Amid losses, Sub-regional traders weigh options as border closure enters new year
The New Year 2020 comes with fresh hopes, but regional traders across the West African corridor are looking at chances of having a renewed border policy that would facilitate their business relations with the continental giant – Nigeria.
With millions of Nigerians counting their gains last year, quite a number of these traders rounded off the year with disappointment. However, the January 31 end of the first phase of the border drill marks an important date that has continued to strike the minds of the affected traders. Some are optimistic that the Federal Government would reopen the borders by February 1, 2020, while others are pessimistic about the review date.
But the spokesperson of the Joint Border Security Drill also known as operation ‘Swift Response’, Joseph Attah, said the January 31 timeline was not necessarily the termination date but the end of phase one of the border drill, after which a review of the process would be done and the next line of action would be communicated to Nigerians.
“Security operation of this kind is usually in phases. The partial border closure will continue until the set objectives are achieved,” said Attah, who is also the Public Relations Officer of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS).
Already, agricultural producers like rice millers, among others, are smiling to the banks for improved patronage and earnings, as foreign rice is gradually fading away in Nigeria’s market, while cross border traders and manufacturers are groaning under huge losses.
Car dealers are also hailing the policy as the spate of vehicle smuggling reduced tremendously. The influx of arms and ammunitions are also being nipped in the bud. The border drill has also significantly saved the nation of smuggled petrol and consequently reduced the quantity of the product imported into the country with consumption now put at 52 million litres per day from 60 million litres.
At the seaports, the border closure has also helped to increase patronage resulting in improved earnings by the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS). The Customs Area Controller, Apapa Command of NSC, Compt. Mohammed Abba-Kura said since the beginning of the border closure, the command’s revenue has increased.
According to him, the command generated N414 billion from January to December 18, 2019, as against N404 billion generated between January and December 2018, which translates into about 111 per cent of the 2019 annual revenue target. This feat, according to him, gives credence to the positive impacts of the policy.
Also, the Port Terminal Multipurpose Limited (PTML) Command reported N116.52 billion revenue collections between January and September 2019, showing an increase of N28.9 billion from N87.6 billion collected within the same period in 2018. However, 35 per cent increase in vehicle imports was recorded in the third quarter of the year 2019.
Customs Area Controller of the Command, Mrs. Florence Dixon, also attributed the development to the border closure policy.
Notwithstanding these benefits, the policy came with some pains to migrants and traders who are currently grappling with poor patronage, loss of capital and stalled business deals.
During the yuletide period, many producers and traders who deal with imported products faced tough moments, while migrants found it difficult to move freely across the border to celebrate with their loved ones. This is as Nigerians residing in some of the affected African countries such as the Republic of Benin and Ghana are finding it difficult to trade freely in those countries, as their citizens have declared ‘war’ on Nigerian traders.
President of Nigerian Union of Traders Association in Ghana, Chukwuemeka Nnaji, said about 300 shops were closed in Ghana even when Nigerian traders did not violate any Ghanaian law; but as retaliation to the border closure policy.
The measure is also taking its toll on border communities, businesses and the economies of neighbouring Benin and the Niger Republic.
Residents of border communities who spoke with The Guardian lamented the intense hardship imposed on them by the border drill.
A community leader in Idiroko, Akinde Akogun, said the residents were currently suffering from an acute shortage of petroleum products, adding that their economy has crumbled due to the border closure.
Akogun said: “Things have never been the same for us around here since the borders were closed. The policy has negatively affected our businesses because we rely on cross border trade and migrants are our major targets. But since the border drill, the whole economy here has crumbled and people are now living from hand to mouth.
“The halt in the supply of petroleum products has compounded our woes. The filling stations have shut down and their workers are now jobless. We now buy fuel in the black market, which is costlier than the official pump price. A litter of petrol now sells for about N500 instead of the official rate of N145. Many of our youths are transporters, but the influx of passengers has reduced drastically in the past few months making the business unattractive. Government should help us and review the decision in 2020 so that we can also feel like bonafide Nigerians,” he said.
President, West African Road Transport Union (WARTU), Salami Nasiru, also told The Guardian that his members had recorded low patronage since the border closure, expressing optimism that the Federal Government would review the policy this year to favour the traders and Nigerian domestic market.
Nasiru said the group had made proposals to the government on some factors that could cushion the effect of the closure, which he hoped would be adopted at the review of the border drill by January 31.
He suggested that rather than halting the supply of products to the border communities, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) should track loading from point of loading to the final destination. He added that the government should provide distribution centres in each local council headquarters where products would be available.
Nasiru further proffered the creation of warehouses at various international markets; creation of grains council that would comprise farmers, producers, distributors, and other relevant stakeholders as members; local rice distribution should be based on the six geopolitical zones of the country to enhance competitiveness; and that government should subsidise the transport system.
The WARTU boss also proposed the establishment of a cargo stock exchange through a transport commission, which would regularise tariffs in Nigeria.
