Importers and clearing agents operating at the nation’s land borders have condemned the federal government for shutting down the borders for two years.
Recounting their experience to LEADERSHIP, they said that the border closure led to nothing beneficial to the economy, instead it brought hardship and suffering to them, the agents, importers and traders at the border communities.
LEADERSHIP reports that the federal government last Friday approved the re-opening of Idiroko, Jibiya, Kamba and Ikom borders. Also, in 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari announced the re-opening of Seme, Illela, Maigatari and Mfun borders.
The borders were shut in 2019 by the president to protect Nigerian farmers and combat the smuggling of foreign parboiled rice, frozen poultry and vehicles.
However, stakeholders in the maritime sector have bemoaned the shutting of the nation’s land borders, saying the nation lost everything and gained nothing from the border closure.
An importer, Gideon Pedro Aremu, said the border closure did not really achieve anything for the government except the hardship, losses, and suffering it brought upon the traders and the entire border communities.
According to him, importers and exporters around the borders lost no less than N4.3 trillion while over 1,450 small businesses have closed shop due to the closure of the borders between 2019 and 2022
“I am an importer and I have been doing business around Nigerian borders for about four decades now. I do business around all these borders and I know how things work when it comes to transacting business.
“Within the period the borders were shut, a lot of importers went bankrupt, as most of them could not pay back the loans they collected from the bank.
“When I said we lost N4.3trillion, I know what I’m saying. I’m not exaggerating at all. The N4.3 trillion was not even part of the revenue that Customs commands around these borders were losing annually. You can see the negative effects of the border closure. We advised the government on the adverse effects but they wouldn’t listen. It was a wrong decision and a bad one for that matter on the part of the government,” Aremu said.
On his part, the chairman of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Idiroko border, Elder Abel Ayokunle said, “What we went through in the last three years of the border closure was just like when you arrest a criminal and put in detention and he has nobody to cry to and nothing to be done until when God intervenes.
“It has been a bad experience for the communities and the inhabitants of the area. You know they live together with the French people, which means you can easily run down to the other side and buy things, but this time around everywhere was totally locked down. We couldn’t do anything. So we have been in prison for many years,” he said.
According to him, it is a good thing for the government to reopen the border as the closure had rendered the economy and business activities useless.
“People can’t even trade. Even when you go to Lagos to buy things and you are bringing it to Idiroko, you will be arrested, molested, and subjected to serious harassment on the road by the law enforcement agents from Owode to Idiroko which is around 36 kilometres and you will pay for what you bought in Nigeria.
The area has become another republic. It was a bad experience. It is now we have gained a little freedom because these men are still on the road extorting people. The security agencies should be dismantled and the road will go back to its normal level where we have only Customs, maybe in three places.”
On his part, chairman, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Idiroko Border, Uche Nwabude, said when the borders were shut, so many people went through lots of hardship, adding that now that the borders have been opened, it would bring succour and relief to people.
He said the Idiroko was officially reopened on Monday and business activities are yet to pick up, but after the long holidays, it is expected to pick up and business activities will begin.
According to the national president, National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Lucky Amiwero, shutting the border is a primitive way of securing the country, with many businessmen losing huge amounts to the border closure.
Amiwero stated that other West Africa countries will be wary of doing business with Nigeria due to its antecedent in trade decisions.
He said, “We achieved nothing, our closing the border didn’t achieve anything. Before closing the border, how much was rice? Now, is it cheaper? Closing the border is not the best for anything because the border is not supposed to be closed for anything.
“Where in the world do you see people closing their borders? unless there is a coup or emergency and nothing like happened to us, but what we have is smuggling and what we are supposed to do to change the whole system is what we call mutual administrative assistance. This is a convention on Customs matters and that convention helps to tackle border crimes. We have two of these in Customs and the third one is universal and we should have gone into mutual agreement with Chad, Niger and Benin Republic.
“The convention is what America is operating as they are not closing any borders. If I may ask, who is closing borders at this time? it’s a primitive way of operating as you don’t need to close your borders. We have the ECOWAS treaty and there is ETLS goods, but we just closed the whole thing and it won’t give us credibility as a nation and the trust to deal with us. Government should tell us what they gained during the border closure,” he said.
Also weighing in on the matter, the national president, National Association of Freight Forwarders and Air Consolidators (NAFFAC), Prince Adeyinka Bakare, maintained that the government should equip the land borders with technology to curb smuggling.
According to him, there are lots of illegal routes where contrabands still find their way into the country.
He said, “We have lots of unapproved entry and exit points, and what is the personnel of the security agencies? What is their capacity to police the borders and the unapproved routes that we have? I want to believe the government had a reason for closing the borders but they haven’t told us what the reasons were, and I think it’s for them to tell us the benefit from the border closure.
“We can’t complain or analyse the gains or losses when we don’t have the reasons for closing the borders and I know one of the major reasons is for security reasons. And probably nothing serious has changed as far as the security is concerned and probably they have seen that insecurity goes beyond border closure.
He asserted that smuggling will reduce only when the border stations are well equipped and there is equipment to track smuggling, adding that anyone involved in smuggling will not go through the borders, but unapproved routes, and until that is checked smuggling will continue.