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Mixed reactions trail border closure

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While local farmers and manufacturers jubilate over the land border closure, consumers especially residents of border towns are lamenting the soaring prices of goods.

On August 20th, the federal government had announced its intention to close the country’s land borders in order to put a stop to the smuggling of products, especially par boiled rice, into the country in order to encourage and develop the local rice industry. “Too much rice, too much fake fertiliser is still coming across the Republic of Benin borders into this country in spite of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) we have with them. They are not listening,” former Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbe, lamented in March 2018.

Apart from rice, other products like vegetable oil, textile, vehicles, second hand clothings, drinks, used tyres, repellent mosquito coil, fertilizer, spaghetti, used compressors, used fridges, blank invoice, frozen poultry, fish, sugar, etcetera, are smuggled into Nigeria, making the country a dumping ground.

Nigeria shares land borders with the Republic of Benin in the west, Chad and Cameroon in the east and Niger Republic in the north. With a land mass of 4,000 square kilometres coverage, it has well over 1,400 illegal routes which are not manned.

However, with the closure of the borders, especially the Seme and Idi-Iroko borders, prices of products have skyrocketed. A bag of foreign par boiled rice which was selling for N15,000 now sells for between N18,500-N20,000. A kilo of frozen chicken sells for N1,500 while frozen turkey sells for N1,600 as against N900 and N1,200.

It was moaning and complaints at Supa Market Iyana-Ipaja and The Arena Oshodi. The Arena, where second hand wears, shoes and bags are sold, was not a bee hive of activities like before. Majority of the stalls were half empty. Some of the traders were observed idle and chatting while majority of the customers were complaining of the high cost and not seeing exactly what they came to buy.

Further investigations revealed that majority of the traders at Supa who were buying directly from Cotonou have resorted to buying from the heavy dealers at The Arena as those small traders can no longer access Cotonou due to border closure while Customs still opens the borders for the heavy dealers.

Mrs. Joke Akinwumi, who sells second hand clothing at Supa, said she used to buy directly from Cotonou but since the closure, she now patronises the dealers at The Arena at a very high cost. How are those dealers getting their wares? the reporter asked. “By Direct,’’ Akinwumi said, explaining it’s a term only understood by traders. Throwing more light, she explained that they book their market in advance with Cotonou agents and settle custom officials very well. That way their goods are allowed to pass through the border.

“There is no market to sell because we did not receive goods from Cotonou. At the moment, it is very expensive to bring in goods from Cotonou. Traders are wary. We are waiting for things to normalise at the borders,” said Mr. Michael Itoro, a big time dealer in men’s second hand shirts at The Arena.

At Balogun and Oke-Arin markets Lagos, the stories are the same. Speaking with the immediate past president General of Oke-Arin Traders Association, Mr. Edwin Nnamdi Onye, he said “There is no market as traders cannot bring in anything through the border. We are selling only old stock.”

“Is it only through Seme border that Nigerian traders import things? the reporter ventured. “No, we also import through Apapa Wharf but it is more expensive and the processes longer.”

It is noteworthy, however, that consumers not residing in the border towns are not feeling the impact of the border closure as residents of border towns. Most consumers not in border towns prefer eating the locally farmed rice. They prefer live fowls to imported frozen poultry which some refer to as mortuary. For instance, in Enugu town, frozen poultry is called ‘carton’. Nobody buys it as consumers allege it is tasteless just like foreign par boiled rice which they see as tasteless. Poultry farming is thriving and affordable. Sizable fowls sell from N1,000.

It is unfortunate that while successive Nigerian governments especially the former Goodluck Jonathan government tried to make Nigeria self sufficient in food, especially in rice, our staple food, our neighbouring governments strive to frustrate the efforts.

Investigations revealed that in 2016, about 58,260MT of rice was imported into Nigeria from Thailand, according to the Thai Rice Exporters Association.

This represents a huge reduction when compared to about 805,765 MT recorded in 2015. By November 2017, the figure reduced to 23,192 MT and between January and November 2018, the figure had crashed to 6,277 MT.

Within the years, the Thai statistics shows that there had been a 72.9 per cent reduction in quantity of export to Nigeria while the export value had also crashed by 72.2 per cent. This, clearly, confirms that there has been reduction in Nigeria’s rice import figures.

However, as Nigeria’s importation figures slide downward, neighbouring Benin Republic has seen its export figures skyrocket exponentially, within the same years.

According to the Thai Import statistics, from 805,765 MT in 2015, Benin Republic has seen import figures rise to 1,650,237 MT in 2017 and 1,487,188 MT between January and November 2018.

Nigerian borders are notoriously porous and several reports have established how numerous goods, including rice, find their way into the country through the borders, especially the ones adjoining Benin Republic.

In November 2016, the Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Hameed Ali, claimed the nation’s boarders were porous because of their interconnectivity with adjoining nations, adding that there was no line demarcating Nigeria from its neighbours.

More importantly, Benin Republic exports and most of its par-boiled rice imports, up to 30,000 containers per year, are routed via transit shipments through Niger to the northwest of Nigeria, according to HAS Rice, a leading exporter in Pakistan.

For our local industries to flourish, we must depend less on imports.

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