Beyond food smuggling

QUOTE: Patriotically, the president said he could not keep his eyes open and Nigerian watch youth getting destroyed through cheap hard drugs, and compromised security caused by unbridled influx of small arms

 It is largely believed that Nigeria closed its borders with neighbouring countries because food, particularly rice, were being smuggled into the country. But, now, it has emerged from the highest official quarters that arms and ammunition as well as hard drugs were ferried into Nigeria. This revelation emerged from the highest official quarters because none other than President Muhammadu Buhari made it during his recent meeting at the sidelines of the UK-Africa Investment Summit 2020 with the President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana. The event took place in London.Patriotically, the president said he could not keep his eyes open and Nigerian watch youth getting destroyed through cheap hard drugs, and compromised security caused by unbridled influx of small arms.“When most of the vehicles carrying rice and other food products through our land borders are intercepted, you find cheap hard drugs, and small arms, under the food products…this has terrible consequences for any country,” he said.Of course, he agreed that the borders closure is having “negative economic impact on our neighbours,” but added that “we cannot leave our country, particularly the youths, endangered.”The president said the Sahel region is facing some problems caused by the illegal presence, in large quantity, of small arms that led to severe security challenges in Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso and Niger Republic with Nigeria being the biggest victims.

On when his administration intends to reopen the borders, the president said the committee established to look into the matter has yet to submit its report. “We will get things sorted out,” he said. However, while it is agreed that the reasons offered by the president for closing the borders and the consequences of that action can hardly be described as accidental, it must be said that, indeed, the previous administrations in the country inflicted the problems that led to the border closure on Nigerians.

Essentially, the problems that led to the borders closure were, indeed, the consequences of corruption, in all areas of the country’s life, which for too long and for damaging reasons was allowed by the past governments to fester. For example, while the inept and corrupt port operators are only able to clear 200,000 vehicles per year, the Benin ports clear over 400,000 vehicles, out of which about 360 were smuggled into Nigeria. If the Nigeria Customs Service personnel were not corrupt and performed their duty patriotically and efficiently, the volume of smuggling would have been controlled. Some people ask and it seems they are right to do so, why can’t Nigeria develop ports outside Lagos, such as the seaports at Warri, Koko, Port Harcourt, Onne, Ibaka and Calabar? Why not implement the abandoned river port projects at Onitsha, Lokoja and Baro; and the dry ports and export processing zones to show seriousness as a farming, manufacturing and trading nation?Experts also advise that Nigeria should explore the possibility of getting ECOWAS to adopt a common Customs Union, including the proposed common currency to exploit and share the full benefits of belonging to a unified large market.It is also argued that when Nigeria jointly tackles the issues of smuggling, movement of goods, people and arms together with its neighbours, it might be able to control smuggling better than doing so alone.Yet, it must be agreed that closing the borders represents another attempt by the Buhari-led government to tackle the rising menaces of smuggling and drugs abuse. In fact, any attempt to make the borders less porous would be a step in the right direction.

But, it should be agreed too that the decision to shut the borders can hardly solve border challenges in the long run and it has the tendency to hurt legal exports and imports. In fact, it is a temporary solution to an endemic problem. Shutting the borders and reopening after a few months may just solve little problems or nothing.

Agreed too that closing the borders by government is intended to engineer local industrial capacity development, but structural and systemic bottlenecks inherent in the country’s operating environment would continue to hinder adequate investments in local production, unless they are addressed.The action may even lead to a creation of artificial scarcity, and drive prices of life necessities higher, and further hurt an already depressed Nigeria consumer base.

Therefore, the government should adopt permanent solutions to problems plaguing the borders such as smuggling, insecurity and migration with a view to ensuring that when the borders are reopened the problems will not resurface.  

Making gains on different fronts

 Again, speaking in faraway London, President Muhammadu Buhari brought British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, up to speed with developments in Nigeria. He, specifically, highlighted some gains achieved by his administration, and there are many, in different areas of our national endeavours.The two leaders met on the sidelines of the UK-Africa Investment Summit 2020, in London. On his administration’s achievements, the president told Johnson of Nigeria’s strides in agriculture. He said if things go according to plan, and there indications they will, Nigeria will become self-sufficient in rice and other grains. Above all, the president said, less import of food items helps Nigeria to save and deploy foreign exchange to critical areas in need of development, which otherwise would be expended on import.

Speaking on the issue of the war against insurgency, the president said things have, expectedly, improved and victims of terrorism and other forms of displacement have been settled. As it is known, the issue of fighting corruption is to the president one that cannot be compromised or toyed with. Thus, he did not waste time in bringing his host up to speed on the progress recorded by his administration in this area and the challenges faced, as well. The president said the cooperation of the National Crime Agency of UK is needed in the war against corruption.

Tellingly, he called on his host’s government to augment Nigeria’s effort in the area of investigation and stop giving refuge in the UK to Nigerians running from prosecution. And, this is where the problem is. Developed countries, including the UK, shield corrupt people and illicit funds from developing countries such as Nigeria. Developing countries lose a massive volume of wealth through illicit financial flows, presenting a major threat to their development. Initiatives to address illicit financial flows exist at national, regional, and international levels but present several challenges.

Collaboration is required across borders in order to strengthen the integrity of the global financial system, encourage more transparency, and tackle international corruption and movement of illicit funds. Illicit financial flows have devastating consequences for developing countries as a vast volume of wealth is lost every year that could be used to fund sustainable development and provide public services. Thus, illicit financial flows are a major obstacle to development and have become an increasing source of concern for developing countries and leaders.These funds could, otherwise, be used to finance education, infrastructure, healthcare, and other vital elements of sustainable development. By reducing illicit financial flows, governments will have more public funds available to invest in the development of their countries.

Strengthening the rule of law and effectively prosecuting offenders could, in addition to significantly reducing illicit financial flows, increase citizens’ trust in state institutions and, in turn, contribute to fight against corruption and stability. In fact, combating illicit financial flows is an important element of tackling corruption and violent extremism that threaten stability and economic development.

Corruption, in particular, is a source of illicit financial flows and an enabler of money laundering, and money laundering allows for the proceeds of corruption to be hidden away and used. The possibility of moving capital illicitly makes corruption easier to engage in.And, this is why the appeal made by the president to his host Johnson to stop shielding corrupt people and illicit funds makes a lot of sense. Other leaders in Africa should align themselves with the president’s appeal and press it on developed countries to stop providing sanctuary to corrupt people and their loot. Thank God, Johnson pledged to cooperate with Nigeria and other African countries in the inter-basin water transfer, which could solve the Lake Chad problem, and enhance security in the sub-region. He should go beyond that to help the countries in their fight against the menace of corruption, poverty and diseases.

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