Farmers in the country on Wednesday kicked against the move by the federal government to reopen land borders.
The farmers told Daily Trust that doing so at the time prices of food items were on the increase locally may be dangerous.
They said neighbouring countries that relied on Nigeria for food and other necessities would troop into the country and by implication, the prices of such commodities would go higher.
The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Hajiya Zainab Ahmed, said yesterday that President Muhammadu Buhari will soon receive a report of a presidential committee constituted to advise him on the reopening of the nation’s borders.
This disclosure raised hopes that the president might soon reopen the land borders that were shut since August 2019.
Nigeria, the largest economy and the most prosperous of the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) closed its land borders on account of the proliferation of illegal importation of drugs, small arms and agricultural products from neighbouring West African countries and beyond.
With an area of 923,768, Nigeria is bordered by Benin, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger; and all of them rely heavily on Nigeria. Millions of Nigerians also use the proximity of the land borders for their businesses and other endeavours and the decision to close the borders had crippled their dealings.
The closure of the borders had also caused serious setbacks for all the countries concerned, including Ghana.
Hajiya Ahmed, while reacting to a question on when Nigerian borders would be reopened at the end of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting presided over by President Buhari, said the committee had assessed the gains of the closure.
Members of the committee are ministers of finance, budget and national planning, interior and foreign affairs.
She said once members of the committee sign the report, it would be submitted to the president.
The finance minister was, however, silent on the exact day they would submit the document and the day the borders would be reopened.
“Mr President has set up a committee that I chair, alongside the minister of foreign affairs and other ministers, including interior, customs, immigration, the security services, to review and advise him on the issue of the border closure.
“The committee has just completed its work and we will be submitting our report, I have signed my copy, I gave everybody to sign between today and tomorrow so that we submit the report to Mr President,” the minister said while fielding questions from State House reporters.
Hajiya Zainab had at a roundtable discussion at the 26th Nigerian Economic Summit (NES #26), also gave the assurance that the borders would be reopened soon.
She had told the audience at the NES #26 that: “We have made an assessment. The president set up a committee and we have made an assessment and all the members of the committee agreed and are recommending to the president that it is time to reopen the borders.
“The objective has been met in the sense that we have been able, over these couple of months, to work together with our partners in a tripartite committee and do a joint border patrol together and reinforce the sanctity of the commitments that we made to each other. So, each side has learnt its lessons. Nigeria has been affecting our partners in terms of businesses that we have in Nigeria as well. So, we will be expecting that the borders will be reopened very soon. The date will be decided by Mr President,” he said.
Closure remains best option
The National President of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Arch. Kabiru Ibrahim, told Daily Trust on the phone yesterday that most foods produced in Nigeria usually find their way to the neighbouring countries, adding that reopening of borders would make such movements much easier.
“Farmers are harvesting their produce but yet prices of food items are on the rise for some other factors; so if you open the borders and allow free movement of the products to our neighbouring countries, what do you think will happen, it will be disastrous,” he said.
The farmers’ leader also reminded the proponents of the reopening about the new wave of COVID-19 infections, adding that taking such action at the moment would further worsen the situation.
The Minister of Agriculture, Mohammed Sabo Nanono, had recently expressed his opposition to any border reopening plan, saying it will not be of the best interest of farmers.
In an exclusive interview with Daily Trust, the minister said taking such action now would retard the gains made so far in the country’s food sufficient drive.
Local farmers said although the border closure had led to the increase in prices of other items in the country, the decision remained the best for them.
Mallam Nuhu Ayuba, a rice farmer told our reporter on phone that policymakers should handle the move with caution, adding that reopening the borders at the moment would erode the gains and the sacrifices made by Nigerians so far.
‘’We know the prices of many other items have gone high and are affecting the country but if we are to sustain our food sufficient efforts, the borders must remain closed at least for now,” he said.
However, a poultry farmer, Mr John Shagbaya, called for a temporary reopening of the border to address the feed crises facing the poultry industry.
‘’You can see the price of maize and soybeans have gone up, which means local production cannot still meet our demand. The border should be re-opened at least temporarily to enable importation of maize and soybeans to cushion the effects of the high cost of birds’ feeds,” he advised.
No country will survive border closure
The President of the Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Prince Adetokunbo Kayode, said it was wrong to have closed the borders, saying the federal government did not consult business people in the country before implementation.
Speaking to Daily Trust on the gains of the border closure and if they should be reopened, Prince Kayode called on the federal government to open the land borders immediately considering the negative impact of the policy on the economy.
The ACCI boss said the border closure was “an ad hoc, knee-jerk, reactive decision” that was never considered comprehensively.
“It was never thought through as far as we are concerned because the government never consulted the people that use the border, the business people. Government just took that decision and they gave their reasons for doing that but unfortunately, they never knew that oil would crash and COVID-19 will come and take over,” he said.
He said the federal government wanted to review the decision before the pandemic struck and it had to extend the closure.
“There is no perfect decision. There is no perfect government. When you are wrong, just accept. It is like being in a hole. Don’t continue digging. You have to find a way to get out. I will call on the president to open the borders immediately,” he said.
He said the African Continental Free Trade Area pact, which Nigeria signed and approved the ratification was a clear justification to open the borders.
Prince Kayode said Nigeria is the leader of West Africa and dominates the market of the sub-region.
“We cannot close the country’s borders. 90 to 95 per cent of businesses in West Africa are controlled by Nigerians. That is the truth,” he said.
Similarly, the Director-General of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Dr Muda Yusuf, said reopening the borders is a step in the right direction.
Yusuf said that it would complement current efforts at economic recovery especially now that Nigeria is in recession.
He, however, stressed the need to strengthen border policing effectiveness.
“The role of state institutions is to ensure compliance with government regulations and policies. What we had in the first instance was largely a case of institutional failure. Agencies of government were often compromised.
“There should also be a comprehensive review of the tariff policy to facilitate the objective of revenue generation and compliance. We should take advantage of our size and resources to make Nigeria the economic hub of the sub-region,” he said.
The LCCI boss said reopening the borders is consistent with the recent ratification of the AfCFTA by Nigeria.
Also, a Financial Analyst and Managing Director of Kairos Capital, Sam Chidoka, told Daily Trust that reopening the border is a move in the right direction and should be sooner than later.
“The closure has completely crippled businesses that major in exportation through the land border”, Chidoka said. He said food inflation, which is the major driver of the country’s inflation figures was further worsened by the border closure, and the reopening will likely lead to a drop in prices.
He said the border closure made sure Nigeria unable to import things it needs and could not produce locally, thereby creating scarcity and rise in prices.
“If we reopen, it will give our neighbours the impetus to continue to do business with us because no nation is an Island. There have been talks about smuggling but the truth is those smuggled items don’t pass through the secured parts of our borders,” he said.
“The federal government should insist that those agencies with the responsibility to man our borders do their jobs,” he added.