‘Though we’re affected, our national interest comes first’
Citizens of Nigeria and neighbouring Benin Republic have continued to express mixed feelings over the decision of the federal government to close its major land borders some months ago in its quests to curtail smuggling and dumping of products in the country, leading to collapse of some businesses, food scarcity and business cutback.
Even commercial transport companies that operate on the routes across border are not finding it easy, as travels have drastically reduced. Reacting to the situation, president of Market Leaders Association of Nigeria, Charles Obih, a spare parts dealer, said: “Government should always dialogue with the trading community before enacting its laws on things that concern the traders.
“I don’t think we have poultry farms with the capacity to provide turkey and chicken to feed the entire Nigeria and we are a country of over 200 million in population.”Obih, who lamented that the border closure came to them as a surprise, saying: “Government just closed the borders against the importation of those items without making provisions for alternatives. I sell spare parts and we buy from developed countries, but citizens of neighbouring countries come to buy from us here in Nigeria.
“Since the closure, our sales have dropped drastically, as customers don’t come anymore. Government should have a rethink and open the borders for businesses to strive. That is the only way to boost our economy as a country.” On his part, Gerard Achiaa, a trader in Ghana, said Nigeria is the giant of Africa on which other countries largely depends.
“It is expected of Nigeria to nurture others to grow, not making life difficult for citizens from neighbouring countries.” Professor Aka John, president of Nigerian lecturers in Benin Republic and Founder of Ecole Superieure St Louis D’Afrique (St. Louis African University), who also spoke to The Guardian, stated: “Regarding border closer between Nigeria and Republic of Benin, one may begin to look at the implications from so many angles, but the political economy angle explains it all. Nigeria, no doubt, remains a sub-regional power in West African and she is not ready to be taken for granted by smaller countries.”
He noted that the era when Africa was seen as the centerpiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy is gone, adding that as a country, Nigeria must begin to consider the interest of an average citizen in Nigeria, which translates to national interest, noting: “The Nigerian government under President Muhammadu Buhari is actually doing the right thing to protect our interest as a nation. It is quite unfortunate that some of us are greatly affected, but it is a sacrifice we must be willing to pay for a greater nation.”
John observed that the situation has greatly affected businesses in Benin Republic, including the educational sector, adding: “There have been series of talks between Nigeria and Benin Republic on the issue of border management, which Benin Republic seems not to take seriously.
“The outcome is what we see now. Businesses in Benin Republic are adversely affected and the country is suffering due to the non-challant attitude of their leaders. The political-economic implications are numerous and obvious, as Benin Republic is considered a dumping ground for all manner of goods from Asia, Latin America and other countries. Unfortunately, these goods end up in Nigeria, killing our local market and endangering the lives of the people.”
He frowned at the rate of smuggling at the borders, including Nigerians who are illegally moving petroleum products to the neighbouring country, noting: “You need to see the rate of smuggling, especially our fuel, to Benin Republic, not minding the danger.
“I have read a couple of publications on the issue, but people are just unnecessarily being biased in their thoughts. Though we are affected in one way or the other, our national interest comes first. As a nation, Benin Republic must be willing and ready to do the needful; we cannot sacrifice our interest for any nation.
“The lesson of South Africa is still fresh; we struggled along with South Africa for their emancipation, but today, Nigerians are being killed anyhow in South Africa. We have learnt our lesson.“We say in International Relations, there is no permanent friend or permanent enemies, the only permanent thing is national interest. Nigeria is not a bully, but things must be done accordingly. That is my submission.”
Dare Ajakaye, Registrar, English Session of Institute University of Benin Republic, said the border closure has negatively effected the turnout of students, as those without valid travel documents aren’t allowed to come into Benin Republic anymore, while those with valid documents pays up to N2, 000 to N3, 000 just to stamp their passports, unlike before when students were allowed to come into Benin Republic with just their school identity cards without having to pay money.
He added: “Students pass this message to their fellow students and as a result, parents held back their children from resuming till the borders are opened again.
“Students who get to the border after 6pm cannot come into Benin Republic due to the 6am to 6pm operation of the border. Most of them sleep at the border. This issue has forced some parents to call back their children home till further notice.”
Meanwhile, the cost of petrol has gone up in Benin Republic, as the country depends on Nigeria for supply.“Since the border closure, the cost of transportation is on the high side, as they cannot smuggle this fuel into Benin Republic easily like before. As transportation fare increases, the cost of moving food items also increased. Things are hard in Benin Republic now. As we speak, cost of living is on the high side.
“Not much business transaction is going on; the little that is on is illegal, as no vehicle or truck can move in and out of Benin Republic to Nigeria and vice versa. Even small cars coming to the border area are being thoroughly checked by officials of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS). It is not funny at all.”
Adebayo Megbodofo, a comedian in Cotonou, expressed dissatisfaction over the border closure, which has led to hardship, saying: “This closure has added to the harsh economy of Benin Republic, as the cost of goods and commodities have shot up. “Reports of manufacturing companies paying their custom duties now because of the closure is still not a reason to overlook the disadvantages and high cost of living the people are experiencing, even in Nigeria.”
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