News of the imminent reopening of the borders by the Federal Government is hugely relieving and eagerly anticipated by a cross section of players in the economy.
The borders have been shut since August 28, 2019. Most stakeholders had expected them to be reopened in December or January this year, but the Muhammadu Buhari regime held on tenaciously to its resolve even when the economy was systematically reopened after the COVID-19 pandemic lock-downs.
The Nigerian government shut its borders due to certain alleged acts of infidelity by our neighbours and fellow members of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS. Ghana, for instance, continued to enjoy the bounties of the Nigerian market for its manufactured products, while squeezing and harassing Nigerian business people in its country through its demand for one million US Dollars as the minimum capital base for operating even retail businesses.
Benin and Togo continued their liberal import policies which targeted the Nigerian market for dumping, largely through smuggling and other unfair practices.
Nigeria had long become the final destination for small arms and light weapons as well as the migration of agents of insecurity such as armed herdsmen, terrorists, bandits and illegal economic migrants.
Throughout the period that the closure lasted, the Federal Government and the Nigerian Customs Service maintained that Nigerian farmers had benefited immensely from it. But it paid a blind eye to the fact that our manufacturers and other international business interests which also need the West African market suffered unquantifiable losses.
As formal and informal trade suffered Nigerian nationals in Benin Republic rioted in the Nigerian Embassy. While announcing the possibility of the border reopening at the 26th Nigerian Economic Summit (NES #26), Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, disclosed that a presidential panel had determined that Nigeria and its neighbours have “learnt their lessons”.
Perhaps, we can now expect effective joint border patrols with our neighbours to minimise smuggling and illegal migration in line with the ECOWAS Protocol on the Movement of Persons and Goods. But Nigeria must also learn the extra lessons of her own. Endemic corruption in our Customs Service is the main precursor of smuggling.
The selfish and corrupt personal interests of the personnel of our Customs Service are chiefly responsible for the backward processes at our ports. Have we taken the opportunity of the border closure to clean up our acts?
We doubt it. The situations which make smuggling to thrive are still untouched by the prolonged closure. However, we wholeheartedly welcome the border reopening at this time of the year, the onset of the Christmas season.
It is good for the trade and travels of the season. It will also douse the controversy surrounding the discriminate waivers granted to some favoured manufacturers to trade across the closed borders.