For 17 months from August 20th, 2019, the Federal Government shut the land borders bordering the country at the four geo-political zones of the country in the South-West, South-South, North -Central and North- West.
Only to take off the siege on December 17th, 2020.
The government has blamed, and rightly so, the high incidence of smuggling activities across these borders.
The indiscriminate proliferation of prohibited items in the country through the borders such as arms and ammunitions, poultry products and foreign rice as well as entry of illegal immigrants said to perpetrate heinous crimes in the country.
But not many ever imagined the siege could be as long as 17 months. The agitated stakeholders, including this platform, warned of the the dire consequences of long closure of our borders.
But the government, in its wisdom, stuck to its guns and left the siege on for as long as 17 months. During those months, most of the otherwise thriving businesses were either castrated or went under. The closure sent the prices of goods, especially food items, through the roof.
In reaction to the long border closure, inflation has been on the rise, increasing to 18.30% in November from 14.09% in October 2019 when the full border closure was announced.
The last GDP numbers announced also showed a contraction of the trade sector (down 12.1% y/y) resulting to the steep contraction in the trade sector GDP .
The non-oil export drive of the Federal Government, which would have stimulated the weak import-dependent economy, was ironical frustrated by the long border closure as many manufacturing companies either scaled down the activities of their export businesses or suspended that arm completely.
The dislocation which the long border closure wrought on the economy was an ironic consequence of the policy which the government intended to use to safeguard the fragile economy.
But the government does not share the sentiments of the stakeholders who believe the closure has done more harm than good to the economic well being of the country.
In what we regard as an attempt to mute the pains inflicted on most Nigerians by the long closure, the Federal Government, through its official spokesman, Lai Mohammed, eulogized the policy in glowing terms.
According to him, during the period of the border lockdown, about 157,511 of 50kg of bags of foreign rice, 10,447 bags of NPK fertiliser used for making explosives and 18, 630 Jerry cans of vegetable oil were intercepted with a monetary value of N12.362billion.
We dare ask at what cost were these seizures made?
To us, a mere N12.362 billion realised from the intercepted contrabands during the closure was insignificant compared to the high mortality rate of businesses recorded during the period.
The government, in apparent self-glorification, also maintained that Nigeria is now near self -sufficiency in rice production as a result of the clamp down on the borders.
In addition, the Minister claimed the importation of drugs and proliferation of small arms which usually fuel extremism and terrorism have significantly been curtailed.
In as much as we don’t want to outrightly repudiate these outlandish claims, the hyper- insecurity that is spiraling out of control in the country does not support the claims of the Minister on the curtailment of importation of small arms.
We dare ask how do these insurgents, kidnappers and bandits get their arms supply?
On rice sufficiency which the Minister claimed the country is on the verge of attaining, due to the border siege, we are at a loss on which statistics the minister relied to made such claim.
Though, local production of rice received a boost during the closure but not on the level of self- sufficiency as claimed by the government. Yet, the so-called local rice is as expensive, if not more expensive than the foreign rice. During the border closure, smuggling activities were still going on, especially that of rice, albert discreetly. Some members of the drill team are even the ones aiding and abetting these heinous acts at a commercial rates.
We do not align with the level of success ascribed to the closure, which we ab initio considered unnecessary, and an out- dated method of border management in these modern times of trade liberalisation.
Our grouse is the level of economic torture to which the closure subjected Nigerians and business communities, especially those in trans-border trade.
No matter how long the closure remains, it is not enough to boost local production of those items banned as long as there are no incentives for local capacity.
Border closure, no matter how long, may not necessarily quell insurrection, kidnapping, insurgency and banditry through interception of weapons of violence as long as government fails to provide opportunities that will positively engage the hands and minds of these perpetrators.
We are by no means advocating for open, unrestricted borders, but what we frown at is an attempt to kill legitimate businesses in the process of stopping some illegal ones.
We however welcome the eventual reopening of the borders after months of anguish and pains by the masses.
Our question is: Has the long closure put to rest or reduced to the barest minimum the incidences of smuggling and proliferation of small arms and illegal entry of irregular migrants?
We are afraid it has not and cannot.
So why did government resort to this unconventional method of border security if it is not capable of effectively putting an end or reducing to the barest minimum the very essence of the policy.
At the risk of being controverted, we believe the reopening of the borders was more out of government desire to tap from the gains of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) which kicked off January 1st, 2021 than putting anything tangible on ground to forestall the very reasons for the border closure.
Whichever may be the case, we wish that Nigerians will not be made to ever travel this long, winding and tortuous road again.
© 2021, maritimemag. All rights reserved.