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Total closure of land borders

On Monday last week, the Federal Government announced a total, nationwide ban on import as well as the export of goods through the land borders. Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs Service retired Col. Hameed Ali, who announced the measure, said it was part of the ongoing joint border operation tagged “Exercise Swift Response” which involves Customs, Immigration, soldiers and the Department of State Services, DSS.

The National Security Adviser’s office [ONSA] coordinates the operation, which began on August 20 when the federal government first announced a partial closure of land borders. It also said borders affected were those in the South-south, Southwest, North-central and the North-west geopolitical zones but last Monday’s announcement apparently extended it to other zones as well.

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The Customs’ frontline role in the operation suggests that the drastic action is essentially aimed at curbing smuggling, but other officials gave different reasons for the border closure. National Security Adviser Major General Babagana Monguno was quoted as saying that the major reason for the border closure was to tackle insecurity. He said it is the responsibility of government to protect its citizenry and secure its international borders. Monguno also said, before the total ban was announced, that 100 illegal migrants were arrested while illegal arms and hundreds of bags of imported rice were impounded.

On his part, Customs’ CG Ali said at Maigatari border town that criminals were coming in through Nigeria’s porous borders to perpetrate crimes freely. Comptroller General of the Immigration Service Muhammad Babandede buttressed this point, saying the border closure was meant to ensure that people do not enter into Nigeria or leave Nigeria through illegal means.

Essentially therefore, the border closure was undertaken due to a combination of security and anti-smuggling reasons. The two are serious enough because this country has serious problems of internal security while smugglers also make a mess of the government’s agricultural and industrial policies. Officials also said this country’s consumption of refined fuel, mostly imported, dropped by nearly 10 million litres a day, meaning we were feeding our neighbours with subsidized imported fuel. On the other hand, partial border closure already drove up the prices of food and other items, and last week’s total closure was bound to aggravate the inflationary spiral.

The border closure may have been beneficial in some respects to overall security and economic policy, but it has also had harmful effects on food prices, on the rights of people to move freely, on the ECOWAS Protocol which promised free movement of goods and persons across the sub-region, and on our relations with our neighbours. For how long do we intend to keep the border closed? Customs’ CG Ali said that the borders would remain closed until neighbouring countries respect Nigeria’s policy on food ban and other contraband importation.

We hope that serious negotiations are already taking place between the authorities of Nigeria and those of neighbouring countries to work a way out of this problem. Benin Republic, Niger Republic, Chad and Cameroon have been benefitting immensely from Nigeria’s porous borders but this situation cannot continue indefinitely. Then also, it is the collapse of values in our public services that brought this havoc. This country has many security agencies manning its borders. It is their fault or more precisely, the corruption that pervades their ranks, which made them unable to police our borders and rendered them porous.

Unless and until the corrupt tendencies within our security agencies, beginning from the Customs, are curtailed, it will not be long before we are back to square one with respect to porous borders even when we reach agreements with governments of neighbouring countries and reopen the borders.

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