• Friday, April 12, 2024
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BusinessDay

Food crisis: Nigerians urge Tinubu to reopen borders to end hunger

Tinubu calls for patriotism, support for government

…Say indefinite closure does not reflect Nigeria’s ‘big brother’ status

… Freight forwarders lose N13bn weekly – AFFPON

…It is temporary pain for greater gain – Presidency

… Customs, NNPCL count blessings

…Reopening all borders will worsen security situation – PANDEF

Nigerians have called on President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to open the Nigerian borders to allow inflow of food to lessen the pangs of hunger in the country.

The calls became necessary following the unceasing rise in prices of food items, which many have attributed partly to the inability of farmers to access their farmlands as a result of insecurity.

Observers have also pointed to the similar step taken by the immediate past administration, which they noted did not yield much benefits to Nigeria in the end.

According to them, the continued closure of the borders does not show the country’s posturing as “big brother” in the region.

When Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s immediate past president, ordered the closure of the country’s land border with Benin Republic in August 2019, he did not listen to critics.

On October 14, about two months down the line, he extended the closure to Nigeria’s borders with all other neighbouring countries.

Hameed Ali, the then comptroller general of the Nigerian Customs Services, and one of the trusted men of Mr. President, announced no timeline for the reopening of the borders, saying that they will remain closed “until we have total control over what comes in.”

In the case of Nigeria’s land border with Benin Republic, the former president claimed that the drastic measure was to forestall the importation of goods and food items, especially rice, to boost local food production and food security and sufficiency.

As well, Buhari cited illegal importation of arms, growing insecurity, among others as reasons for his action.

Today, almost five years since the border closure, the efforts at tackling smuggling and associated corruption and boosting farming and domestic agricultural industry seem to have yielded less result considering the hunger in the land occasioned by the high cost of food items.

“Where are the rice pyramids the Federal Government was boasting of in Kebbi and Nasarawa states, or are they scam”? Many Nigerians ask today.

Based on the seeming inability of Nigerian farmers to feed the nation, the growing insecurity that has prevented many of them from returning to their farms, especially in the North-East, and most worrisome, the growing level of hunger in the country today that has resulted in protests and stealing of food items by vulnerable people, many are calling on the present administration to reopen the borders for goods, especially food items to come in.

There have been several calls for the reopening of the borders from the first day they were closed.

Shehu Sani, a former lawmaker, who represented Kaduna Central Senatorial District in the National Assembly, has never hidden his displeasure over border closures, right from the Buhari tenure. Today, he is intensifying his call for the opening of the borders.

In addition to hunger, the former lawmaker decried that the measure has plunged many Nigerians into abject poverty, especially those around the border communities.

“The closing of land borders has not led to enough production of food for 200 million Nigerians as envisaged,” Sani observed in an interview, while also noting that the policy did not stop terrorism.

Also, at the height of the border closure, Job Nmadu, an agricultural economist and professor with the Federal University of Technology Minna, lamented that the reason for the closure was not critically thought out by the immediate past administration. Since then, the university don has been calling on the government to reopen the borders, noting that it will ease movement of legitimate goods and services across the borders, boost government revenue and employment for border communities.

Reviewing the situation from a West African regional perspective, Samuel Onikoyi, a Nigerian academic in Brussels, stated that the closures are against the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) protocol on free movement of people, goods and services across the bloc.

“As a founding member and host of ECOWAS, Nigeria should lead by example, by being the big brother, obey and enforce ECOWAS protocols and treaties to encourage other country members to do the same.

“The border closure is a bad example and will negatively impact the implementation and success of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), to which Nigeria is a signatory,” Onikoyi said.

Speaking further, the Nigerian Diaspora researcher decried that the pains of the policy have far outweighed the benefits, hence the need to reverse it.

“The unbearable high cost of living has become a crisis in Nigeria requiring an emergency action. It is like a war situation where survival is key, and people will do anything to survive. The government should reopen borders and not allow the situation to escalate beyond this level because the poverty level is worrisome, as well as its attendant issues,” Onikoyi said.

Government functionaries weigh in

Meanwhile, top government functionaries are also lending their voices to the call for the reopening of the borders.

Recently, Abba Yusuf, governor of Kano State, appealed to President Bola Tinubu to consider reopening the country’s borders and allow the importation of food items to alleviate the sufferings of Nigerians.

