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Living, trading with tears across Nigerian borders

By Sulaimon Salau
02 January 2022   |   1:50 am
Without basic infrastructure and social amenities, life in any society could be arduous. This appears to be the story of residents in major border towns across Nigeria..

Seme border closed since August 20,2019.(Inset: Trucks of goods at the border). PHOTO:AYODELE ADENIRAN

• How Infrastructure Deficit Can Undermine AfCFTA
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Without basic infrastructure and social amenities, life in any society could be arduous. This appears to be the story of residents in major border towns across Nigeria, especially traders who traverse the communities daily to eke a living. A recent visit by The Guardian to some of the border towns showed that they suffer from massive infrastructure deficit. In some instances, the lack of infrastructure is so precarious that it endangers the lives of international traders and the residents.
 
Nigeria is bordered by Benin Republic, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger; it shares maritime borders with Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, and São Tomé and Príncipe. On the coast of West Africa, it is also bordered by the Bight of Benin and the Gulf of Guinea in south.
   
Checks by The Guardian revealed that in virtually all the border areas, the Nigerian communities lack basic infrastructural such as well equipped hospitals, pipe borne water, seamless communication network, and good road network, among others, thereby making live almost unbearable for cross-border traders and residents.  
   
Aside from formal trade, informal cross-border trade (ICBT) is pervasive and has a long history given the West African region’s artificial and often porous borders. It is a long history of regional trade, which has thrived more because of weak border enforcement and, perhaps most importantly, lack of coordination of economic policies among neighbouring countries. For instance, to underscore the volume of trading that goes on at the borders, statistics have it that ICBT generates about 20 per cent of Benin Republic’s GDP.

As a result observers have expressed the view that if the nation’s trade corridors were given a facelift with proper infrastructure, facilities and institutions, it would reduce transportation costs and time, while boosting trade. 

With government policies and multiple security checkpoints to contend with, traders across the borders regularly go through hard times commuting and transporting their wares through a network of bad roads, a situation that increases the cost of doing business across the corridor.

 
Taking the poor roads into consideration, experts expressed concern and noted that the road infrastructure deficiency at the border towns might impact negatively on the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). They added that the land border trade corridors required good infrastructure to aid seamless and cost-effective movement of goods. 

IN another development, due to the unavailability of good healthcare facility, a near death case was recently recorded at Chikanda border. Chikanda is a border between Nigeria and Benin Republic. The town is located in Baruten local council area in the North Central district of Kwara State. The local government begins in Ilesha Baruba and ends in Chikanda, the border town known for oil importation and exportation.
 
Chikanda is far from development. It lacks pipe borne water and hospital among other basic amenities that should make life meaningful for its residents and traders.
 
Indeed, the poor state of health facilities, according to a trader who spoke with The Guardian, almost led to the untimely death of a colleague who took ill while in transit and was unable to get proper medical attention until he was moved across the border to the neighbouring country.

Executive Chairman, West African Association for Cross-Border Trade and Agro-Forestry-Pastoral, Fishery Products and Food (WACTAF), Alhaji Nassiru Alasoadua Salami, in an exclusive chat with The Guardian, lamented the lack of infrastructure at the border areas, urging the government to provide facilities that would improve the well being of residents and traders.

He narrated his experience, saying: “All Nigerian borders that I have visited lack infrastructure. At Chikanda, there is no water nor hospital on the Nigerian side, but there is hospital on the Benin side. One of our officials was sick in Chikanda, we had to travel about 65 kilometers to Baruten Local Council headquarters. The hospital had no equipment; I still had to rush to Benin, which is about 20 kilometres away. The emergency point at the border is also on the Benin side. They gave him first aid and directed us to a standard hospital. If not for their support and provision of infrastructure, he could have died.
 
Salami explained that the challenges are the same across all Nigerian borders, pointing out that residents at Seme border usually cross to Benin to treat themselves because Badagry is about 15 kilometers away. “If you want to minimise smuggling, you have to provide infrastructure and create jobs for them; you don’t leave them to suffer and resort to illegal trade. If we do not put structures in place at the borders, if we did not provide infrastructure, and do not provide jobs for border communities, we would continue to have security challenges and it would be difficult for us to tackle smuggling,” he said.

 
Salami enjoined the government to partner with West African cross border traders, and the Nigerian Shippers Council by using the border agencies and other relevant organisations to sensitise Nigerians, the private sector and particularly the border communities.
   
At Okèrètè border in Oyo State, the experience is almost the same. Residents and traders rely on telecommunication network waves from Benin Republic to make calls in Nigeria.
   
Okèrètè links Saki-Ilorin-Mokwa-Sokoto-Illela-Konni. It also links Saki-Ilorin-Kaduna-Kano-Maiduguri-Kusiri-Njamena-Karthoum, among others.
   
