The recent closure of the Nigerian-Benin border to all movement of goods in the southern part of the country has become a subject of international discussion, especially within the West African Sub-Region.
The exercise, code-named ‘Ex-Swift Response’, which is part of an effort to thwart smuggling of rice and other goods into the country, is a joint security operation involving the Nigeria Customs Service, Immigration Service, the Armed Forces, Police Force and other security and intelligence agencies.
Interestingly, apart from the fact that it appears to have been done with little or no consideration for its effect on other countries in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), there is no timeline for reopening the borders.
On the day of the closure, the Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Customs Service, Hameed Ali, served notice that reopening would depend on the actions of neighboring countries, and that as long as they (neighbouring countries) and Nigeria were not in accord on what goods should be imported or exported overland, they would remain closed.
Since then, numerous stakeholders have expressed concerns, not only on issues of business relations, but on sub-regional security. As would be expected, traders have suffered irreparable damages to their business, especially with the spoilage of tons of perishable commodities.
Latest information on this development is that Trade and Foreign Ministers of some of the affected countries are rubbing minds with the Nigerian authorities, and that a partial corridor has been created for ‘some’ goods to pass.
Under an agreement with Ghana for instance, the Ghana Government is expected to provide information on Ghanaian companies that do business in Nigeria, the goods and companies affected and those likely to be affected by the closure, as well as stranded trucks at the borders to enable them better identify the Ghanaian traders.
Though this may be considered a ‘half a loaf’ decision that is better than nothing, we at THE NEW PUBLISHER are not too enthused at the situation and still look up to Nigeria for a more pragmatic solution.
While we agree that the closure was not targeted at Ghana, we want to remind the Nigerian president that, for as long as he is the leader of the continent’s most populous country, and Nigeria remains a member of ECOWAS, he is accountable to the sub-region on a policy as this.
Yes, we agree Nigeria is a sovereign state and cannot be questioned over its internal decisions, but on the face of the explanation that the closure was a major decision meant to check smuggling, one is tempted to wonder why the closure is limited to parts of the country.
Apart from that, we do not think border closure is a plausible option in a fight to combat rice smuggling. The solution lies with a better equipped, resourced and resolute Customs Service, and not border closure.
In our view, an important problem like this could have been handled with a more comprehensive appraisal of the problems it was going to create.
Bluntly, the paper thinks the Buhari government is abusing the ECOWAS Protocol and must be told in the face. Its action presupposes that it has no regard for regional protocols.
You can close border to check the smuggling of drugs, dangerous weapons or terrorism, but not rice.
We hereby call on the Ghana government to put its feet on the ground and protect local businesses in Ghana.