According to the governor, the Federal Government’s refusal to reopen closed borders is one of the reasons for the hike in the price of commodities and the attendant hardship in the country.

He appealed to the government to reconsider its hard stance on the policy in order to curb hunger in the land as reopening the borders is an immediate intervention that can make food available and affordable to the teaming population.

Customs, NNPCL count blessings

Looking at some of the gains of the border closure policy, the Nigerian Customs Services reported an increase in the revenue accruing to the government from legitimate importation of goods, the NNPCL has also reported decrease in the volume of petrol smuggled outside Nigeria and arms no longer smuggled into the country.

But Samson Oluko, an economist, noted that the country would have made more money with an open border that would ensure more trade exchanges between Nigeria and her neighbours, exchange of security intelligence that would have curbed insurgency and boosting cultural ties.

“With the border closure there is artificial scarcity of essential goods in Nigeria and surplus in our neighbouring countries, especially Benin Republic.

“But people, conniving with border security, especially Customs Service, are still smuggling in goods but in smaller quantities and the fees that should legitimately go to the government, enter personal pockets of border security personnel,” Oluko said.

Reacting to the closures, Ibrahim Idris, an Abuja-based businessman, told BusinessDay Sunday that border closure was against the purpose of inter African trade, especially the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).

Idris also said that the border closure has not only impacted negatively on local businesses, but also increased economic hardship, exposing the already vulnerable communities to increased violence and criminality.

Idris, who operates chain stores in Abuja, revealed that the situation is hitting traders harder, as local production cannot meet demands.

He rejected government’s reasons for closing the borders, adding that despite the reasons, less has been achieved with the policy.

“Before the border closure, we were buying a 50kg bag of rice in 2014 and 2015, for about N5,500, today, a bag is about N85,000. We sold a bag for less than N8,000. In 2018, we sold 5 litres of Kings oil in Abuja, for N6,000, today, you can even find it in the market, because our members have stopped buying it due to the high cost,” he said.

Also, Muftahu Ya’u, president of the Association of Freight Forwarding Practitioners of Nigeria (AFFPON), revealed that the members were losing about N13 billion weekly from border closure.

Speaking at a joint media parley in Kano with importers and other stakeholders, the group appealed to President Bola Tinubu for immediate reopening of the Lolo border in Kebbi State, linking Nigeria and Benin Republic.

The group noted that the much-needed trade and cultural integration between Nigeria and her neighbours are curtailed by the severed links.

Abubakar Kyari of the University of Abuja, blamed the prolonged border closure on lack of capacity to monitor and safeguard against smuggling, dumping and violation of rules of origin.

According to him, these are important for smooth cross border activities as you need to always do verification, certification, and also monitor the borders to ensure safety and also ensure the country does not become a dumping ground for all kinds of goods.

BusinessDay Sunday also gathered that Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, Minister of Interior, is also working to beef-up security along the Nigerian borders.

The Minister, who is said to be passionate about establishing a legacy of a strong border control system, believes that any country that cannot control its border is prone to insecurity, adding that a safe border is a safe nation.

He said that despite Nigeria’s borders with Cameroon, Niger, Chad and Benin Republic span over 4,057 kilometres, both by land and coastal areas, he does not have an excuse for not being able to secure the nation’s borders as he was appointed by the President to solve the problem.

Ajuri Ngelale, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, in his assessment of the effects of border closure, described it as “temporary pains for greater gains.”

He noted that the policy has led to reduction in cases of smuggling, as smugglers are now being forced to go through the ports, apply the right processes and pay excise duties and the others.

However, there are some contrary views on border reopening.

The Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) is insisting that only borders with the Benin Republic should be reopened and not Nigeria’s borders in the North-East and North-West regions. The Forum was reacting to the recent directive by the President for the reopening of Nigeria’s land and air borders with the Republic of Niger.

According to PANDEF, reopening those borders will worsen the security situation in the area considering the fact that Lucky Irabor, a former Chief of the Defence Staff, once said that 137 of the 261 borders in the North-East and North-West are unguarded.

Ken Robinson, PANDEF spokesperson, argued that if some of the bandits are not citizens of Nigeria, reopening of the borders in the North-East could open doors for them and hence counterproductive, while borders with Benin Republic have not recorded insecurity challenges and should be reopened for ease of business and movement of people.

With the reopening of Niger Republic borders, many hope that President Tinubu will listen to the cries for the reopening of other borders.