It has come to light that Nigerian businessman Aliko Dangote gave a private jet to two Beninese ministers of state for an event in Nigeria. The private jet was to facilitate the movement of the ministers, Romuald Wadagni (Economy) and Aurélien Agbénonci (Foreign Affairs), for a mediation talk spearheaded by Dangote.
The Nigerian billionaire is mediating effort to restart talks between President Muhamadu Buhari and Patrice Talon of Benin over a border closure between the two neighbors.
It would be recalled that last year, Nigeria closed its land borders to trade to curb smuggling and informal trade of goods produced in Nigeria to protect Nigerian businesses.
Dangote was among the lead advocate for the border closure, especially with Benin. At a roundtable event organized by the Central Bank of Nigeria, he remarked that “no country can survive with a neighbor like Benin,” essentially accusing Benin of flooding the Nigerian market with smuggled goods.
The mediation effort being led by Dangote, who is said to have the ears of President Buhari, signals a change in his otherwise hardline position viz-a-viz Benin. Traders in Benin have described the border closure as devastating and hope for a quick resolution of the impasse.
The country’s Agriculture Minister Gaston Dossouhoui in a visit to markets in the town of Grand Popo described the sight of rotten tomatoes stuck at the border as “distressing” adding that “it’s very difficult for our producers. It’s a disaster.”
In October 2018, President Buhari and his Beninese counterpart inaugurated a new border crossing between the two countries. Ten months later, Nigeria announced a unilateral closure of the borders between them.
A Beninese businessman with ties to Nigeria told the AFP that, “several Nigerian business leaders have been complaining about Cotonou’s attitude. They claim their trucks going to Benin are overtaxed at the border.”
“Also, businessman Aliko Dangote, who bought the Nigerian government’s shares in the Lafarge group, wants to sell his cement in Benin, which Talon is prohibiting.”
The mediation effort being led by Dangote is not surprising as he seeks to gain access to the Benin market to sell his Dangote Cement. He is seeking to use his influence on the Nigerian government to normalize relations between Abuja and Cotonou.
Benin wants a relationship based on mutual respect as they believe Nigeria has always thought of them as fraudsters.