Improving Nigeria’s border management for free trade

Borders are central to the smooth conduct of international trade because goods cannot move between countries unless they legally pass through their borders.

It has been found that there is a strong correlation between trade and national economic prosperity. But to have an efficient cross-border, we must have easier procedures and make border processes smooth. In a study conducted by the World Bank, which used data from 118 countries over nearly 50 years (1950-1998), it was found that countries that opened up their economies to international trade through well-balanced border management procedures experienced a boost of about 1.5% in their average annual GDP growth rates.

The importance of an efficient border management system couldn’t be more emphasised for Nigeria. Not only can a well-manned border significantly improve Nigeria’s international trade position, it can increase the country’s average annual GDP by 1.5% annually, and improve its export trade, thereby enabling the country to earn scarce foreign exchange.

Nigeria has about 86 official land borders and 14 seaport borders; and it must strengthen all its border posts if it wants to improve its international trade standing. The Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) recently reported that Nigeria’s foreign trade rose to #52.4 trillion in 2022, indicating an increase of 31.8% compared to the #39.75 trillion in foreign trade figures recorded in 2021. A more detailed breakdown of the total trade data shows that Nigeria’s export surged 41.7% to #26.8 trillion in the reviewed trade year compared to imports, which surged from 22.5% to #25.5 trillion. This is a remarkable feat as this is the first time Nigeria crosses the #20 trillion thresholds in total exports.

However, much work still needs to be done on Nigeria’s export base if the country is to reach the export levels of some of the world’s biggest exporting countries like China—with an export trade of more than $2.3 billion, United States—with an export trade of more than $1.6 trillion; Germany—with an export trade of more than $1.5 trillion, Japan—with an export trade of more than $683 trillion and The Netherlands—with an export trade of more than $672 billion.

Now, let us explore how Nigeria can better enhance its border management procedures to ensure free trade:

1. Improve border security through massive technological deployment

Nigeria is bordered to the North by the Republic of Niger, to the East by Chad and Cameroon, to the South by the Gulf of Guinea of the Atlantic Ocean, and to the West by the Benin Republic. Nonetheless, Nigeria is still besieged by poor border security even though its neighbours are clearly delineated.

It is estimated that 137 Nigerian border posts to the North are unmanned, and the 1,400 kilometres of border distance between Nigeria and Niger remains poorly supervised. Doubtless, this porous border situation has led to a great many cases of smuggling, terrorism, banditry, kidnapping, and many other untoward security situations that are currently bedevilling the country, as the porous borders allow the incursion of undocumented marauders into the country.

Nigeria can improve its border checkpoints by deploying cross-cutting infrastructure across its border checkpoints. This can be done through the deployment of contraband-detection technologies, ramping up of the use of CCTV coverage with a live feed to monitors, implementation of anti-drone technologies, employment of remote technologies like virtual reality (VR) and instant messenger (IM) tools, thermal imagers, infra-red and laser alarms, aerostats, ground sensors, sonar systems, fibre-optic sensors, amongst many other up-to-date technological security apparatus. The argument for the importance of modern security software across national borders has been canvassed by many security experts worldwide, not least by Vanda Ms. Felbab-Brown before the US Congress.

The Nigerian Immigration System (NIS) has implemented the Mandated Identity Authentication System (MIDAS) across six Nigerian land border posts, two seaport border control posts, and three NIS State Commands. The MIDAS system allows for collecting, processing, storing, and analysing traveller information in Nigeria in real-time across the global border network. The NIS is advised to deploy the system in more border posts across Nigeria.

Read also: Western Union partners MFS Africa to scale cross-border transactions

2. Investing heavily in border infrastructure

In May 2022, the West African Association for Cross-Border Trade in AgroForestry, Pastoral, Fisheries Product and Food (WACTAF) stated that the lack of optimum infrastructure across many west African borders continues to hinder the smooth flow of trade across the west African corridor—Nigeria inclusive. Taiwo Oyaniran, an associate at global professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), has lamented poor infrastructure as a hindrance to cross-border trade in Nigeria.

According to him, poor road infrastructure, lack of cold chain logistics, and dishevelled ICT and eCommerce infrastructure across many border hotspots in Nigeria, especially in the rural areas, all play a significant role in Nigeria’s disadvantaged position in cross-border trade. We can conclude that poor border infrastructure and bottlenecks at Nigeria’s seaports would significantly hinder the country’s capacity to take full advantage of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA)—the largest free trade agreement by participating countries.

To scale up border infrastructure and improve cross-border connectivity across Nigeria and its neighbouring countries, the government of Nigeria will have to invest heavily in crucial cross-border infrastructure like highways, bridges, inland waterways, railroads, electricity lines, and fuel pipelines. Other initiatives that can improve cross-border creating necessary facelifts like border village infrastructure, housing and tourist centres, road connectivity structures, decentralised renewable energy, and many more.

Some of these border infrastructures have already been set up in many border hotspots across the world, like the border region between China and Pakistan.


Nigeria’s border health is fundamental to the country’s economic prosperity. Therefore, for it to steadily improve its trade position in Africa and on the global scale, it needs safer, well-built, and well-manned border systems. Consequently, this can improve its GDP growth by an average of at least 1.5% annually, lifting many Nigerians out of poverty.

This should be top-priority for policymakers in the 10th national assembly – to implement a significant portion of the suggestions adduced above as they will, in no small way, help to improve Nigeria’s border situation massively—and by extension, Nigeria’s relevance in global trade and economy.

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