Border Closure and Profiteers

FBN Conundrum, an Abuse of Privilege?

As the debate on Nigeria’s partial border closure continues, depending on the side of the divide you are, there is an indisputable fact that Nigeria had indeed taken a decision it ought to have taken years back. The Federal Government had said the smuggling activities, particularly of rice and petroleum products, as well as unwholesome security breaches made it to take the decision.

Though many have urged the federal government to reconsider its position, it became apparent that it was not in a hurry to do so as it announced few days ago a January 31, 2020 date for a review of the action.

The Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele also urged the government not to hurriedly rescind its decision until concrete commitment from Nigeria’s neighbours are received, particularly from those countries that allow their ports and countries as landing pad for bringing in goods meant for their local consumption. When, in fact, the products are trans-shipped or smuggled into Nigeria. Nigerians should not allow this to continue, because it is undermining our economic policy, security, and desire to ensure that our industries are alive and jobs created for the growing unemployed youths in Nigeria.

The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning,  Zainab Ahmed, at the recently held annual meetings of the IMF and the World Bank in Washington DC., told the international gathering that the closure of the country’s borders was to force neighbours to commit to honouring bilateral trade agreements which they have flagrantly flouted for years.

The Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs, Hameed Ali, while highlighting the gains of the closure, disclosed that “since we closed the borders, we have maintained an average of about N4.7billion to N5.8 billionas revenue which is far above what we used to collect”. Ali also told Nigerians that arising from the closure, the Nigerian Customs Service in the month of September collected N115 billion as revenue. If this is true, then the feat was unprecedented. 

Stakeholders in the agricultural and manufacturing sectors while commending the government for the action, have also urged the government not to be in a hurry to reopen the borders. They were emphatic and commended the CBN Governor for taking that bold step of restricting forex to importers of some 43 items, which ultimately took pressure off the Naira, stemmed inflation, creating jobs and stimulating local production.

The President of Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) who hitherto complained to the CBN Governor months before the closure that activities of foreign rice smugglers were preventing his members from selling their products and urged him to advise the Federal government to do something otherwise the Anchor Borrowers’ initiative will die a natural death. He noted few days after the closure that his members had emptied their stock and that some members were even unable to meet the demands of customers. According to him, some even made huge deposit for supply.

Yet, Nigerians are complaining that the so hyped local rice is not available at the markets, and where they are, the cost is highly prohibitive. They are wondering and bewildered why the cost of local rice should be higher than its foreign counterpart.

That is the Nigeria unpatriotic spirit. The gains are numerous, but saboteurs and their collaborators are unrelenting in their efforts to discredit and rubbish government’s decision. The enemies of the economy on discovering that the government was not ready to reconsider its decision embarked on massive buying of local brand rice and stored them away to create artificial scarcity and high price.

The enemies within, who are Nigerians, are the major problem of the country. They are the economic saboteurs and carpetbaggers who for selfish reason would do anything to run down the economy. They did during the economic recession; their speculative enterprises made Naira to exchange at N525/$1 until the CBN Governor took up war with them with his economic nationalism philosophy. At the time, economic nationalism was sweeping throughout the globe, and it is still as evident with the trade war between China and America, and some other economic blocs.

The enemies without are equally unrelenting, collaborating with local allies to arm twist the government. The Vice President of the Republic of Vietnam was here also to beg the government to rescind its decision so that his country will continue to export rice to Nigeria. Surprising too, is the Benin Republic, a country of 12 million population and Nigeria’s closest neighbour being the largest importer of rice in the world, apparently the rice imports are for onward shipping to Nigeria.

Also, there was an investigative reportage that revealed that an incumbent president in one of the bordering countries is the sole importer of rice and frozen foods in the sub-region (ultimately not for his country but Nigeria). The alleged president like his peers has not openly come out either in support or against the government’s action since August 20, 2019.

Activities of smuggling around these borders have serially compromised the Nigeria’s security, and these Lilliputian nations know the implication and consequence of sabotaging the socio-economic well-being of the Big Brother, Nigeria.

They have undermined Nigeria economically and trampled on her sovereignty. Though talks and negotiations are ongoing at the diplomatic levels, and some multi-lateral institutions have also come out openly to identify with the Nigerian government, their indisputable concern was that Nigeria’s neighbours should respect her sovereignty and adhere to bilateral trade agreements. Nigeria is not a dumping ground for inferior and expired goods.

China because of similar situation years past shut its borders to the world for four decades, and today it is a global economic giant. Thus, these small nations should not allow Nigeria to show her might.

I am also not an advocate of perpetual closure as no country is an island unto itself, but i urge the federal government to make sure it achieve the reason(s) for its action and elicit firm commitment and seriousness from its neighbours before opening the borders.

Abdulfatai Okanlawon write from Ita- Faji, Lagos.

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