“When it comes to security, all other laws take a back seat. Nigeria must survive first, then we can begin to consider your rights” – Customs boss, (Rtd) Col. Hamid Ali. The rancor that the closure of our land borders has generated, has generally been centred around economic reasons, underscoring how importers of goods are running huge losses and deficits in their daily trade, with thousands of trailers carrying goods, now stuck at our land borders. The closure of the land borders has seen to a marginal rise in inflation, edging up to 11.24%, in September 2019, its highest level since June, after falling to a 3 1/2 year low of 11.02%, in August of 2019. We have heard that Benin Republic’s economy is suffering huge trade deficits, as well as Ghana’s, and the two countries have bemoaned Nigeria’s closure of its land borders (not the sea ports). A social commentator, Patricia Nwaiwu, launched a salvo against this border closure, citing how the masses are suffering while a few people are smiling to the bank. She says that the closure is an indictment on the efficiency of our customs and immigration services. She stresses that local policies should be well articulated before implementation, creating an environment where local farmers are encouraged, thereby producing rice and other items in surplus, which would wane out the practice of rice importation.
Aminu Yakubu, a rice farmer, countered that, “as a practising farmer, I would say that the closure of the land borders is good, particularly because the customs just announced that all imports and exports must go through the sea ports for now”. He continued by saying, “I noticed that a few weeks after the closure of the borders, the price of rice rose to as high as N23, 000 Naira, for a 50kg bag. But as we harvest more of our local rice, mill and send to the market, the prices are gradually coming down to about N17, 000 Naira for even the foreign rice, and I foresee a further decline in these prices as more rice is expected locally”. Yakubu says, “we can achieve self sufficiency in food production if we solve/ tackle 3 main issues namely; 1. Insecurity, 2. Farmer/ herders clashes and 3. Access to credit for local farmers”. With these he says, “there wouldnt be the need for the importation of beans from Burkina Faso, or Maize from Argentina. He laments that an abundant part of our arable land is left uncultivated. Kadawa town alone in Kano, can meet the nation’s local demand for tomatoes”.
Even Thailand and Malaysia have joined in with Ghana and Benin Republic, to decry the border closure. This further highlights the fact that Nigeria has been in economic servitude to many of the Western African countries – either in subsidies for petroleum products and other goods, or the free and untaxed importation of goods flowing from the ports of these countries. In essence, Import duty receipts are on the increase for Benin Republic, while revenue to be generated from duties at our ports and borders continue to decline. For instance, Dunlop closes shop in Nigeria, only to go and set up in Ghana, with Nigeria still its largest target market. Benin Republic and co., receive huge revenue from duties charged for goods arriving their ports, which they absolutely do not consume or utilise, and then allow or encourage the free flow of these goods into Nigeria via our very porous land borders without paying the FG a dime. Protocols and agreements are in place, for the exchange of goods between the West African states, but our neighbouring countries flout them, to the detriment of our revenues, with calamitous consequencies to our insecurity concerns. The Nigeria customs service went as far as procuring vehicles, ammunition and other equipments for the immigration and customs services of these neighbouring countries for the proper policing and escorting of goods into Nigeria, such that the duties for the goods are properly paid for, as against the practice of smuggling in these items – an illicit trade that has always been injurious to our revenue generation. Despite the closure of the land borders, some unscrupulous businessmen are currently rebagging smuggled foreign rice, and selling them off as ‘Coscharis rice’.
The IMF through the Assistant director of its Fiscal department, Cathy Pattillo, has commended Nigeria as doing better – with tax audits, e-filling, closing loopholes, combating corruption in tax offices, increased exercised taxes, and the launch of the strategic growth initiative. The IMF says that the inflow of Investments to Sub-saharan Africa remains strong and will reach its highest this year, with Global financial conditions favouring Nigeria. Pattillo says the issuance of bonds in foreign and local currencies is possible because of these favorable conditions, as she explained that what Nigeria does with these funds is key to economic growth, if structural reforms are undertaken. Apparently, the benefits of the border closure might have short term discomfort, but would be of immense benefit in the long term. Indigenous mills will flood the market soon and prices will plunge, while govt saves foreign exchange from unnecessary forex financing for the importation of locally produced goods.
PMB has been taking very decisive actions with respect to so many pertinent issues that have begged for attention, either in the present administration or lingered over governance decisions for a long period of time, over successive governments. Drones are now to be deployed in the patrol and surveillance of the land borders to curb smuggling and illegal immigration which borders on national security and the fight against terrorism. PMB is down-sizing the cost of governance, atleast at the executive level for starters, cutting down on estacodes, frequency of foreign trips and sizes of govt delegations. He even recently barred ministers and heads of MDAs from travelling abroad until they have successfully defended their budgets at the national assembly. The NDDC, the cash cow, the citadel of corruption, where billions are flushed down the drain to the safe havens of corrupt govt officials; is undergoing a forensic audit and funds released for projects which have not been executed will be recovered. Nigeria is having another 2.3 billion dollar partnership with Canada for improved electricity generation and distribution, following up on the Nigeria-Siemens power generation project. The Akanu Ibiam International Airport Enugu, is receiving a 10 billion Naira special intervention for its upgrade as an International airport, and a national image portal. Calabar sea port is being revived and has already been witnessing great activity, yielding revenue for govt. Now we hear that the Army is going into Aviation, for a final onslaught and total eradication of Boko Haram. More and more coaches are arriving for the Kaduna-Abuja rail line, for the light rail Abuja Metro, and the Warri/ Itakpe line as well as the Lagos-Ibadan rail. In my last article on the 6th of October, titled, ‘Border Closure, A Pulchritudinous gift for Nigeria @59’, I had said that, “Right now, PMB’s government’s thrust should be like the activity of a chef, cooking up a buffet, so that by 60 (Nigeria @ 60), we can begin to return to the glamorous celebrations of October 1. Those structural reforms, executive orders and policy drives are churning out fast. GMB has indeed come a long way, transmuting from an army general/ head of state, to a democratic PMB. Now we are witnessing the seemingly deft and necessary strides of a ‘New MB’; a swifter, and of course tenacious Muhammadu Buhari.
Tahir is Talban Bauchi