Nigeria’s Border Closure: Pros, Cons, and Consequences

Nigeria’s Border Closure: Pros, Cons, and Consequences

Thursday, January 2, 2020 1:43 pm

Rasheed Akinkuolie

By Rasheed Akinkuolie

The closure of Nigeria’s land borders for over four months now has raised concerns  about the  validity and essence of the ECOWAS treaty, which  permits the  free movement of people and goods across  West Africa.
Since  it’s foundation in 1975 by Nigeria and Togo through their respective Heads of State, General Yakubu Gowon and General Eyadema of Togo, ECOWAS has become a model regional body with  several common institutions such as: ECOWAS  Parliament, ECOWAS Court, ECOWAS Passport, Regional Force (ECOMOG).
 However, the long road to regional   integration had not been without challenges. The violation and abuse of ECOWAS treaty on movement of goods and people, the smuggling of firearms and drugs, human trafficking, trans border insurgency  among several infractions  have  posed  grave threats to the peace, stability and economies  of member states. And Nigeria had been more  on the receiving end.
The closure of Nigeria’s land borders, or partial closure as the case may be, in August 2019, was intended to curb these nagging problems. Border closure, however, is a serious decision taken by nations in extraordinary circumstances, especially when going to war, or to protect the country’s territorial integrity.
But, border closure as a means of fighting smuggling and crime could be a daunting  challenge, especially in Africa, where  the long  porous borders are inhabited by communities of the same ethnic groups, who survive on transborder commerce  and smuggling.
Government institutions in Nigeria such  as; Customs,  Immigration, Police and other agencies that are responsible for controlling the borders, should  rather be reinforced  and equipped with surveillance machines,  metal/ bomb detectors, screening machines, drones, sniffer dogs, and human intelligence etc to contain smuggling and other trans border crimes.
The creation of a buffer zone  within   the Nigerian territory, as a secondary check   point on  vehicles  and people who  have already crossed the main border will further secure the borders from criminal activities.
A multi national task force of officers from  Nigeria and its neighbors  may also be constituted to jointly patrol the borders as an added preventive measure. These are alternative  measures which will offer a more lasting solution to the infractions
  The four months border closure  has aptly expressed  Nigeria’s displeasure at the inability or complicity of her neighbors in  the criminal activities, which usually emanated  from their territories .
 A further prolongation of the closure at this point, may  be misconstrued as an economic blockade of the affected countries, and a bad precedence, which other African countries may choose to emulate  in future.
Trans border commerce between  Nigeria and her neighbors is mutually beneficial. Nigerian traders import  grains, tubers, vegetables and livestocks from Niger, Benin and Chad Republics to make up for the deficits in Nigeria. And manufactured household products and building materials are exported from Nigeria to these countries. These trade exchanges taken globally are an important part of the economy.  The infractions which come with these commercial  exchanges need not lead to bringing down the entire system, which the border closure seems to portend.
Millions of Nigerians have been living in peace for generations in several West African and African countries, and some have been fully integrated into the host countries.
There are at least two million Nigerians in Côte d’Ivoire, 3 million in Cameroon  and the Nigerian population in Benin and Niger Republics may be as high as 30% of the entire population. The ECOWAS treaty on the free movement of people  and goods in West Africa is more in Nigeria’s interest. After all, how many of these nationals live in Nigeria ?
The xenophobic attacks and expulsion of Nigerians from South Africa had been a harrowing experience for the deportees. And  Nigeria cannot stand on a high moral ground to condemn this wickedness, if nationals of other African countries cannot live, trade and enter its territory.
Most  critically and fundamentally is the often overlooked need for cooperation  in the judicious preservation and exploitation of life sustaining  trans border  natural resources; such   as rivers, lakes and seas shared by several countries.
River Niger for example traverses several West African countries from Guinea-Conakry to Nigeria. The local population in  these countries rely on the river for transportation, power generation, fishing, farming and animal husbandry.
  If Guinea, Mali and Niger Republics or any of them should maliciously  divert the waters of  River Niger upstream for irrigation or dam it,  there  will be no Kainji Dam in Nigeria.  River Niger  in Nigeria will be reduced to a stream or rivulet.
Lake Chad suffered its present cruel fate because the rivers which flowed into it from Chad and Central Africa were diverted for irrigation upstream.
Lake Chad was the sixth largest lake in the World in 1960. It has now shrunk by over 90% leading to the displacement of millions of farmers, fishermen, hunters and herders.
The displacement of over 20 million people, who once lived around the Lake is fuelling or directly responsible for the  insurgency in the Northern parts of Nigeria.
The essence of these examples is to show that nations, depend so much on each other, than  we can possibly imagine. If retaliatory actions should be taken against Nigeria now or in future based on the present border crisis, the consequences may be quite devastating.
Be that as it may, Nigeria’s socio-economic  problems are  more than what a mere  border closure can address.
OPEN MARKET, rather than OPEN BORDER is responsible for Nigeria’s economic woes. A country  which opens its market to all and sundry imported goods is bound to have serious issues with unemployment and poverty.
The competition with foreign  manufactured products have in the past three decades forced  the closing down of the following once thriving Nigerian brands and companies viz :  Michelin and Dunlop tyres, Berec and Exide  batteries, Bata, Lennards, Clark shoes, the assembly plants: Volkswagen, Leyland, Peugeot Automobile, Steyr tractors, Annamco trucks, the textile mills in Lagos, Kaduna, Kano,  to mention a few among hundreds of local industries, which have gone down  with  hundreds  of thousands of their workers.
The countries which have developed their economies, rather  opened their borders, but closed their markets. India as a good example  shut  its market to all imported manufactured goods  for several decades to enable the local industries mature.
The slogan buy ‘ Made in India’ was enforced. The internal demands were initially met, before the qualities were good enough to compete internationally. Tata-Leyland motors has now become  a world brand.
China adopted the same policy, as well as the other Asian  Tiger countries.
Nigeria’s  manufacturing industries cannot grow, nor come out of the present economic miasma  because of competition from abroad.
In the Automobile industry, fully built cars have replaced the once thriving Nigeria’s automobile industry. The Volkswagen series ( the bettle, Rio, Passat, Santana, Igala) were until the 1980s manufactured in Nigeria.
The Peugeot Series,( 305, 404, 504, 505) were official cars used by the President, Ministers, government officials and the general public. They were also exported to West  and Central African countries.  Whereas  at the time of their closure, most  of them had achieved over 40% local content components.
The oil refineries  are not working and Nigeria with a  crude oil production of over two million barrels a day, and  the largest producer in Africa imports petroleum products: incredible, ironical and absurd.
The market economy and private sector driven economic policy has  failed  to address the problems of unemployment  and poverty, such that Nigeria is now ranked the poverty capital of the world, which  is a huge indictment of the country’s economic policies.
The market economy policy must be reviewed in such a way, that the  government will  have to intervene  directly in the welfare of its citizens. The government must build low cost houses, invest substantially in education, health and develop rural communities.
The defunct DFFRI, PTF, Federal Housing Authority (FHA) should  be revived to play their traditional roles in addressing these problems.
While focusing and obsessed with the trite problems with our neighbors, we should also tackle the  huge challenges facing the country based on the above arguments.
Ambassador Akinkuolie Rasheed was Director of Trade and Investment, MInistry of Foreign Affairs, Abuja Nigeria

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