SHORTLY after President Muhammadu Buhari returned from the Seventh Tokyo International Conference for African Development, TICAD7, our land borders with Benin, Niger and Cameroon were closed on August 20, 2019. The President had obviously had enough of the reckless dumping of smuggled imported goods, especially rice and second-hand automobiles, through the borders. He saw this as sabotaging the brave efforts of our local farmers to fully revive our agricultural production, especially rice. It had also for decades, reduced the revenues that the Customs were earning.
To the rest of Nigerians and other foreign stakeholders who are active operators of commercial activities along our borders, this came as complete surprise. There was no prior warning or consultation with the Organised Private Sector, OPS and other legitimate participants in formal and informal commerce to enable them prepare for such a challenging government measure. Within a few days, there were massive build-ups of truckloads of goods and human traffic on both sides of the borders, with attendant mass suffering and huge losses. However, within this intervening period, the Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, retired Col. Hameed Ali, became very visible in the media, explaining what he saw as the gains already recorded from the closure. Ali said the revenue of the Customs had suddenly increased because importers who were routing their goods through the Benin Republic ports were forced to bring them through the Lagos ports. He also preached the merits of Nigerian-produced rice over those of “expired”, “poisonous” imported varieties.
Two months after the closure, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, also sang the merits of it, saying that Nigerian farmers (especially rice and poultry farmers) were “making money”, employing more people and investing more because of the virtual elimination of foreign competitors. However, it seems that due to lack of prior consultation, other stakeholders in the economy were not carried along before the closure was effected. The Organised Private Sector, especially the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, LCCI, through its spokesman, Mr. Muda Yusuf, lamented that it is now impossible for Nigerian-made goods to be shipped to our neighbouring countries for sale, and vice versa. Manufacturers throughout the region are hurting, wondering why the Federal Government chose to side-line the ECOWAS protocol on free movement of goods and people.
The Consumer Price Index released by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, NBS, on Tuesday, October 29, indicated increased inflation from 11.02 per cent in August to 11.24 per cent, with food items most hit. The Customs is making more revenue; rice and poultry farmers are prospering but the prices of foodstuff across board have shot up and many economic players are stagnated. Could this closure have been handled better? What are the ways out of this problem?