Buhari: Border Closure Aimed at Stimulating Local Consumption

•Says he’d confidence in customs boss amid public outcry against his appointment

•Declares only God can effectively guard nation’s borders 

•Discloses he appointed women as finance minister to ward off contract seekers

James Emejo in Abuja

President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday insisted that his 2019 closure of the country’s land borders was due to his administration’s conscious efforts to encourage Nigerians to eat what they produce locally, particularly the rice commodity.

Speaking while inaugurating the new Administrative Headquarters of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), in Maitama, Abuja, he claimed the border closure was consequently appreciated by Nigerians – apparently due to the revolution in local rice production which was occasioned by the positive impact of the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP) which provides unprecedented financing to smallholder farmers.

The president also said given the large expanse of Nigeria’s land borders, “only God can effectively guard the borders”, in allusion to the challenges posed by smugglers across the seemingly porous boundaries – and given the current manpower shortage to police the space.

Buhari said he closed the borders deliberately to check rice smuggling from neighbouring countries – a situation which grossly undermined Nigeria’s food security agenda and put the economy at risk.

He said, “Please note that from Lake Chad to Benin Republic is more than 1,600 kilometres, only God can effectively guard the borders.

“So, you need a person who has the energy and the competence to supervise. I deliberately closed the borders because knowing Nigerians, they order rice, give some to Niger and the rest, and then they bring the rice here.

“With our potential, we have people, we have land and weather – how many nations are as lucky as Nigeria in the world, very few nations.

“So, closing that border, 1,600 kilometres, Nigerians insist they eat boiled rice – you eat what you grow or you die. I tried to make my point and later Nigerians appreciated it.”

However, Buhari before cutting the ribbon to officially inaugurate the N19.6 billion customs building, praised the Comptroller-General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (Rtd), for his stewardship at the service. 

 Buhari said despite the opposition that trailed Ali’s appointment at that time, he had confidence in the latter and insisted he took charge of the service, noting that Ali’s performance had vindicated his choice.

The president chronicled how Abacha gave tough tasks to Ali when the latter served as military administrator of Kaduna State in the regime of the late dictator.

He said Abacha entrusted Ali to execute major tasks, adding that this was why he also chose the retired army colonel for the important task of restructuring and reforming customs operations and raising revenue for the country through import duties.

Buhari said, “As for Hameed Ali, I asked him to be in charge of customs. No matter what people say about the late Sani Abacha, may his soul rest in peace.”

“I knew him very well when somehow, he became president of this country, Head of State, the biggest problematic area was around Kaduna.

“He picked Colonel Hameed Ali and dumped the problems on him. My decision for Hameed Ali to come to customs was a deliberate one. I brought Colonel Hameed Ali to ensure that I have peace of mind.”

Buhari also disclosed that he deliberately appointed women as ministers of finance during his eight-year tenure to ward off disturbances from people looking for the award of contracts and payment of contract sums.

He stated that he knew well that most men would not suppress their pride to go to a woman as minister of finance to look for contracts or get paid for jobs done because of ego and arrogance.

Buhari said, “I Deliberately appointed ladies so that it will give me a lot of peace. I made sure I gave the Ministry of finance to a lady to exploit the cultural behaviour of all Nigerians: once ladies are in charge, people feel too big to go to ladies.

“So, I am sure peace will be allowed in the ministry of finance where people will go and lobby for their contracts to be paid and so on.

“So, they feel too big to go to ladies. So, I put a lady in charge. That gave me a lot of peace.”

In his remarks however, Ali said the building complex would serve as a boost to the men and officers of the service to put in their best in guarding the border, generating revenue and facilitating trade.

He also commended the president for approving an increase in the salaries of customs personnel, noting that this had made them less susceptible to corruption.

He said, “We must mention the game-changing intervention of Mr President to rid the NCS of corruption and put it on a path of integrity.

“The 100 per cent increase in the remuneration for officers and men of the service decisively made them less susceptible to corruption.”

The CGC said when he was appointed with a tripod mandate to restructure, reform and raise revenue for customs, he was never in doubt that only a comfortable and congenial working environment will facilitate the achievement of the objective.

Ali attributed the transformation in customs to the president’s vision, leadership and dedication to the development of the country.

He said, “Under your guidance, we have witnessed remarkable milestones that have revolutionised our operations and brought us closer to our goal of becoming a world-class customs administration.”

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