- Nigeria and its neighbours must reopen dialogue in good faith
If merely for the lack of discernible progress recorded on the issues that necessitated the measure, the latest World Bank advice that Nigeria reopen her land borders with her ECOWAS neighbours as part of measures to limit inflation and to help boost investor confidence, would ordinarily be deemed candid. With COVID-19 unfortunately thrown into the mix, thereby compounding Nigeria’s economic problems as indeed those of the sub-region, there is understandably greater impetus for Nigeria to reconsider a measure that has held the entire sub-region under its chokehold.
To start with, it’s been more than a year since Nigeria initially shut her western borders in a move to stem the tide of smuggling of agricultural products, especially rice, and also of drugs and small arms. The measure later extended to cover entire land border for the same reasons that the entire land corridor had become transit points for all manner of illicit activities, most of which undermine our national security interests. If we expected that the concerned countries would have by now, come up with specific measures to address the problem, such expectations have turned out to be forlorn; not even the tripartite committee of Nigeria, Benin and Niger Republic established to thrash out the matter of which President Muhammadu Buhari has given an undertaking to implement their recommendations when submitted, appears to have made a headway. And all of these more than a year after the closure and in spite of the protestations by the sub-regional body, the IMF and the World Bank.
And so, if we understood the border closure strictly from the prism of the nation’s strategic interests, it needs also be said that the response by the injuring parties has neither been placatory nor reassuring beyond the old platitudes about Nigeria being required to continue the traditional big brother role even when those concerns which brought on the measures have neither been sufficiently addressed by them nor has the situation of cross-border smuggling improved in any significant sense.
The issues, which we have made in previous editorials, are quite straightforward. Nigeria as the continental powerhouse has a lot to gain from a free-flow of trade with her neighbours. However, while our obligations under the ECOWAS protocol under which member countries are reasonably guaranteed free movement of goods produced within the sub-region are well understood, not even the most expansive interpretation of the provisions of the sub-regional pact could be deemed to be accommodating of the deliberate sabotage which the Nigerian economy has been subjected to under the free-wheeling activities going on along the nation’s land borders, and certainly not when her internal security has come under relentless assaults from cross-border bandits and terrorists.
We do not see the concerns raised by Nigeria as one difficult to solve in the same manner that the current tardiness that has prolonged the border closer has become inexplicable. Truth is that while the closure lingers, the Nigerian economy loses as much as her neighbours’. For, while the Nigerian Customs Service prefers to tout its success in terms of its ability to keep foreign imports like rice and other consumables from coming in, on the whole however, the net gain would appear to pale into insignificance when viewed in the larger context of the massive disruptions to the sub-regional trade, the attendant setbacks to its socio-economic integration efforts and not least the spiralling inflation foisted on the nation at a time its claim to a measure of domestic self-sufficiency remains at best, suspect.
To the extent that the border closure cannot and should not be made a substitute for a sound domestic economic and trade policy, it is in our view, about time we did a rethink of the closure. The key is to ensure that appropriate safeguards are put in place to ensure the practices that led to the closure are not allowed to return. In the meantime, our expectation is that the tripartite committee established for the purpose will sufficiently address them in their final report.