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