$1.9bn Maradi railway: Counting the cost of corruption

Niger Republic, a land-locked and impoverished country has shown Nigeria how expensive corruption can be. Niger has no sea ports because it is land-locked. it therefore imports and exports through Benin, Togo, Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire.

Nigeria is Niger’s nearest neighbor, but Niger’s importers and exporters do not use Nigerian ports for obvious reasons.

Niger has a tiny stretch of land border with Benin Republic. It has no border with Togo, Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire. Its border with Nigeria is the largest. It spans more than 1, 000 kilometers across the whole of northern Nigeria.

Apapa Port in Lagos is the nearest port to Niger but its importers and exporters would not touch any Nigerian port with a 10-foot pole.

When their goods land in Togo, Ghana or Cote D’Ivoire, the importers haul it through thousands of kilometers spanning the length of Burkina Faso before they could wade through their massive land territory to drop the goods.  Their exports go through the same cumbersome process.

For obvious reasons, it is cheaper to take the goods through the long journey than get them through Nigerian port which is less than half of the journey from Togo, Ghana or Cote D’Ivoire.

Importers and exporters in Niger Republic argue that it is faster and cheaper to clear goods in Benin Republic, Togo, Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire than neighbouring Nigeria. Their contention is that the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has a penchant for slapping unnecessary charges on their goods.

Even after the goods have been cleared, while hauling them through the death traps that pass for roads in Nigeria, the goods would again be intercepted by NCS officials at hundreds of road blocks and extra charges imposed.

Besides, the goods would wade through hundreds of police check points where the truck drivers would part with hundreds of naira at each of the police “toll gate”. Before the goods could make the shorter journey from Nigerian port to the heartland of Niger Republic, thousands of naira would have been extorted by police, NCS officials and even local vigilante groups.

Besides, Nigeria’s deplorable roads are controlled by robbers. That makes the short journey from Nigerian ports dangerous and longer than the long one from far away Togo, Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire.

Government has been persuading the importers and exporters from Niger Republic to patronize Nigerian ports and plough the huge charges to Nigerian coffers.

The importers are adamant. They cannot stand Nigeria’s corruption and bad roads. Nigeria has lost considerable port patronage to corruption and bad roads.

Ironically the countries being patronized are grossly poorer than Nigeria.

The message from Niger Republic is that tiny and impoverished Togo has more money to maintain roads than the giant of Africa. Besides, its police and customs are more disciplined than their Nigerian counterparts.

The next message is that Niger Republic has implicitly confirmed Transparency International (TI) corruption perception rating of Nigeria.

The federal government has dismissed TI’s rating as highly biased. However, no one is in doubt that what TI complained about is why Niger importers do not use Nigerian ports.

The latest offer to build a $1.9 billion railway that would circumvent the corrupt men in the police and NCS is a tacit acceptance of the menace of corruption and bad roads.

Since the federal executive council approved the building of a railway from Kano to Maradi in the heartland of Niger Republic, Rotimi Amaechi, Nigeria’s minister of transport, has been shuttling Niger Republic begging the government to accept the Greek gift from its giant neighbour.

To circumvent the leprous and meddlesome hands of the NCS on Niger goods, government plans to build a customs post in Maradi where Niger exports and imports would be cleared without interference from NCS.

What could be deciphered from government’s decision to build a $1.9 billion railway to Niger Republic rather than dismantle the devious check points, is that government has finally conceded defeat in the fight against corruption.

It is obvious that the corruption in the NCS and police is beyond what anyone in the federal government could tackle. Nigeria has a penchant for moving around corruption rather than confronting it. It has always followed the line of least resistance which is almost always more expensive and detrimental to the economy.

On August 2019, the federal government shut the nation’s land borders to ECOWAS rather than compel its customs officials to stop smuggling. That pusillanimous act of following the line of least resistance, crippled the economy, fueled inflation and worsened an already dangerous unemployment rate.

Now government has again decided to punish Nigerians by squeezing out a whopping $1.9 billion to bribe importers and exporters from Niger Republic with a railway that would circumvent the extortion centers mounted by the police and NCS.

The solution to the problem would have been to repair the roads, sack the comptroller-general of NCS and the inspector- general of police for the extortion by their men, and appoint new ones with a six-month mandate to sanitise the system.

The federal government is incapable of ruffling the hornet’s nests. The line of least resistance is to punish a docile populace by diverting huge funds to settle problems created by corrupt policemen and NCS officials.

The unmitigated extortion by NCS officials and police at what have become toll gates on dilapidated roads is at the root of the surging food inflation in Nigeria today.

Tiny and impoverished Benin and Togo sell petrol at N378 and N318 per liter respectively. But they manage to keep inflation rate at a modest 1.5 and 2 per cent respectively.

Nigeria sells imported petrol at less than half the pump price in Benin, but food inflation stands menacingly at 21.7 per cent. Besides the high cost of hauling food items through dilapidated rural roads to the markets in urban slums, hundreds of police and NCS check points extort money from the farmers and traders and implicitly escalate the cost of food items.

The Central Bank of Nigeria has lost control of inflation because no one can control the activities of policemen at the check points where the cost of their extortion is added to the high cost of haulage and slammed on consumers.

Importers and exporters in Niger Republic have more bargaining power than Nigerian consumers. The federal government has opted to bribe them with an expensive railway while it watches passively as food inflation forces millions of Nigerians into starvation.  

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