Meanwhile, as the seaports and airport command of Customs continued to rake in more earnings, the land border commands are recording a sharp drop in revenue.
The Seme Area Command of NCS collected the sum of N4.9 billion in revenue for the Federal Government from January to early December 2019. The amount is lower than the N5 billion recorded over the same period in 2018.
The Customs Area Controller, Compt. Mohammed Uba Garba attributed the reduction to border drill exercise.
SBM Intelligence, a Lagos-based political and economic risk advisory firm, has warned that the closure of borders has consequences for export-focused Nigerian businesses.
“Nigerian authorities assume that a border closure works only one way – on the import side. But it bears reiterating that the country is actually a net exporter via the land borders and this closure affects these exporters,” it stated.
The firm believes Nigeria’s porous borders reflect a “failure” of the Nigeria Customs Service to effectively carry out its duties.
Nevertheless, President Muhammadu Buhari in his new year message to Nigerians insisted that the land border would be reopened only when the government was satisfied with safety and compliance measures expected from the joint security exercise.
We May Be Forced Out Of
Business, Lament Frozen Food, Fairly Used Wears Dealers
By Maria Diamond and Victoria Nwosu
IN Lagos, down but not defeated might be the appropriate phrase to describe dealers in frozen food and second-hand wears who despite the border closure, have found a way to stay in business against all odds.
One of them, Temitope, who sells chicken and turkey in the Ikotun Egbe market, revealed that although the border has been closed, she and some other dealers in the market have managed to find a way to bring in frozen food from the neighbouring countries.
She said: “When the border was initially closed, I settled for selling our local chicken and turkey, but the turnover was poor. Customers kept rejecting it. Some even complained it was too expensive and not very tasty. So, we had to find a way around the situation in order not to go out of business. Perhaps we wouldn’t have had any problem with sticking to Nigerian chicken and turkey if customers were not constantly requesting for imported frozen ones despite being aware of the closed border. A lot of them say they don’t mind paying extra just to have the imported chicken and turkey. So, when the opportunity to pay extra to smugglers from Cotonou presented itself, we had to take it. They bring the chicken and turkey into the country in midnight and those who need it pay for it,” she said.
Temitope, however, noted that she doesn’t know how the smugglers manage to maneuver into the country, saying she was only concerned with the fact that her business was intact.
Another trader, Mrs. Chidinma, who sells frozen chicken at Century market, Ago, Okota, also said that the ban has not really affected her business. She said a carton of turkey sells for N16,000, while each kilo sells for N1,600. She also noted that a carton of chicken sells for N15,000. She said the price has remained stable for over two months.
She said: “A few weeks after the border closure, turkey and chicken became scarce, but the scarcity did not last long as it became surplus again. So presently, we sell a kilo of chicken for N1,500 and turkey N1,600 and we have been selling it like that for some time now. Considering that it was between N1,700 and N1,800 a few months ago, it is cheaper now.”
But Mama Shade, a frozen fish seller in the same market, lamented the loss of customers due to the closure of borders. “I have been experiencing a really bad market since the closure of the border. It has, in turn, led to an outrageous increase in the prices of goods. Some customers who can’t afford it are not patronising me again. For instance, a carton of sardine fish that cost between N14, 000 and N15,000 before goes for N24,000 and N25,000 now, while ‘Shawa’ (herring fish) that cost N8,000 is now N13, 500.
“I can no longer purchase as much as I used to because they go bad when no one buys them and there is no electricity supply. I may decide to eventually stop this business if the border closure persists,” she added.
Chinyere Amadi, a dealer in fairly used wears, told The Guardian that instead of travelling to the Benin Republic to procure hare wares, she now pays smugglers who deliver the materials at her shop.
“I have been selling fairly used wears (okrika) for about two decades. I open different types of bales – shoes, bags, and others. It is the only business I know how to do. I have trained my kids in tertiary institutions with the income I make from the business. So, the closed border would have been a disaster for my family if there were no maneuvering means.
“Before the border closure, I usually travelled to the Benin Republic myself but now I don’t have to, as my goods come to me and I pay at delivery. Although I pay a lot more than I used to, another disadvantage is that I don’t get to make a choice selection. I buy whatever is delivered and hope that I find clean wears that can be sold as the first grade for reasonable prices,” she said.
She, however, expressed optimism that the borders would be reopened.
She said: “In all sincerity, it has been very difficult because most times when I open my bales, I get junks, something I ordinarily wouldn’t purchase if I could access the border myself like I used to. But I believe this phase shall pass and the border would eventually be opened for business.”
At Cele Night market along Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, where fairly used wears are sold, Mr. Darlington Igwe, who trades in fairly used shoes, lamented the effect of the border closure on his business.
