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Closed Borders: Neighbouring states unwilling to sign anti-economic pact

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BY FUNMI ALUKO

If information at our disposal is anything to go by, there are indications the border closure by the Nigerian Government may linger on some more time in spite of recent assurances for its opening to enable inter-country trade and commerce to commence again.

Facts emerging show that neighbouring states directly affected by the closure snubbed intervention by top Nigerian industrialists and manufacturing officials including Aliko Dangote, to sign an undertaking not to support and encourage acts detrimental to the Nigerian economy and internal security.

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This is coming on the backdrop of reported noncommittal stance of the immediate neighbouring states, Republic of Benin and Togo, who are reportedly not disposed to signing any undertaking not to encourage or support acts of smugglings of imported cheap generic goods targeted for the Nigerian market, allow passage of undocumented migrants with suspicious security motives, and other acts detrimental to the economy and security of Nigeria.

Elite customs broker and immediate past National President of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Prince Olayiwola Shittu who gave the hint said the neighbouring states appears bent on frustrating every diplomatic avenue for settling the matter, even as the former Chairman of Trans Border Traders Association of Nigeria (TBAN), Alhaji Bintin Okunola said the suggestion by the Nigerian Government for Benin and others to sign an undertaking smacks of undue pressure and blackmail.

“If you are talking about blackmail, we should be honest with ourselves, it is Nigeria that is guilty of that. Nigeria is asking Benin, Togo and the others to sign an undertaking, these are sovereign states, because they are our neighbours and we are economically better then them does not give us the right to annex them into our political control.

“Are we saying our customs cannot collect the right revenues of goods coming in through the land borders? If that is what we are saying, then we have a problem. Are we  also saying that those neighbouring countries should be the ones to take over part of our security functions, do the primary monitoring to make it easy for our border security apparatus?  As far as I am concerned, both cases is an admission of failure on our part.

“We should strengthen our security system and let those with capability and the required competence in the customs service be those given responsibilities at the border. A competent Nigeria customs and competent border security system will carry out a good border policing and the result will be the needed deterrence, you cannot begin to coerce independent states to take up your security obligation.”

It is instructive that the posture of the FGN has consistently emphasized its unwillingness to succumb to alleged conspiracy of silent blackmail by neighbouring states to reopen the border without measured realistic benefits as the reasons it was closed in the first place.

Shittu lamented that the neighbouring states which have declined to sign bilateral trade good conduct with Nigeria, also recently snubbed a high powered intervention delegation comprising of manufacturers and their representatives, including Aliko Dangote.

He revealed that the Dangote team is the latest in the series of efforts by Nigeria to discuss the trans-border impasse, and blamed Benin and other neighbouring states for attempting to break Nigeria’s resolve riding on unwarranted sentiments by some class of Nigerians.

The business man insists that if these neighbours are treated with kids glove, they would continue to sabotage Nigeria and disrupt the ongoing policy on its economic backward integration.

A supporter of the ongoing measure, Shittu urged government and Nigerians generally to actively build on the ongoing local production and grow the economy; assuring that the gains far surpass the temporary hardship.

His words: “From what is happening, you will notice that these people have adopted quiet conspiracy and silent diplomatic blackmail intended to force Nigeria to reopen the border without signing good conduct undertaking; so that at the end of the day, the purpose of the whole exercise will be defeated.

“This is very insulting and this may be part of the reasons government is reluctant to reopen the land border. Should Nigeria kowtow to this kind of behaviour? We must put sentiments aside and call these peoples bluff, they need us to survive. They should be made to respect our concerns and not abuse us or take our lax in the past as license to do as they wish, Nigeria should not allow that. As citizens, we need to continue to support government to continue to take decisive steps and to maintain current measures in place to sustain our struggle to grow our economy”

Below is our reporter’s chat with Shittu:

Last year I asked you a question about your take on the closure of the border and you said that you believed that government was doing the right thing. It’s been a year and two months, are those goals and objectives you identified with still intrinsically valid?

Let me answer you in a roundabout way. Dangote and some industrialists came together and met our neighbouring state, Benin Republic to see how the border issue will be resolved. Nigeria cannot be a dumping ground, Dangote and co agreed. But what happened? Benin turned down the intervention.

You mean our neighbouring states refused to endorse an undertaking to check influx of imported items through their territory?

Yes. You know the likes of Dangote are in position to advice government that is why you hear of statements like ‘Government will take a decision soon’. The neighbours have been turning down Nigeria’s demand. They don’t want to give us guarantee that armed bandits will not be passing their country into Nigeria. What is our demand? That your country should not be giving support to smuggling, dumping of foreign goods in Nigeria should not be supported through your country. They said they cannot give guarantee. If you were in President Buhari’s shoes, what will you do?  That is why the status quo is been maintained. Nigeria is saying they should put it down in writing so that the agreement can be domiciled in the United Nation, they say no. But their economy is suffering because they rely on Nigeria, and some Nigerians are suffering because that’s the way of their business. Now you need to place it side by side, which one is weightier? It means they cannot guarantee our lives, they don’t mean well for us.

So it’s a dicey situation that seem to support that the sanction should remain

They (neighbouring states) are making it difficult. That it has been like that for a century doesn’t say it must remain so. We need to wake up and take our destiny back, Nigeria has the potential to be a global economic power in terms of production and export capacity. Just imagine that you are in your house and you have a neighbor who is very hostile, despite your virtuous disposition. Okay don’t allow this people pass through my compound, he says no, I cannot guarantee you that they won’t pass through your compound. Then, wouldn’t you erect fence and gate your compound?

It stands to reason

Good, that is what this government is doing. Am not in government but am just looking at it from an objective scale. The population of those suffering based on this border closure, if you compare it with the lives of 200 million Nigerians, it is negligible.

Also speaking, Mr. Sunday Imafidon, a Nigerian engaged in sub regional supply of trade items from Nigeria, urged the FG to adopt international approach to resolving the issue, hinting that the continued closure has sent a number of Nigerians to their grave.

“We are not happy that our neighbours are not responding to demands by Nigeria, we are appealing that the demands should not be too harsh. On the hand we think that if the United Nations and European Nation are involved, maybe they can convince Benin to sign the agreements.

“Some of us supplying vegetables, drinks and juice are suffering; some of us have even died. Government should help us and review some of the demands so that we can move forward. You will notice that smuggling is still going on, smuggling will not stop. Government need to rework our own security system to respond to border crimes, that is how it everywhere, you cannot be asking another country to protect your border or guarantee that criminal foreigners should not come near our border.”

 

 

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