Border closure: Government should have first consulted widely – Okafor
Sir Chigozie Okafor is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Dynatech Nigeria Limited, a player in the ECOWAS market. In this interview with DEBO OLADIMEJI, he argued that good as the policy is in terms of protecting the borders it is coming at a huge cost to operators because government refused to consult.
How has the border closure affected the Nigerian manufacturer?
It has affected the manufacturers and the government in some ways. The government of Nigeria has closed down her border since August 2019. So many businessmen have been criticizing the government over the border closure.
If you look at the US economy, you will see that their government had from inception focused on securing their land border, so that their economic activities will be efficient and effective. They do this because they realised that overtime there has been a lot of loopholes. There has been a lot of wastage as a result of people coming through the land border to rip them off of their economic activities; to rip them off their foreign exchange, which is very paramount to their economy. So it applies to an economy like ours. I don’t think there is any country that survives with their borders being as porous as ours was before the closure.
I don’t think that there is a country that will survive the kind of robbery by neigbouring countries. I called it robbery because I can’t imagine a country that has more than seven Sea Ports allowing countries like Republic of Benin and Ghana to be sharing part of our import tariffs to grow their economies.
If you look back how we have staggered before the closure of the borders and compared it to the present situation, as an economist we would be able to tell the effects, because for us here, we are not smiling in this company.
We have customers from Ghana, Republic of Benin who come to buy our products and transport them through our land borders. Looking at the entire nation and the effect of the closure, I don’t think it is of positive effect to the economy, because these people that were coming to buy from us are no longer able to do so. The government is also not earning the tariff, which they used to pay each time they come to buy our goods. So, government is losing tariffs.
I must also advise that government should uses revenue accruing from the closure to make sure that things work for the people. They have to make use of it to put infrastructural activities in place. That is my take.
Secondly, I will condemn government for closing the border without giving businessmen and investors enough time to prepare for the closure. There ought to be sufficient communication to the people, to the businessmen so that people will prepare themselves very well.
You cannot wake up one day and take decisions without consulting stakeholders or the nation. I believe that any businessman in a developing nation like ours is a stakeholder as far as the economy is concerned. As a stakeholder you should be kept abreast of any economic policies of government before this kind of policy is embarked on. I am a businessman and I have friends and relatives who are in the industry, who this policy has affected their businesses and their life.
When you look at this policy, there was no dialogue to give people enough notice, so that businessmen and investors will not see it as a witch-hunt.
I believe it is a temporary thing. My advice to stakeholders is for them to wait on the government and keep on doing the right things. I want the government to find a way to accommodate this long queue that we have down there at the borders. There are a lot of cargoes out there. Most of these goods are perishable and even if they are not perishable, they are products that belong to Nigeria. They are goods that are coming into Nigeria. We don’t have to leave them for so long. We don’t have to encourage wastage in as much as we want to achieve positive things. My advice to the government and its economic team is to arrive at a tariff that will be reasonable enough to accommodate these goods.
I believe the government should have a way to accommodate the cry of Nigerians, businesses and investors who have their cargoes trapped at the borders.
Could you calculate your losses so far?
Directly or indirectly, I have been affected by 20 to 30 percent reduction in our production compared to what we were doing before the border closure.
Is closing the border the solution?
It is one of the measures that I think the government will take, because if you look at it closely, since the border has been closed, you will realise that the Customs, from statistics they have generated, have earned more revenue than before the border closure. A lot of people that used to bring their goods into the country through Cotonou ports now use Nigerian ports to clear their goods.
Like I said it is affecting us negatively because if our customers from Cotonou used to come and buy goods in reasonable quantity, like when they come they want to buy ten cubic metre, five cubic metre of goods from us. Because of the border closure they can’t come in to buy those things, they could form alliances and they can come as a group to our company to purchase in a better scale and ship through our ports.
Shipping goods out of Nigeria is one of the easiest processes so far, especially to the West African sub region. I have not seen them doing that but I am encouraging investors and businessmen around Nigeria and in West Africa to form alliances and groups to come to Nigeria to but their goods in containers, and ship the normal way from our ports. It is easier and comfortable to do it that way.
We have to sacrifice a lot for our economy to start working. Today it may not be so good for us. But with time you and I will encounter the positive results of this closure.
My workers are not redundant because our population is a large market for our goods. I can comfortably tell you that even if the border is closed that the population of the Nigerian market is still there. I am not saying that we are too comfortable but I have always stressed the need for the government to protect our borders.