NIGERIAN BORDER CLOSURE – WHY ? WHAT CAN BE DONE ?
The AfriExporter Conference in Lagos on 24-25 October 2019 was set up to
promote Cross Border Trade in the Economic Community of West African
States (ECOWAS), but participants found themselves expressing some
sympathy for the Nigerian Government decision to close its land borders!
Many participants including Jud Welsh, from the West Africa Agri-Business
Network, and Ms Shade Bembatoum-Young, a Council Member of the Lagos
Chamber of Commerce and Industry, noted the border closures were contrary to
ECOWAS trade protocols which Nigeria had previously agreed.
The theory of how regional trade works between West African State does not
match reality. Informal trade, or smuggling across porous borders, is more
common on some borders than official trade. Niger and Chad depend on maize-
based chicken-feed, fish-feed and cooking oil from Nigeria. This trade was
largely informal and illegal. Now the borders are closed.
Widespread bribery to get trucks over borders without proper paperwork is
facilitated by corrupt officials who collect money for themselves instead of
revenue for the state.
The underlying problem is even more serious. As West African economies take
off there is an exponential and unsustainable growth in food imports, whilst
local farmers and processing firms are struggling to increase production to put
more food on West African tables. This cannot go on.
Hence the comment from Dr Ada Momah of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)
that the Nigerian border closure was done for a reason. She argued the Nigerian
Government could justify the land border closure as an emergency measure
under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, to stop large scale illegal
importation of rice undermining markets for local farmers.
The border closure is hitting legitimate traders in Nigeria, Benin, Niger, Tchad,
Cameroun and nearby states including Togo, Ghana and Ivory Coast as well as
regional truckers and consumers. It also raises issues about whether Nigeria is a
trustworthy partner for trade and investment according to Yakubu Mohammed
in the Nigerian Guardian on 23 rd October 2019.
He also said that one can understand the frustration of President Muhammadu
Buhari as he closed the borders to try and stem the flood of illegal, smuggled
(sometimes sub-standard) rice coming into Nigeria.
Was this taking a hammer to crack a nut? Unfortunately this is a rather small
hammer trying to crack a very large nut.
Nigeria and West Africa will be overwhelmed by a flood of food imports they
cannot afford to pay for unless they can stem the tide and rapidly organize a
massive import substitution programme to get West African farmers and
processing firms to produce a lot more food for West African people.
Africa is on the move. The African Free Trade Area (AFTA) is a big step . But
West Africans cannot make AFTA work if they cannot make ECOWAS work
first. You can’t go upstairs with the first half of the staircase missing !
This is a great opportunity for West African farmers and SME processers and
NGOs who want to promote regional Cross Border Trade. To back Nigeria and
ECOWAS to bring in a package of reforms, to enable Nigeria to re-open its land
This means needs better governance, less corruption, better monitoring and
management of trade corridors and borders, and to boost and promote
agricultural production and trade.