While Nigeria extends its border closure to other African states to Jan. 2020, could an uprising surprise the gov’t?

November 04, 2019 at 06:00 pm | News

Michael Eli Dokosi

Michael Eli Dokosi | Staff Writer

November 04, 2019 at 06:00 pm | News

Trucks parked at Nigeria’s closed border with Niger. Photographer Boureima Hama/AFP via Getty Images

In August this year, Nigeria slapped a ban on the movement of all goods from countries with which it shares a land border: Benin, Niger and Cameroon, effectively banning all trade – import and export – with its neighbors.

The motivation for this drastic move, Nigerian officials say, is to curb the smuggling of goods such as rice, tomatoes and poultry to bolster Nigeria’s agricultural sector. While border closures are not new, this latest move was done without consultations with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to allow business people in the various affected countries not to load vehicles with goods including perishable items, and head for Nigeria only to be told of the barrier at the gates.

The border closure is affecting even those who have already paid customs duties as they are denied entry.  

And on Sunday, November 3, spokesman for the Nigerian customs service, Joseph Attah, informed Reuters the “present phase” of the closure would end on January 31, 2020, noting it will not mean an unconditional lifting of the ban.

However well-intentioned the border closure is, the biggest impact is felt by informal traders – most of them small and medium enterprises that operate along the Nigeria-Benin borders.

The country’s 190.9 million people make it the most populated in West Africa and the country with one of the most humans on the continent making it earn its nickname the ‘Big Brother’.

Just in May, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) came into force after its ratification by a sufficient number of African countries, marking a critical milestone in the Pan-African trade journey. The AfCFTA is predicted to boost the combined consumer and business spending and increase intra-African trade by at least 53.2%.

By July 2020, trading under the AfCFTA framework is to commence yet Nigeria’s recent act coupled with developments with other African countries show ill preparation when it comes to implementing their AfCFTA commitments.

AfCFTA’s Agenda 2063 aspires to “create a continental market with the free movement of persons, capital, goods and services” but Nigeria under Muhammadu Buhari has already gone against the spirit of the act.

While Nigerian customs officials reckon the blockade and extension is necessary to achieve the government’s strategic objectives as gains have been made on the security and economic front, the blockade has had a ripple effect across West Africa, with factories and traders struggling to import key raw materials and having to use alternative routes for their exports, according to the Lagos Chamber of Commerce.

Curiously Ghana, which emerged as home for the AfCFTA secretariat is reeling from the Nigerian border closure.

The closure has reportedly cost Ghana’s largest local beverage manufacturer, Kasapreko $2 million while other Ghanaian drivers stuck at the border say they have been there for about three months. To ease the burden on the truck drivers, Ghana’s President presented CFA 450,000 ($760) to the stranded at Seme-Krakue, a town on the Nigeria-Benin border but the recipients say more is needed.

Meanwhile, Ghana’s Deputy Finance Minister, Kwaku Kwarteng is hopeful Ghanaian traders will be given special passage this week given a delegation from the Trade and Industry as well as Foreign Affairs Ministries which visited their Nigerian counterparts.

The border with Benin Republic at Seme, Nigeria July 19, 2019. Photo credit:
Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde

Making the disclosure to JoyNews’ Samson Lardi Anyenini on Newsfile, he stated: “On Monday there would be communication, to this effect. There is going to be a meeting at which the decision would be confirmed or ratified, the Ghanaians at the borders on either side would be given special passage.”

While both countries come to a consensus, Ghanaian traders at the Opera Square in Accra are locking up the stores of supposed Nigerians. Ghana’s law bans foreigners from operating in the retail sector, however, over the years, foreign nationals including Nigerians, Nigeriens and the Chinese have flouted this provision much to the indignation of the locals.

Various Ghanaian governments have had to deal with the delicate matter of non-Ghanaians trading in the retail space as the spirit of the ECOWAS protocols yet even at governmental and policy level, there remains opposing views as to how to handle the conundrum, especially when the immigration service says anytime there’s eviction of other nationals in Ghana, Ghanaians in other ECOWAS states also suffer eviction sometimes in a hasher manner. Section 27 (1) of the GIPC Act forbids the foray of foreigners into the retail sector but the remedy to curb the intrusion has not been forthcoming.

That failure of government’s decisive action has led to confrontations between the locals and the Nigerians in the sector particularly.

Reckoning that government has not shown seriousness by safeguarding the retail sector, the Ghana Union of Traders’ Association (GUTA) members who bear the brunt have begun locking up the shops of the Nigerians.

Often when it happens; the Nigerians call on the police who supervise the reopening of their stores. According to local network, Citi FM, 52 shops owned by Nigerians had been locked up.

According to some of the shop owners, although Nigerian nationals, they had naturalized as Ghanaians and registered their businesses while others say they’ve married Ghanaian women. Those with such claims were asked to bring documentation to that effect.

To bring closure to the recurring rifts between two of West Africa’s notable nationals, private legal practitioner and former vice chairman of Public Interest and Accountability Committee (PIAC), Kwame Jantuah reckons GUTA must sue the Ghanaian government for a court to hold it to its mandate of protecting the retail sector from foreign intrusion.

Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MoTI), Mr. Prince Boakye Boateng reminded fellow African states that closing borders to bar entry of other citizens was not the preserve of one state, adding, “security considerations override everything and any protocols.”

Franklin Cudjoe, founding President and Chief Executive Officer of IMANI Centre for Policy and Education, a global think tank noted that while border closures to stimulate domestic growth looks alluring, events of the 1950s and 1960s show that while there might be a boost in the short term, the countries eventually failed.

“In the 1950s and 1960s, governments of many countries in Africa and Latin America erected trade barriers. The plan was to enable the industries of their countries to grow, “protected” from outside competition. What actually happened was the opposite.

“Although the industries in these “protected” countries grew for a short period, the lack of competition meant that their industries became inefficient and fell behind the rest of the world. Also, because imports were very expensive or even unavailable, their costs of production rose as they were stuck using old technologies. Governments paid for these subsidies by taxing farmers (either directly or by forcing farmers to sell to marketing boards) and by borrowing – one of the reasons why so many African and Latin American countries have such large debts. Nigeria may well find out that the very insecurity she claims it wants to reduce by the obstinate border shut down may well be the conduit for more uprising,” he added.

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