Border closure and the ‘miseducation’ of the populace


With Uche Nnadozie

Yes our borders have been closed for about two months. It started like
a joke, but today, it appears everyone has begun to feel the pinch.
Border issues are serious issues world over. It can win politicians
elections; it may also make them lose. One of the most important
issues stalling Brexit is the inability of states that make up the
United Kingdom to agree on border rules. United States President
Donald Trump owes his election in 2016 to border related issues.
Everyday in Israel, the issues at conflict is about their border with
Palestine. We almost went to war with Cameroun because of the border
between us and them. That is how Bakassi became a serious issue that
the World Court had to adjudicate.
I have written about the closure of our land borders weeks ago. But
the issues keep coming up. I have heard people try to undermine the
closure by citing ECOWAS treaty on trade. They have also talked about
what we stand to lose as manufacturing concerns that move goods over
to Niger and other West African countries. They say we are losing
money. Commentators have equally raised Pan-African sentiments; they
say Nigeria should not be caught making things difficult for other
African countries. Some have raised legal concerns that have to do
with those who have legitimate distribution of goods along the West
African corridor. They say Nigeria is trampling on their livelihoods.
People have mentioned all manner of issues that deserves interrogation
But let me start from the administration. I am perturbed about
nonchalance with which this government treats functional
communication. Apart from occasional addresses by the Comptroller
General of Customs Hameed Ali there is no citizen engagement to tell
exactly what the issues are, why the closure of border and not some
other possible remedies, what has Nigerians got to benefit, why no
policy or action of government is perfect, what people  may lose and
how government will make up for it. Nothing! The Ministry of
Information and Culture for example is comatose. The agency, national
Orientation Agency, NOA which is the lead agency in national
sensitization of this nature is dead and buried. Sometimes you begin
to wonder exactly what Minister Lai Mohammed does.
I equally expect the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning
to chip in her economic side of things to the debate about border
closure. As we speak inflation which has been on a downward trend for
more than twelve months has reversed and in an upward swing. Where is
the Minister of Trade and Investment? This is a typical area of his
assignment. How does the closure help or stall trade within West
Africa? Has he met with his counterparts elsewhere in Ghana, Benin and
other places? How about the Minister of Foreign Affairs, what are he
and the Minister of State doing? Can’t they engage with their
counterparts elsewhere? Were they not carried along before the action
was taken? How about the National Security Adviser? He is not saying
anything although he is the coordinator of the operation Ex-Swift. Why
is he not saying some of the achievements they have recorded in
relation to security? At least the country appears relatively safe in
the past several weeks. What has happened? Were people hitherto using
our porous borders to perpetuate a thriving gun running business?
Coming back to the people, we truly need a lot of education. Nigerians
no longer realise that smuggling is a crime against the state. People
also make such simplistic argument about Cotonou port being easy to
use and cheaper to clear goods. They forget that Benin has nothing to
lose since the goods do not end up in their place. Take rice for
example, Benin people do not eat parboiled rice like we do. They eat
white rice. They do not eat tilapia, but we do. They urge the
importing countries to make these things to pass through their
borders. Collect tariffs and duties then move them to Nigeria without
paying a dime. Nobody will ever take this kind of insult.
I saw a comment somewhere. The writer argued that countries do not
just go into recession that it is actions like this closure of border
that leads to it. The writer gave an example of a photo of a truck
conveying mattresses to Niger Republic. The writer went on to explain
the relationship between preventing the export of that particular
mattress company and the reduction in production which may lead to
sacking of workers which will in turn reduce purchasing power. Good
analogy but emotional all the same; in the first place merely looking
at the truck shows that it was not propped for legal export. Secondly
we cannot continue to use one incident in isolation of the other for
us to illustrate our pain. What we lose with a criminally porous
border is humongous. It has not been fully explained. But what we
cannot shy away from is that there has been an improvement in security
in the past one month.
I also understand that there are companies that sited their
productions lines in Ghana, Togo or Nigeria as the case may be. So
using the ECOWAS protocol which allows free trade, free movement, they
distribute their products without borders. Yes, Nigeria’s action has
curtailed their business but it will be fixed soon. In every action
there will be collateral damage. That part of the damage will be fixed
soon. However for countries such as Benin to under-price their ports
so to attract foreign goods which will in turn be transported to
Nigeria without this country collecting badly needed tariffs is
Border closure is not necessarily an economic policy. It is a
reformative action to support a policy. The policy is in domestic
production of the smuggled goods. Raising import duties to discourage
those imports and encouraging lenders to support local production of
such goods. But with the kind of borders we have, our policy on rice
self sufficiency will be dead on arrival as we have seen. But it is
also ripe for government to come up with what it will do with the
border. It cannot remain closed forever since unfortunately Customs
officers are better known for self aggrandizement. They own hotels and
schools all over the place because of the bribes they collect at the
borders. We need to activate technology. Drones, helicopters, etc are
badly needed. I also maintain that we need a border patrol corp that
will be made up of army, navy, air force, police, DSS, immigration and
Customs. We need to set up that agency now.

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