Land Borders Closure: At What Cost ?

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The partial land borders closure as a result of joint security exercise conducted by the customs, immigration, and other security outfits aimed at securing Nigeria’s borders may have yielded results, but the federal government has in the process subjected its citizens to more economic hardship as prices of foodstuffs and other commodities are soaring higher and the government itself losing billions in revenue, writes Eromosele Abiodun

A little over three weeks ago, The Nigerian Customs Services (NCS) announced that it will be conducting joint border security exercise across 25 states along with the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) and other security agencies as part of measures to secure Nigeria’s land and maritime borders.

In a statement, the Public Relations Officer, Joseph Attah said the joint border security exercise, codenamed “EX-SWIFT RESPONSE,” has support from the Armed Forces of Nigeria (AFN), the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), other security and intelligence agencies.

The NCS said the joint exercise is being coordinated by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) and will take place in four geopolitical zones which are: South-South, South-West, North-Central and North-West, having a total of 25 states.

“It is expected that the exercise will promote inter-agency cooperation and increase preparedness to address trans-border security challenges such as terrorism, armed banditry, smuggling, proliferation of small arms and light weapons, among others,” NCS said.

Unknown to many, the customs actually planned to close the borders under the pretence of security exercise. Following reports of suffering being encountered by travellers and Nigerians living in the border communities, the customs rushed to the press to debunk reports in the media that the land borders were closed. But as the NCS was making effort to deny media reports of the closure, President Muhammadu Buhari in far away Japan announced to the world that Nigeria closed its land borders to check rice smuggling.

Since the confirmation by the president, many people have reacted differently with many hailing the move as a necessary step to check criminality along the border. However, it has been established that though the move by the government was good, it is also losing huge revenue and its citizens facing untold hardship as a result.

For instance, THISDAY investigation revealed revealed that Nigeria stand to lose as much as N1.593 billion in the event that the exercise last for 26 days.

Already, the country has so far lost about N464.4 million since the exercise began three weeks ago in the Seme and Idi-Iroko borders alone. This is excluding revenues from, Oyo-Osun, Kwara, Kebi and other land borders.

Aside the revenue loss, Nigerians are also suffering as prices of foodstuffs and other commodities have increased in many border towns and most of the country’s cities as the borders remain partially closed.

THISDAY checks revealed that many Nigerians who do trans-border business have been experiencing difficulties in carrying out their trade. This has forced them to cut their demand even as they increased the prices of their little stocks, our reporters learnt. Worst hit are residents of border communities where prices of foodstuffs and other commodities have soared. In some border communities in Ogun State, petrol was even sold for N350 per litre, instead of government regulated price of N145/litre.

Also in border communities in Kwara state, petrol price that used to be N160 is now being sold for between N200 and N400. The increment in petrol price in the areas has also led to hike in transportation fare, which has also affected the prices of locally produced food items like yam, yam flour and others in most towns in Kwara State.

Analysts

Reacting to the development recently, financial expert and Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Financial Derivatives Company Limited, Mr. Bismarck Rewane, hailed the closure stressing that it had forced the price of petrol down to N144 per litre.

In a report presented at the monthly Lagos Business School’s executive breakfast meeting for September, he pointed out the closure had blocked smuggling of petrol to the neighbouring countries.

He said the development showed that part of the nearly 60 million litres of petrol said to be consumed daily in Nigeria were smuggled to the neighbouring countries.

Rewane also revealed that diesel price had also crashed to N210 per litre from N250/litre.

The Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Malam Mele Kyari, shares Rewane’s view.

The NNPC boss on his verified twitter handle @MKKyari, said the volume of petrol evacuated from depots to filling stations across the country had dropped significantly since the border closure became effective.

Between June 2018 and June 2019, the NNPC had imported 21million litres of petrol for consumption, out of which an average of 44,366,781.77 litres were consumed daily in June 2018; 39,154,764.15 litres in July; 54,144,365.76 litres daily in August of the same year, and 55,499,192.80 litres daily in September 2018.

However, THISDAY findings in states where Nigeria shares a border with neighbouring countries show that prices of rice, poultry products, some brands of vegetable oil, beans and even fairly used clothes have increased by between 10 and 30 per cent. For instance, a bag of 50 kg foreign rice which usually sold for N13,000 and N15,000 before the closure now goes for N16,000, N18,000 and N20,000 depending on the brands in many towns and cities in the country.

