On Monday, the Federal Government revealed its plan to shut the land border between Nigeria and a neighbouring country to curb smuggling of rice into the country. Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, made the disclosure in Abuja while speaking with youths in a leadership clinic under the auspices of Guardians of the Nation International. Ogbeh said that shutting the borders would encourage local production and sustain the economy. He said: “As we speak, a neighbour of ours is importing more rice than China is importing. They do not eat parboiled rice, they eat white rice, they use their ports to try and damage our economy. In a few days, you will hear the border has been shut. We are going to shut it to protect you and our economy. ”
Last week, the Federal Operations Unit (Zone A) of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) also raised the alarm on the increase in rice smuggling into the country ahead of the celebration of the conclusion of Ramadan. Addressing newsmen in Lagos, the Customs Area Controller of the unit, Mr. Mohammed Uba, stated: “Before May 16, we intercepted nine trailers of smuggled bags of rice. Between that time and now, we have intercepted 15 trailers of smuggled bags of rice. You know during the festive period, the concentration on a particular food makes its availability in large quantities compulsory.” Uba noted that in a bid to ensure full implementation of the government’s policy banning importation of rice through the land borders, the unit beamed its searchlight on the creeks and watersides, including various locations in the South-West zone.
To all intents and purposes, Ogbeh’s lamentation is no more than a reiteration of the government’s seeming helplessness expressed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo earlier in November 2017 when he stressed that smuggling remained a serious threat to the Nigerian economy. Osinbajo had said: “We are making the point to our neighbours that smuggling is an existential threat, we can’t permit the level of smuggling going on.” He had further indicated that he had been asked by President Muhammadu Buhari to lead a team to work out what needed to be done. Now, it is clear that if anything was done at all, it was not well done. It is certainly strange that the same government that claims to have substantially curbed smuggling is now saying that the activities of smugglers would force it to shut the country’s borders in a few days’ time. This is a clear vote of no confidence in the NCS, the agency statutorily charged with policing the country’s borders. It is also an indication that the government has no clear-cut strategy to curb the menace of smuggling.
The government’s planned closure of the borders to curb smuggling looks like the proverbial strategy of cutting off one’s head to cure headache. It is not well thought out. If you shut the borders, what happens to other goods that are supposed to come in through them? How do you address the negative effects on the economy? And how do you ensure that you do not kill the economy of Nigerians living along the borders? We think that the government needs to ensure that the NCS is more alive to its responsibilities. Those smuggling rice and other commodities into the country are not doing so without the connivance of bad eggs in the NCS. The government therefore needs to ensure that these ‘undesirable elements,’ as Nigerians prefer to call them, are fished out and punished in accordance with the provisions of the law. If the officers and men of the service are aware that the sorest punishment awaits uniformed economic saboteurs, they would sit up.
But there is a more profound strategy: the building of border walls. As we noted in our previous editorials, without effective policing of the borders, fiscal policy will continue to fail, hence everything must be done to stop smuggling and dumping of products in Nigeria, including the building of border walls. If the point needs any repeating, under President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, the border entrance with Benin Republic was closed as a result of the trans-border crimes originating from the country, and former President Boni Yayi had to beg and commit to dealing with the pressing issues before the border was reopened. We reiterate that to secure its borders, Nigeria needs to build walls, beginning from the Republic of Benin and touching other neighbouring countries. These walls should be fitted with appropriate technology and border control systems to prevent the smuggling of goods and illegal movement of persons. The Federal Government could start with the South-West flank that it shares with the Benin Republic and then cover other consequential land borders.
Apart from securing the borders, the revenue generated would be far higher than the cost of building the walls. Nigeria’s land borders are about 4477 kilometres. Building walls across this length of land would be insignificant compared to the value that will be added to trade and taxes arising from the effective control of the borders. Nigeria’s border with Cameroon is the longest at about 1975 kilometres. Its border with Niger is 1608 kilometres. But these two countries do not have seaports and are not the major sources of smuggling and other activities that sabotage the Nigerian economy. The government should go beyond preachments and begin to build the walls without delay.