Despite President Muhammadu Buhari’s order that the country’s land borders be reopened for businesses, the Federal Government has insisted that the ban on importation of poultry products, rice and other agric products remains in force, just as Nigerian farmers have commended government for the decision. TAIWO HASSAN reports
The much talked about land border reopening by the Federal Government has finally come into play with priority still given to the protection of the country’s agric sector.
In fact, local farmers under the auspice of All Farmers of Nigeria (AFAN) were afraid of possible outcome of the announcement over the possibility of flooding the borders with all manner of products, mostly agro-allied commodities such as rice and poultry.
It will be recalled that President Buhari, in August 2019, ordered the closure of all land borders in the country over spate of illegalities, including smuggling of banned items.
The banned items At a recent Federal Executive Council (FEC)’s meeting in Abuja, presided over by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, the Presidency restated that there was still a ban on the importation of poultry, rice and other products along the four land borders that were ordered reopened – Seme in Southwest, Illela in Sokoto State, Maigatari in Northwest and Mfun in the South South.
The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, while confirming this to journalists, explained that the ban on the agro-allied products remained in force.
Ahmed said: “The ban on the importation of rice, poultry and other banned products still subsists and will be implemented by the border patrol team.” The Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Niyi Adebayo, also stressed that the problem of smuggling would be tackled effectively after this ban.
“The issue of smuggling of rice to the country has reduced drastically. We are hoping that our agencies will be able to sustain that, so also is the issue of poultry smuggling. “Also, very important is the issue of importation of small arms and weapons into the country that also has stopped,” Adebayo said.
Also, the Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, said that despite the reopening of borders, the importation of rice and other items remained banned.
He said with the deployment of technology in some of Nigeria’s borders, no one would enter the country with a hidden identity.
Aregbesola explained that the need for proper documentation of movement in and out of the country led to the deployment of technology at the borders. He said: “We have deployed technology, which is called MINDARS – Migration Information
Data Analysis System in the four borders we reopened. “MINDARS will register whoever passes, either a Nigerian or non-Nigerian, across our borders and once you have registered, it is for life. It will take biometric, photographs, names and other details in a central database. Nobody can now be anonymous through our border posts.”
He added that the reopening was for movement of people, goods and services originating from the region of West Africa for trading purposes. “Items that we banned are foreign items.
Parboiled rice is only eaten in Nigeria in the entire West Africa. “The border reopening does not in any way affect the banned items like poultry, rice and other contraband such as psychotropic drugs, arms and ammunition, money laundering and others.”
National President, AFAN, Kabir Ibrahim, explained that the reopening of the land borders was a welcome development for the country’s economy.
According to him, “the closure of the borders became necessary when our neighbors failed to protect us as good neighbors should. It was almost a deliberate attempt to pauperise our country in collusion with some unscrupulous Nigerians who freely smuggled banned goods or refused to pay duty on imported items.
“The length of time it has taken the Customs to block the leakages is the reason for prolonging the closure, which is beginning to have negative effects as against the envisaged protection. In a way, the closure helped us in making food available because it was not allowed out as obtained in the porous open borders.
“As time progresses and our production and processing take hold, it is in our larger interest for the reopening of the borders to be able to participate in AfCFTA.”
On whether Nigerian farmers were happy, Ibrahim said: “The farmers were very happy with the initial closure of the border because they got value for their produce. But with the reopening of the borders, we are excited and happy since key agric commodities are still banned from coming in.”
On border closure losses, he noted: “It maybe very difficult to put figures and authentic details on the gains from the closure of our borders, but it will be valid to say that some gains were indeed made.”
The Registrar and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigeria Institute of Animal Science (NIAS), Prof. Eustace Iyayi, stated that land border closure with neighbouring countries saved the poultry industry in Nigeria about N50 billion since its commencement. He commended government for continued enforcement of ban on agro-allied products, saying that Nigeria had huge comparative advantages.
With the land borders reopened for businesses, all eyes are now on Nigeria Customs Service and other security agencies to check the influx of smuggled agro-allied products into the country via the four borders.