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FG considers re-opening Nigeria-Benin border as external pressure mounts

The Federal Government is considering re-opening Nigeria-Benin land border, which it closed in August 2019, on the back of pressure from outside West Africa, BusinessDay has gathered.

Sources close to the Federal Government told BusinessDay on the condition of anonymity that the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union were putting pressure on President Muhammadu Buhari to re-open the border and allow free trade in the region.

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The source said trade between West Africa and the countries/blocs outside the ECOWAS region was being hurt by the border closure.

“The US, the EU and the UK have companies  in West Africa who export to Nigeria, but they cannot do that again after the border closure,” a trade source, who is familiar with the plan for border re-opening, said.

“Also, firms owned by nationals of the EU, the US and the UK can’t export from Nigeria to West and Central Africa since this border closure,” the source said.

When asked about the timeline for border re-opening, the source refused to give a specific date but assured that it would be “sooner than most Nigerians expected.”

One source said West African countries were mounting pressure on the EU, the US and the UK to ask Nigeria to re-open the border.

Nigeria shut its land border with Benin Republic in August 2019 on the back smuggling of rice and petrol as well as unbridled trade malpractices at the border.

West African leaders have since then mounted pressure on Africa’s biggest economy to reconsider its move.

 In January 2020, Nana Akufo-Addo, Ghana’s president, solicited for border re-opening because of its impact on Ghana’s economy.

Akufo-Addo had pleaded for an expedited process, saying that the Nigerian market was significant for certain categories of business people in Ghana.

Earlier, John Mahama, former Ghana president, had called on the Nigerian government to reopen its land borders so that economic activities could effectively continue within the West African region.

“I am sure that businesses in Nigeria that rely on supplies from these countries are also suffering,” he had said at an event in Lagos in November 2019.

“With the signing of the joint border task force agreement between Nigeria and her neighbours, I will like to take this opportunity to appeal to Nigeria to open up her borders so that economic activities can resume,” he had said.

ECOWAS has several intra-trade agreements which the border closure is hurting. Nigeria’s exporters can no more ship their products to ECOWAS and Central African markets via land borders.

Trade among ECOWAS countries is about 13 percent, which is considered abysmally low.

In the fourth quarter of 2019, the nominal year on year growth rate of Nigeria’s trade sector stood at 2.03 percent, indicating a decrease of 2.39 percent points when compared to the fourth quarter 2018 growth rate of 4.41 percent, according to the latest data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

Trade’s contribution to Nominal GDP in the fourth quarter of 2019 was 15.66 percent, lower than its contribution in the same quarter of the previous year of 17.24 percent, but higher than the preceding quarter’s 14.69 percent. The Trade sector contributed 15.61 percent to real GDP in 2019, lower than 17.16 percent recorded in 2018.

 

ODINAKA ANUDU

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