Despite the ECOWAS treaty signed in Lagos in 1975, movement through Nigeria`s ECOWAS borders have remained difficult. Recently, the Federal government closed the borders, making things even more difficult. The justification given by the president during a visit to Japan was that, it was an action against smuggling, especially of rice. Government has taken a further step to ban all import and export through land borders till the end of January 2020. Apart from the fact that it is a tacky solution to the problem of smuggling, it also has a number of negative consequences.
Despite the government’s claim of the country’s capacity to handle the demand for rice, there’s still scarcity. Rice production is about 4.8 million tonnes per annum as opposed to the demand of about 7 million tonnes. As can be expected, the rate of inflation, especially on food produce has increased. Contrary to the intention of government, this unfriendly policy makes the country more volatile and less attractive to invest in. There may be more investment in rice farming and milling but other sectors get less investors.
On the political side, this course of action has strained relations with neighbouring countries especially Benin Republic and Ghana. This act of the government in its attempt to protect its indigenous industry is said to be the first test of the ACFTA. Putting aside ECOWAS relations and ignoring the recently signed ACFTA doesn’t bode well with the country’s international relations.
Even Nigerians trying to return to their own country are harassed while crossing the border into Nigeria. Sometime last year, I was on a road trip to Ghana with other student representatives of my university debate club for the Accra Opens 2018 debate tournament at the University of Ghana,Legon. Despite being on the school bus, having our school ID cards and the invitation letter from our host university, we were stuck at the Nigerian-Benin border for hours. It’s not hard to guess which side of the border gave the trouble.
The difficulties at the Nigerian borders suggests that we have not realised that our first and most reliable market should be neighbouring African countries.
According to the finance minister, Nigeria as a country must first think of herself. This was in reply to the effects of this action on neighbouring countries. However, I can’t help but wonder, who exactly is being thought of? With the country barely out of recession and the labour union’s clamour for increased wages that the government certainly can’t afford, an action that leads to inflation definitely isn’t in the best interest of the citizens. Moreover, the livelihoods of many Nigerians depend directly on their ability to trade across the borders.
Instead of churning out protectionist policies which would in no way solve the economic problems of Nigeria, the government should encourage free trade and improve the environment for businesses to thrive. Encourage individuals to look beyond existing markets and create new ones. The government should partner with the private sector in improving the country rather than seeing it as its number one enemy. Protectionism doesn’t bring solutions. It simply piles up poorer decisions which are taken to solve the problems that poor decisions created in the first place.
Instead of border closure, Nigeria needs to reform her immigration and customs laws, retrain her officials and enhance their capacity to secure our borders. We also need to review the prohibitive tariffs and port bureaucracy that discourage imports through our seaports. If Nigerian seaports were efficient and cost-effective for importers, they will stop using Beninoan ports.
Ogechukwu Egwuatu is a final year student of French and German at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, a local coordinator at African Students For Liberty and an Op-Ed Writer at The Chale Institute. She is available on Twitter @peacedennis2 and on Medium at Ogechukwu Egwuatu.