“The closure of the border is affecting me extremely. For about three months now, I have over six bags of shoes that I paid for that I have not been able to bring in from Togo. These goods are worth millions of naira because I usually supply school shoes during their resumption. I haven’t been able to do that because the border is closed, trapping all my goods there. The school I supply shoes have been calling me because resumption is now closed. I do not know what else to do,” he explained.
He called for the reopening of the borders, adding that he has been unable to provide for his family because of the situation.
“I cannot even resort to smuggling goods into the country because if you do, you will be arrested and the goods seized,” he said.
Another trader in the market, Gloria Eke, who sells second-hand clothes, said the closure of the border has affected her business too.
“I buy my goods from Togo and since the closure of the border, it has been difficult to get goods. Currently, I buy from Aswani, which is more expensive than the normal price. While I get a bale of first-grade clothes at N80,000 from Togo, I get it for N120,000 or more at Aswani. And when I increase the price as a result of the increase in cost price, some customers complain, while others do not buy at all.
“The government should try to understand that we are still developing and it is not everything that we can manufacture yet. Should we continue to
suffer like this till when? If they can reverse the policy, it will be appreciated,” she said.
Smugglers Selling Property
To Defray Loans In Oyo
From Rotimi Agboluaje, Ibadan
With the closure of the nation’s land borders, many residents of Oyo State groan under the exorbitant prices of items especially rice, which they used to get at a cheaper price.
This is as reports from the border communities of Shaki and its environs, a journey of about five hours from Ibadan, indicate that those doing legitimate and illegitimate businesses in the communities were bearing the brunt of the closure.
A source told The Guardian that the effects of the closure were devastating for consumers, sellers, and others in the community.
“It hit people hard. We don’t get the goods we used to get before. The little coming in are very expensive. In fact, it has made some smugglers wretched. Many are selling their properties now just to defray loans they obtained. Some had obtained credit facilities when smuggling was booming; people built houses from the proceeds of smuggling. But because of the closure, they are ‘out of business’. They have to sell those houses.”
The source, however, urged the government to close all routes and borders and focus more on mechanised farming in order to reap the full benefits of the closure.
Speaking on the issue, the Public Relations Officer of Oyo/Osun Command of the Nigeria Customs Service, Abdullahi Abiola-Lagos, said the closure has assisted the Service in fighting smuggling in a great deal.
He said: “Our discovery so far is that the border closure has assisted in the fight against smuggling within the Command and other land borders of the country. Our local farmers are smiling due to the high patronage of our local agricultural products and this automatically leads to more employment for our youths. The menace of insecurity is also reducing drastically.
“Since the commencement of the exercise, the Command has made the following seizures:
1,040 SK blocks and 101 bags of cannabis sative; 2,540 (50kg) bags of foreign rice; 12 smuggled tokunbo vehicles;15 bags of sugar; three motorcycles; 40 bales of second-hand clothes and shoes and 500 pieces of tyres.
“The border closure exercise will continue until the Federal Government is convinced that our borders are safe and controllable from any security threat and influx of foreign products especially rice. Also, our neighbouring countries should comply with ECOWAS procedures on transit goods in order to allow the government to have proper statistics and control of what comes in and goes out of the country.”
Kebbi Border Communities
From Ahmadu Baba Idris, Birnin Kebbi
Lamenting the effects of the ongoing closure of land borders across the country on residents of Kebbi State, former chairman of Bagudo Local Government Area of the state, Hassan Adamu, has urged the Federal Government to reopen the borders.
Adamu, who is also a businessman, lamented that the policy has negatively affected his business and farming activities in border communities in the state.
Speaking with The Guardian in an interview in Lolo, the former chairman said that following the Federal Government’s policy, most residents could not farm again because their farmlands are in the neighbouring country.
He explained further that 80 per cent of their businesses had been crippled due to the closure of the borders, urging the Federal Government to device means of supporting their business.
His words: “We have farmland in Gaya, Niger Republic while in the Benin Republic we also have farms in Sande where we normally farm crops such as maize, dry pepper, rice, guinea corn, and others, while foreigners also farm in Lolo and also come to the market. But now all has been blocked due to the decision to close the borders.
“Three days ago, they met with the security agents attached to the border to even allow them to farm because we are in the dry season farming period but they refused. So, things are not okay for them at all,” he said.
When approached for comments, the border joint security operatives said they were not allowed to talk to the press, stressing that all they knew was that they were there to do their job.
Meanwhile, The Guardian investigations revealed that the smuggling of food items, especially rice, was still obtainable in border communities in the state but in a smaller scale. The smugglers use commercial motorcyclists who understand the landscape of the communities to perpetrate their act but operatives of the joint security agents are also not resting on their oars. Although the security operatives refused to speak on the matter, it was learned that many of the motorcyclists had been nabbed and both their motorcycles and the smuggled items seized.
Further findings showed that a bag of foreign rice in the state now sells for N15,000 as against N11,000 before the borders were closed, an indication that residents were bearing the brunt of the closed borders in spite of the activities of smugglers.