Border closure: When Wase stood firm before ECOWAS parliament

For months, Nigeria’s land borders have remained closed, prompting both condemnations and accolades, depending on which side of the divide the commentaries emanated. JOSHUA EGBODO looks at Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Idris Wase’s firm defence of the action.

Government’s justification

Last week at the ECOWAS Parliamentary meeting, firmly defended its decision to close its land borders. The Nigerian government and its agents have continued to justify the closure, in spite of the mounting pressure from within and outside. When President Muhammadu Buhari met with his Benin Republic’s counterpart, one of the countries worst hit by the policy, President Patrice Talon on the sidelines of the seventh Tokyo International Conference for African Development in Japan way back in August, he was reported to have told Talon that Nigeria can no longer accept the massive level of smuggling from the Benin end.

“Now that our people in the rural areas are going back to their farms, and the country has saved huge sums of money which would otherwise have been expended on importing rice using our scarce foreign reserves, we cannot allow smuggling of the product at such alarming proportions to continue”, Buhari was quoted as telling Talon.

Both the head of the Nigeria Customs and Excise, Col Hameed Ali (rtd), and other officials have continued to explain that the development was a temporary policy. Analysts have also been of the opinion that no country, would want its borders to be permanently closed against its neighbours, with the increasing impact of globalization.

Ali, however insisted that the closure would remain in place until neighbouring countries comply with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) protocols on transit of goods. According to President Buhari, the temporary closure was to allow Nigeria’s security forces develop a strategy to curb smuggling.

Countries affected

West African countries affected by the policy include Benin as earlier mentioned, Niger, Cameroon and Togo. The Nigerian government only assured that as soon as these countries prove that they are willing and ready to curb smuggling, the borders will be reopened for legitimate businesses. Representatives of these countries all rose in condemnation of the policy at the said session last week.

Earlier concerns by Reps

A few motions have been up on the floor of the House of Representatives, following the borders closure. In such instances, concerns were that genuine business persons were affected by the exercise, it was therefore in the opinion of some lawmakers that security forces filter off such genuine users of the borders to allow them continue in their businesses. 

One of such is Hon Gudaji Kazaure, while expressing worries over the effect of the closure, appealed to the federal government to consider reopening the borders with neighbouring countries, even if temporarily.

He said the appeal became necessary in view of the challenges being faced by businessmen who were caught unaware with the sudden closure, while their goods were already on the way to Nigeria.

“Some of the consignments I have seen myself deal with time, because they are perishable, and the goods I saw are not contrabands. Some of the businessmen collected loans from banks to import these goods, so my appeal to Mr President is that they (government should consider them and open the borders”, he stated during an interaction with journalists.

Wase before the ECOWAS Parliament

The most high-level response to the plethora of lamentations over the Buhari-led government’s decision on the land borders in recent times appeared to be last week’s stance of Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Idris Wase, who, in spite of several condemnations from representatives of the affected countries during a session of the parliament, firmly defended Nigeria’s position. 

His stance earned him an open commendation from his principal and Speaker of the House, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, the following day. “Deputy Speaker, welcome back from the ECOWAS parliament. I must commend you for the wonderful performance at the parliament yesterday (last Wednesday)”, Gbajabiamila said to a round of applause from members on the floor.

Wase had, after listening to complains from representatives of some of the affected countries, bluntly told them to ask the governments of their respective nations to respect anti-smuggling protocols operational in the region. He expressed displeasure over comments by some members of the parliament, saying the decision was not aimed at oppressing the neighbouring countries as put forward by his colleagues from the affected countries.

Wase, who is also Deputy Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament while responding to the criticisms said feelers from Nigeria’s neighbours since the closure of the borders, as well as the comments of members suggested sabotage in violation of the ECOWAS protocol on trade which states that “no country will allow what it does not produce to cross its borders into another country”.

While acknowledging that members of the sub-region should be each other’s keeper, Wase argued that Nigeria has a lot in common with all her neighbouring countries.  He said there was no difference between the person living in Jibia in Katsina and the person living along the other side of Niger Republic in both the religion, language they speak, the culture and tradition.

“The same thing with a person living in border communities of Togo, where we have Yorubas, and in Cotonou, and I want to believe that we are one member nation. My colleagues, what has been doled out to you may not be the correct perspective.

“First, we have a protocol and the protocol is very clear; no country in the ECOWAS sub-region is allowed to export into another country what it does not produce, meaning, by our own actions, we want to be self-sufficient; we do not what to be dumping grounds; we want to encourage local production.

“We cannot sustain this any longer at this time, (in) a situation where the so-called super powers of the world will produce, have it for a very long period of time, after a while, they use other African countries as conduits to take these things to our country. This is not acceptable to Nigeria and I believe as good citizens and MPs, we should encourage our people to become productive. The population we have in this country should not just be a number by size, but a number that can be helpful to the nations of Africa and to the world”.

He rather called for better understanding of Nigeria’s neighbours on the land borders closure, stating that Nigeria, which had been there for her neighbours over the years, should also count on the neighbours to secure her economy, and its territorial integrity, and not allow any form of sabotage of its efforts.

“Mr Speaker, my respected colleagues, I want to beg of you to bring understanding to this matter. Nigeria has paid its dues and it is still paying its dues. We have always been there for our neighbours in times of need. And I’m saddened by the comments of some of our colleagues here. We have been helping in virtually every country in Africa, even by our contributions.

“You can’t compare the contribution of Nigeria with any other country. I think the reason why we are lagging has to do with our budgetary system, which we are now battling to change the narratives, regarding the cycle from the period of undetermined time, to January to December….

“Mr Speaker my respected colleagues, Nigeria have started seeing some changes in terms of security. These borders have not just been used for the purpose of conduit and I’m happy one of the MPs from the countries that are complaining said they are packaging beer using our people, should you use our people for crime, should that be allowed, are we not supposed to be our brothers keepers?

We have started developing agriculture in our country. We also want to be self sufficient. Help us to stop these illegalities, because we will not allow people to cross our borders with the things that we can produce. Take advantage of this and use vehicles to patrol. The MP from our neighbours have confirmed to us that they are the ones using Nigerians to make money to the detriment of our own country.

“I don’t think we are here to encourage corruption; but rather to encourage what we have agreed to do collectively. That is to say no to all these! From the day we closed these borders, I want to say and confirm to the world that even the so called insurgents have now been extinct. Because it is the same borders that the massive arms are coming through; yes we have customs, but they will package rice on the top, inside, they will put arms and bring into our country. No country will support that”, Wase stated.

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