This week, it will be one month shy of one year since the Federal government slammed our borders shut against our neighbours..
And there is still no end in sight.
On August 21, 2019, the borders at the four geo-political zones of the country were closed to curb the rising incident of smuggling, especially rice smuggling, which has become malignant and a source of worry for government.
A joint task force, code-named Ex-Swift, comprising the Nigeria Customs, Nigerian Immigration, Nigeria Police and Nigerian Army, was saddled with the responsibility of enforcing the border closure.
For about a year, trans-border trade has been disrupted as both the legitimate and illegitimate goods were both ensnared in the border closure. In an attempt to stem the rising smuggling activities along these routes, legitimate businesses have suffered while their owners have continually groaned under heavy losses.
No one had envisaged that the closure would last this long given the promise the government made following the public outcry that they would be re-opened in January, 2020. The outbreak of Covid-19 has further emboldened the resolve of government to leave the border firmly shut.
In March, 2020, the Federal government, through the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19, imposed a total closure on all the borders effective March 23, 2020 to last for four weeks to curtail the movement of people across the borders. As it is now, both the trade and human restrictions across the borders are still in place.
Before the Covid-19 lockdown which necessitated total closure of the borders, smuggling activities on these corridors had gone unabated.
This is irrespective of the presence of the Ex-Swift task force whose members were allegedly making brisk business out of the closure. Even though, we acknowledge the modest achievements recorded during the early days of the closure, those gains might have been filtered away given the quantum of smuggling activities currently going on across the borders.
The half-year reports of the Federal Operations Units of the Nigeria Customs Service at Zones A and C in Lagos and Owerri, respectively , are eloquent testimonies to the thriving nature of the illicit trade across the borders.
Both Units, which are the anti-smuggling arms of the service at both the Western and Eastern axis of the country, made huge seizures of smuggled goods within the first six months of the year which ostensibly escaped the ‘eagle’ eyes of the joint operatives at the borders.
A top-ranking Customs officer in the cadre of ACG, was allegedly sacked over his role in an attempted smuggling of PMS across the borders. These and other sleazy activities going on at the borders have called to question the efficacy of the unending border closure.
In 2019, a member of House of Representatives representing Daura/Mai’adua/Sandamu constituency in Katsina State, Hon. Fatuhu Mohammed, made an allegation on the floor of the House that smuggling activities were going on in the Northern borders, unhindered, aided and abetted by the security agents.
Yet, despite these revelations and the fact that most of the personnel of the joint task force have been compromised, the government has not deemed it fit to review the border closure.
More worrisome is the report that the economy of Benin Republic at which this measure was targeted, has started to blossom. In contrast, the businesses of Nigerians who engage in legitimate trans-border trade are on a downward trend.
We concede to government the right to take any measure, including border closure, against any threat to the security and economic well-being of the country.
We also laud the government for the proactive steps taken to curb the rising smuggling activities meant to protect local manufacturers of rice which has to some extent boosted local production of the staple food item.
However, it has always been our position that border closure is not the cure for smuggling as it only treats the symptoms rather than the root cause of the problem. It is even unimaginable to think that our borders could be closed for a year running in an era of regional and global trade liberalisation agreements and cooperation.
We find it curious that Nigeria, outside the Covid-19-induced border closure, could allow the trade-induced closure of its borders linger this long given the recently signed African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) to which the country is one of the signatories.
This agreement should have kicked off but for the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic which made its commencement date to be postponed.
Government should review the unending border closure in view of the fact that it has outlived its usefulness in the face of the increasing incidents of smuggling across these borders.
The continued border closure has also done more harm to legitimate cross-border trade that it has curbed smuggling activities We urge the government to relax the closure to the extent that it will not compromise the Covid-19 curtailment efforts at the borders but facilitate trans-border trade, especially legitimate trade that has been in comatose since last year.
Continued closure of the borders, after Covid-19, will not only further harm legitimate trade but serve as an avenue for the corrupt operatives of the joint task force to continue to make merchandise out of the closure.
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