A community leader, Balogun Olokerete, who simply identified himself as Mr Olaniyan said, “We have no telecommunication network in Okèrètè. We rely on network waves from Benin Republic. We cannot be connected unless we call that person and we have to code it,” he said.
 
Olaniyan also bemoaned the poor state of the road to Okèrètè border, which he said limits cross border trade in the area. “Okerete to Saki is about 93 kilometers, but takes about seven hours to travel in the rainy season and takes about four hours during the dry season. We don’t have government hospital, but private clinics that can only handle minor sicknesses. If there is any major illness, we will have to travel seven hours to Saki or cross to Benin Republic on a two-hour journey to seek adequate medical attention,” he said.
 
He said they are also managing two boreholes, which the entire community relies on. Olaniyan urged the Federal Government to provide the community with good roads, telecommunication connectivity and well-equipped hospitals.
 
The story is not any different at Maigatiri border in Jigawa State. Lack of good pipe borne water has crippled their cattle rearing businesses, while residents and traders also lack portable water supply.
MAIGATARI is the border town with the Republic of Niger. It has an international cattle market, which is one of the biggest cattle markets in the country because it supplies over two million heads during its weekly market, trading in horses, camels, cattle and other livestock between Niger, Mali, Chad and Cameroon.
   
A residence and Coordinator, Data Collectors (Maigatiri and Niger), Lawal Baso told The Guardian that the water supply to the community is insufficient and unfit for consumption without treatment.
 
Besides, he lamented that hospitals at Maigatiri were not well equipped while the roads linking the border market was “very poor.” 
   
“We will have to travel about 140 kilometers to the town to treat a major ailment, which is about two hours drive from Maigatiri. And water is a major problem; unavailability of water used to starve the animals to death. They need to drink much water because of heat (this is a sunny area).” he said.
   
Baso said electricity supply to the community is also unreliable, urging the government to take advantage of the high intensity of sunlight in the terrain in providing solar power to the community. 
   
Tsamiya border is not faring better. Tsamiya is a town under Bagudo local council area of Kebbi State. It is few kilometers from the Beninese border town of Segbana. It is an important corridor for agricultural products such as maize, rice, sorghum, soya beans, cowpea, sesame, and cotton, among others.
   
Like the other border communities, Tsamiya has only an ill-equipped Primary Health Centre, no pipe borne water, no standard hotel and no stable electricity supply.
 
A cross border trader and community leader, Gazali AbdulHakeem told The Guardian that the three major roads leading to the town were in a state of disrepair. “Some locations need bridges and culverts. There is also the need for a standard market to aid commercial activities,” he added.
   
The outlook of Seme border is slightly different because of its proximity to Lagos and Ogun states (the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria). The intervention of the United Nations changed the story of Seme a little with the construction of a modern border structure and provision of scanners. However, Seme is not spared from infrastructure decay, as the international road from Mile 2 to Seme is still in a sorry state.
 
 There are two corridors that link Lagos-Abidjan corridors, which are the corridors from Mile 2 through to Agbara, Badagry, Sèmè Podji to Cotonou, Lomé, Accra and finally Abidjan. 
   
In Ogun State, the Idiroko and Imeko borders harbour smugglers due to their porosity. Idiroko also enjoys some level of civilisation, but for the cluster of villages around such as Oké Odan, Ilasè, Ita Egbe, and Ajilete, among others.
   
Idiroko town is close to the border to the extent that some houses in the community share border with Benin. “For example, you can have Eba in your room in Nigeria and move to the backyard in Benin to wash your hand,” a community youth told The Guardian.
   
An international trade expert, Akudo John, in a chat with The Guardian, said: “Regardless of how many human and material resources a country possesses, it must relate with other countries, since no country can survive in isolation. This necessitates the involvement of countries in international trade. 
   
“To increase exports, cross-border trade should be at the fore of government’s actions. Export trade is influenced by several factors, including accessibility to the market area in neighbouring countries. It is primarily determined by the transportation system, specifically cross-border freight,” he added.
   
Chairman, Pan-African Private Sector Trade and Investment Committee (PAFTRAC), Pat Utomi noted that there was huge potential for AfCFTA, but access to trade information, trade enabling infrastructure and trade finance were key constraints that ought to be addressed to ensure that intra-African trade opportunities were exploited for the benefit of African SMEs. 
   
He said: “One major advantage of AfCFTA is that it can enable aggregation across borders so that African countries can pool products in volumes and quality that make them more competitive in global markets,” 
   
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) latest report had also revealed that trade policies alone were unlikely to support inclusive economic growth on the continent. 
 
It listed other measures needed to include cooperation in promoting investment and competition policies, accelerating financing of infrastructure that facilitates rural-urban linkages and providing equal access to socio-economic opportunities and productive resources.
 
The report revealed that Africa’s current untapped export potential amounts to $21.9 billion, equivalent to 43 per cent of intra-African exports. 

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