Several weeks since Nigeria closed its land borders with its West African neighbours, the Federal Government last week unfolded conditions that ECOWAS member states must adhere to before it reopens them. Foreign Affairs Minister Geoffrey Onyeama revealed the conditions at a meeting in Abuja last Monday, November 4, of the inter ministerial committee on the temporary closure of land borders. The conditions, Onyeama said, are meant to protect Nigeria’s economy.
Among the conditions are that any imports coming from outside the ECOWAS region and imported into an ECOWAS member state must maintain its original packaging. They must be escorted from the port of arrival directly to the designated entry point on the Nigerian border and presented to Nigerian Customs with their original packaging. Compromises will not be tolerated, government said.Another condition is that goods produced predominantly in ECOWAS member states must satisfy ECOWAS rules of origin to avoid any possibility of downplay. Goods must be majorly produced in ECOWAS countries but if they are coming from outside ECOWAS, the value addition must be over 30 per cent for it to be accepted within the framework of the Economic Trade Liberalisation Scheme that ECOWAS countries have to promote trade among themselves.
The Federal Government also demanded that all warehouses along the shared borders of Nigeria must be dismantled. “Goods being transported must be put in proper recognized packaging. No longer will we have goods of all shapes and sizes going through the borders. To maintain the best practices of those goods, an accepted condition for packaging will be established.” Another condition in regards to free movements of persons is that“all persons moving through Nigerian borders must present themselves through recognized entry points and must have recognized travel documents, i.e. country passport.” The minister said,“Within the next two weeks, a tripartite committee is to be convened and hosted here in Nigeria comprising a delegation from Benin Republic, from Niger and from Nigeria. Each country will come with the heads of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Interior, Finance, Customs, Immigration and NIA, the security segment.”
Ideally, these conditions should have been presented to our affected neighbours well before the border closure, with an ultimatum to comply before action is taken. Vary damaging though smuggling and their near-official collaboration with the smugglers has been to our economy for many decades, it is not in Nigeria’s national interest to have damaged relations with our neighbours. Border closure may be legally tenable but it violates the spirit of ECOWAS, of which we are the big if not the biggest beneficiaries. The policy is already having a ripple effect in Ghana, for example, where local traders sealed the shops of Nigerian traders. Then also, genuine traders and other businessmen all over the sub-region have lost billions of naira due to the sudden border closure.
The conditions placed before our neighbours look reasonable on the face of it. However, even if they agree to them, it does not remove the imperative for us to rout out corruption in our Customs Service and other border security agents. Smuggling would never have become such a cankerworm if not because too many of our border security agents were corruptly involved with the smugglers. Sure, there are very patriotic Customs officers, many of whom have lost their lives while trying to stop smugglers. But we expect the service to improve its game, using modern technological tools, so that in future we do not have to close our borders again in order to stem smuggling.