiC Consultancy, Dr Boniface Chizea, who is an economic and business development consultant told Daily Trust that the decision to close the border was not good for the image of the country or the growth of the economy.
He said while the country witnessed some activities in hitherto abandoned production capacities, there was also a spike in food prices as a result.
“The closure wasn’t a total success in the sense that things were being smuggled in from here and there. I hope we never go this route again given that we were the major champion of the Africa Continental free trade agreement. We cannot be promoting free trade and at the same time be closing borders.”
The Chairman of Export Group, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Chief Ede Dafinone, said that the government had lost an incredible amount of goodwill. “Most of us manufacturing for export did not see the benefit and reason for the closure,” he said.
“Investors that have plans to situate their plants in Nigeria to take advantage of West Africa have to rethink because they cannot put in all that funds only for the government to wake up tomorrow and shut down again,” he said.
The Director-General of Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Dr Muda Yusuf, said the decision would be beneficial to the economy.
He, however, stressed the 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,” he said.
Excitement in Seme, Maigatari, Illela
Residents and members of the Seme-Karke community in Badagry have expressed excitement with the reopening of the borders by the federal government.
They said the decision would give succour to the people who had been affected by the lull in economic activities since the border was closed.
Alhaji Akeem Sani, Asiwaju of Seme and leader of the Yoruba community described the reopening of the borders as the best thing the government has done in recent times.
Sani, who is also the branch chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), said the border closure had triggered an increase in transport fare even as it allowed the value of CFA (the Beninese currency) to go higher.
He said, “Our currency has been so bastardized. But we are happy the government has reopened the border and we would have relief.
“Government can ban rice and poultry products to encourage the local farmers since we have the capacity and we support this, but we must encourage trade between Nigeria and other African countries so that other countries especially the West Coast would not see us as enemies. We must build a cordial relationship with our neighbours,” he said.
The news of the re-opening of land borders has received applause from some residents of Jigawa State, particularly those who carry out businesses at the Maigatari border.
Nigeria exports commodities like millet, guinea corn, eggs, watermelon, among others to Niger, while it imports commodities like beans, goats, sheep, cows, camels, horses and donkeys among others to the country.
Malam Danjummai Saidu, who imports rams into Nigeria from the Niger Republic through Maigatari border said many people had been thrown into an economic quagmire.
“I used to buy rams from the Niger Republic at relatively cheaper prices to resell and make some income to feed myself and my family, I suffered after the closure,” he said.
Malam Musa Ahmed, who deals in clothing and textiles materials, welcomed the reopening of the borders, noting that more revenues will be earned by the local government and the people.
There was a wild celebration at Illela town in Illela Local Government Area of Sokoto State over the reopening of the border. Illela shares border with Kwanni of Niger Republic.
People from the area, particularly youths had stormed the main border post celebrating the development on Wednesday.
A former chairman of the area, Alhaji Abdullahi Haruna, described the general mood in Illela as “ecstatic”.
“The area will come back to life now because business activities, which have been dormant for over a year now will resume,” he said.
According to Haruna, people have started going in and out of Nigeria since around 1 pm yesterday, including trucks.
He, however, expressed fear that the development could worsen the fragile security situation in the area because Illela was among the areas with the reported cases of kidnapping in recent time.
However, residents of Jibiya and Kongolam in Katsina State said they, too, deserved some reprieve.
Lawali Planner, a resident of Kongolam said they appreciated the efforts of President Buhari in making Nigerians self-sufficient, but wondered why the border between Nigeria and Niger in their area will not be opened.
“It is now difficult to cross to Niger even for social interaction even though we have the relationship of intermarriages,” he said.
On her part, Saádatu Dan Kani in Jibia said she hopes the president will give them some relief by reopening the border.” Basic things are cheaper there,” she said.