Nigerian economic stakeholders have warned the Federal Government that the complete closure of the nation’s land borders portends danger to the economy.
The caution came after yesterday’s announcement by Comptroller-General, Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) Hameed Ali that all categories of goods would no longer be allowed to pass through the borders.
At a joint news conference with his Nigeria Immigration Service counterpart, Mohammed Babandede, in Abuja, Ali said: “For now, all goods, whether illicit or non-illicit, are banned from going and coming (sic) into Nigeria. Let me add that for the avoidance of doubt, we included all goods because all goods can equally come through our seaports.”
The Guardian learnt that almost all the scanning machines at the nation’s seaports are currently malfunctioning, with customs officials adopting 100 per cent manual inspection of cargoes.
He said: “We hope that by the time we get to the end of this exercise, we would have exactly, between us and our neighbours, agreed on the type of goods that should enter and exit our country.
“For now, all import and export of cargoes from the land borders are banned, until there is an agreement with the neighbouring countries on the kind of goods traded with Nigeria.
“For that reason, we have deemed it necessary, for now, that importers of such goods should go through our controlled borders where we have scanners to verify the kind of goods.”
Ali explained that although the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) protocol permits free movement of people, security must be prioritised. “We want to protect our nation. We want to make sure that our people are protected. You must be alive and well to begin to ask for your rights. Your rights come when you are well and alive.
“Go and ask the people in Maiduguri when Boko Haram was harassing their lives. The only question was survival. There was no question of right. This time, Nigeria must survive first before we begin to ask for our rights,” the customs boss said.
It was learnt that Niger Republic has banned the export of rice to Nigeria following the closure. Ali confirmed this, saying: “As a result, Niger Republic has already circulated an order banning the exportation of rice in any form to Nigeria.”
But Lucky Amiwero, National President, National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), said that by the provisions of Section 15 of the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA), the customs boss does not have the power to issue a declaration on the restriction of the border.
“They are supposed to have engaged in mutual administrative assistance. Many countries are into that, and Nigeria is a signatory to that agreement. This would enable them to curtail the problems administratively…issues like smuggling, cross border crime and other customs matters.
“Nigeria, as a big brother, is supposed to have interfaced with other countries – with Benin Republic, Niger and others because they are all signatories. They are expected to go into negotiation. But if there is any disagreement in the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), then the border could be closed. But rushing to close the border this way is dangerous to the economy,” he said.
Amiwero noted further that the restriction contradicts the continental trade protocols signed by Nigeria. According to him, “In the ECOWAS protocol is the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS) and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement, among others, which are being jeopardised as the case is.”
Also, Increase Uche, President, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), described the policy as ill-timed and of great danger to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).
He said while Buhari’s security advisers might have genuine concerns, the “unfortunate” decision is coming at a time Nigeria had just signed the AfCTA agreement. According to him, the measure would make investors view the nation as “unserious” and as a place where a stable environment is not guaranteed.
“As we speak, there was a global body that was planning an international conference in Nigeria, trying to drag multinational companies to the conference. But they have changed the venue to Ghana. That is one of the disadvantages, when you take such actions suddenly. You will impede programmes that are aimed at boosting the economy.”
He warned that the action would endanger all trade agreements and contracts sealed by many parties on trans-border business transactions. Traders and transporters will also suffer, he said. According to him, the disadvantages far outweigh any advantages. Government should therefore retrace its steps.
“The critical area we need to be careful with is not to drive out investors. If there is no creditability in what we are doing, it will affect the FDIs that are coming into the country. The action will also affect trade at Yuletide. Government should go back to the drawing book and initiate policies that would benefit Nigerians and the economy, rather than this fire brigade approach,” he said.
Similarly, a youth group, Yoruba Socio-cultural Association, in Ibadan yesterday issued a statement condemning the closure of the borders. It said the current move by the Federal Government “to curb insecurity and boost local products is horrific.” It also warned that more than a million people could become jobless as a result of the policy.
Signed by National President Olalekan Hammed, the statement said: “The agricultural sector must be viable enough for local consumption before border closure could be done reasonably, if not, inflation will continue unendingly.”
But Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Sabo Nanono yesterday maintained that Nigeria is not in jeopardy of a food crisis. “I think we are producing enough to feed ourselves. I think there is no hunger in Nigeria. There could be inconveniences. When people talk about hunger in this government I just laugh,” he said at a media briefing to mark World Food Day in Abuja.
He added: “That’s the basis for the closure of the border. And I think Nigeria tried to make these neighbouring countries understand our predicament but to no avail. So long as these countries bordering us will not respect Nigeria’s stand on food importation, the borders will remain closed.”