Pressure Mounts On Govt To Reopen Land Borders
The push for the reopening of land borders closed since August 20, 2019, grew louder on Wednesday as the country sank into its worst economic crisis in three decades.
There however, seems to be a convergence on the issue.
Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning Mrs. Zainab Ahmed dropped a hint that the reopening of borders could happen soon.
The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) frowned at the disruptions and losses that businesses and individuals have suffered as a result of the prolonged border closure. It said companies, a large number of informal sector players, and individuals doing legitimate businesses across the borders have been crippled.
LCCI Director-General, Dr. Muda Yusuf, said following the closure of the land borders: “Jobs have been lost, prices have skyrocketed, legitimate exports to the sub-region have been halted, intermediate products for some manufacturers have been cut off and some multinational companies have been de-linked from their sister companies in the sub-region.
“The economies of border communities have been paralysed with consequences for unemployment and poverty. Over 90 per cent of Nigeria’s trade with the West African sub-region is by road. We export manufactured products as well as agricultural products, detergents, toothpastes, plastic products, steel products, kitchen utensils, grains, ginger, onions, among others. We also undertake many re-exports to the sub region. These are sources of livelihood of Nigerians doing legitimate businesses.”
Dr. Yusuf said there are also thousands of transporters who make a living from legitimate trading activities running into hundreds of billions of naira. He advised the government to weigh the costs and benefits adding that often, government fails to count the cost of its policy on the citizens and businesses.
The LCCI chief said the contribution of trade and commerce to the economy should not be underestimated as distributive trade sector accounts for about 15 per cent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). According to him, traders play a major role in the value chain of the real sector activities in the economy as it is perhaps the largest employer of labour in the nation’s economy.
He argued that the position of LCCI on the border closure is not to diminish the importance of security in the border management process but for government to deal with neighboring countries identified as sabotaging government efforts to curb smuggling and check insecurity.
Southwest stakeholders, including the six governors, had demanded the reopening of the borders to stimulate the region’s economy.
At a meeting with a presidential delegation led by Chief of Staff to the President Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, the governors and traditional rulers said the continued border closure was hurting the economy
They said: “We believe that the prolonged closure of the borders has caused economic difficulties and should be re-examined to alleviate problems of the people in the border communities and prices of some essential commodities. There is need to review the closure and permit resumption of economic and trading activities.”
The meeting was hosted on November 8 by Lagos State Governnor Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
The committee set up by President Muhammadu Buhari to assess the gains of the closure will submit its report this week.
Chairman of the committee, Finance Minister Mrs. Ahmed, told reporters that the committee assessed the gains of the closure and advised the President on the next line of action.
She said: “Mr President set up a committee that I chair, alongside the Ministers of Foreign Affairs(Geoffrey Onyeama) and Interior (Rauf Aregbesola) as well as the heads of Customs, Immigration and security services to review and advise him on border closure.
“The committee has just completed its work and we’ll be submitting our report, I’ve signed my copy, I gave everybody to sign between today(yesterday) and tomorrow(today) so that we submit the report to Mr President.”
The Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), said they will welcome the reopening of the land borders.
The organisations, in separate reactions, said the decision was better late than never as many businesses had suffered, resulting in loss of jobs.
NECA, the umbrella organisation of employers in the Organised Private Sector (OPS), noted that the decision by Nigeria to close its borders in 2019 resulted in serious incapacitation of legitimate business owners, especially those involved in perishable goods along the border areas that need to export through the land borders.
Its Director-General, Timothy Olawale, said businesses suffered in the “name of a blanket closure of the borders with further consequences being job losses.”
The statement said: “As we approach the implementation date of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, it has become more imperative for government to create a favourable environment for businesses operating in Nigeria to survive and thrive.
“As there are thousands of illegal routes that had become avenues for transfer or movement of illegal goods, government will do well to further equip the Nigerian Customs Service, step up patrols in and around the border area and smoothen the Custom’s collaboration with local indigenes in the border areas to facilitate effective policing of the borders.
“Disrupting the legitimate business aspiration of law abiding business owners has done more harm than good to the Nigerian economy.”
Secretary-General of the TUC, Musa Ozigi-Lawal, said: “Since the borders have been closed, many things have gone wrong. Our system has almost failed, no in and out output. If the borders are opened it should be of happiness to businesses and then to our Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
“Right now we are at the lowest ebb of our GDP. “
On the plan for an early exit of the economy from recession, Mrs. Ahmed said the Buhari administration hoped to use the Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP) for the purpose..
According to her, the government designed the ESP because it anticipated the recession. She added that the plan would help the economy rebound in the first quarter of 2021.
“The steps taken were vigorous implementation of the ESP. You will recall that the ESP was designed to be a 12- month plan, to act as a bridge between the ERGP and its successor plan, but also it was designed specifically to help us quickly exit recession, which we had projected was going to happen.
“So, the ESP implementation is really on course. It is focused. The implementation of the 2020 Budget is really on course and is very focused too. We have been able to release a large volume of capital funding into ministries, departments and agencies, enabling a lot of public works going on simultaneously all over the country.
“So, how we will maintain this is to make sure we continue to implement the ESP as it is planned. It will help us exit recession, it will help us reset the path of growth and put us on a road that is sustainable.”
The Federal Government last year shut the borders with neighbouring countries in the Southwest, Southsouth, Northcentral and Northwest.
The countries include: Niger Republic, Benin Republic, Chad and Cameroun, on account of the proliferation of illicit drugs; small arms and smuggling of agricultural produce.
Besides the closure, which was announced under the codename: “Ex-Swift Response”, was to promote consumption of Made-in Nigeria products and encourage local investors, especially rice farmers.
It was announced by Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) Col. Hameed Ali (rtd).
Information, Culture and Tourism Minister Lai Mohammed said the measure drastically reduced incidents of cattle rustling, kidnapping, armed banditry and other forms of insecurity in the Northwest.
The NCS described border closure as a blessing to the country, claiming huge success from the border closure, raising daily revenue jumped to N7 billion from N4.5 billion.
Col Ali explained: “When we closed the border, my fear was that our revenue was going to drop. To be honest, our revenue kept increasing. There was a day in September that we collected N9.2 billion in one day. It has never happened before. This is after the closure of the border and since then, we have maintained an average of about N4.7 billion to N5.8 billion on a daily basis, which is far more than we used to collect.