Rising Food Prices

A sample of trading activity in major market revealed that prices of some basic food items have skyrocketed, with traders and consumers complaining of limited stocks. Frozen poultry is the most affected in Lagos as a kilogramme of frozen chicken, which sold for N1,200, now costs N1,600 while a kilogramme of frozen turkey now sells at N1,700. A trader at Alaba Rago, a major market in Lagos, Tawa Ibrahim, said the border closure was affecting his business.

She said: “Lake Rice (locally produced rice) would have been a better alternative for us, but we are not getting it to buy… Even the volume of okra needed to feed this nation cannot be produced in Nigeria. We rely so much on Cotonou for okra. That is why its price has also shot up since the border was closed. A big basket of okra, which sold for N4,000 or N5,000, is now N8,000.”

Also, in Kebbi, the closure of borders with Niger and Benin Republics is already causing economic hardship to people around the border areas of Dole Kaina, Lolo, Kamba, and Bachaka.

Customs Agents and Stakeholders

Meanwhile, clearing agents operating at the Seme and Idiroko border station have rued revenue loss as transit cargoes remained trapped.

A source at Seme border told THISDAY that movement was restricted adding that only people with valid National identity card are allowed in or out of the country.

“The present situation is that Nigerians are not allowed in without passport, National I. D. You can’t go out of the border without Nigerian passport and your mission must be very genuine. Right now, the border is partially locked down and the new perspective is that the security exercise may take up 28 days, ” he said.

In his reaction, the National President of the National Council of Managing Director Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Mr. Lucky Amiwero, said government don’t close borders that way because Nigeria is not at war. “I don’t think it is right to say the borders are closed, it is a normal security situation.

“We signed an ECOWAS protocol for free movement of people. Has Nigeria complied with the procedures of ECOWAS protocol? You don’t just close border like that because the borders are actually entry point. It is just like you are closing your airport or closing your seaports. Nigeria has three entry points, which are airport, seaport and border stations and all these are legal stations in line with the provisions of the law and we have ECOWAS protocol and the protocol is talking about free movement of persons and goods and you have signed this protocol. If you want to do any closure, it must be a country-to-country negotiations and the issue should be done according to information, which is contained in World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreements, ” he said.

On his part, the Chairman, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Seme border chapter, Mr. Lasis Fanu, said the border was still closed adding that all the borders across the federation are affected on order from the Presidency.

“Since the border is closed, there is nothing agents are going there to do. Agents are to do documentations at the border for the goods coming in. Since goods are not coming in, there is nothing they are going there to do. We pray that the issue is not up to 28 days we heard earlier because we have perishable items at the border and everything will be perished.”

NCS Count Gains

However, the NCS believe the resolve of Nigerian security agencies to better secure the country’s territorial integrity particularly; the land and maritime borders against trans-border crime and criminality is a welcome development.

National Public Relations Officer of the NCS, Joseph Attah, said the NCS had arrested not less than 100 illegal migrants and 177 suspects engaging in smuggling activities since the nation’s land borders were closed three weeks.

Attah, in a statement, said the arrests were made after intensive joint border patrol by the security agencies coordinated the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA).

The security agencies, he said, has continued to receive reports of large numbers of seizures and arrests from the four sectors of North-west, North-central, South-west, and South-south geopolitical zones.

Specifically, he said, “As at September 10, 2019, 100 illegal migrants have been arrested while seizures so far include: 8,360-50kg bags of parboiled foreign rice; 122 bags of fertilizer; 77 vehicles; 781 drums filled with PMS as well as 16, 371 empty 200 litres drums to be used for smuggling PMS; 1,491 packs of assorted drugs; 3 outboard 40HP Engines; 13 Cotonou boats; 185 drums of groundnut oil; 6 trucks; 114 motorcycles; among other items with 117 suspects.”

He sated further that, “as part of the efforts to sustain the rigorous patrol along the national borderlines, the Comptroller General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ibrahim Ali (rtd), Comptroller General of Immigration, Mohammed Babandede, and the Coordinator of the exercise, Brig Gen Emmanuel Aliyu Ndagi, have commenced an on-the-spot assessment of the implementation and compliance of the ongoing border security drills.

“The exercise, which is being led by the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) and the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), in collaboration with the Armed Forces of Nigeria (AFN) as well as the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) and other security and intelligence agencies is intended to better secure our borders, boost national economy and strengthen border security.”

Attah appealed to the patriotic spirit of all Nigerians, especially members of the business community to see the exercise as an opportunity to further create a conducive environment for local businesses to thrive in the overall interest of national security and development.