N5bilSixteen months after, exporters and importers said that the border closure had brought more hardship and grief to them rather than the succour it supposed to provide, BAYO AKOMOLAFE reports
The closure of Nigeria’s borders undertaken in August, 2019, to strengthen the nation’s security and protect its economy from collapse through the joint border security exercise codenamed “Ex-Swift Response has brought anguish, debts and losses to manufacturers, exporters and importers. The “Ex-Swift Response, which included the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Nigerian Army, Police Force (NPF), Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) and other intelligence agencies were asked to prevent illegal goods from entering the borders through the North-West, North-Central, South-West, and South-South geopolitical zones of the country. Last year, government had complained that a lot of things had gone wrong regarding compliance with transit of goods coming into the country, noting that the idea of border closure was to ensure that the protocol involved in transit of goods is adhered to by each country. However, when four of the borders at the Seme, Ilela, Maigatar and Mfon were opened last week by President Muhammadu Buhari, there were mixed reactions when some stakeholders explained that it would boost trans-shipment of imports and exports within the West African region, while others said that the closure of the borders had affected the country’s economy negatively.
For instance, the organised private sector (OPS) said that some manufacturing companies had closed down their factories, while others have relocated from Nigeria to other West African countries.
They said that the closure of the borders had brought misfortune to their businesses, noting that the poor policy had made them to lose business to their competitors within the region. Recounting the damage, the National President of the Association of Micro-Entrepreneurs of Nigeria (AMEN), Comrade Saviour Iche, said that the companies moved to other countries because of the negative impact the border closure to their businesses. Similarly, the President of Local Manufacturers and Exporters under the auspice of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria Export Promotion Group (MANEG), Chief Ede Dafinone, added that one week after the opening of Seme border, goods were still trapped at the border, having paid over N5billion as duty to Customs before the goods were detained last year. However, an official of the NCS, who spoke anonymously with New Telegraph on the telephone, said that no agency of government had received directive formally from the government to commence business activities. He said: “There is a procedure; we can just commence business like that. Formal directive must come from our head office. We are ever ready to work whenever we received directive.” Nevertheless, Dafinone said that the government’s position on border closure was a disaster to MANEG members, who were exporting across the borders. He explained that some firms had been given contracts and paid in advance to deliver goods but they could not supply till date because of the closure. Another member of the association and representative of Aarti Steel (Nigeria) Limited, Imokhai Ehimigbai, stressed that some Nigerian trader took loans from banks to import since last year but up till now they could not pay back the loan. He noted: “We are losing money daily. We don’t have contraband goods our goods. We have goods like electronics, battery and some of the owners of these goods have died. We have lost over four or five members since this crisis. The loan is there and interest is accumulating on a daily basis.” Regardless of the losses, the Nigerian Association of Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines, and Agriculture (NACCIMA) has lauded the Federal Government, saying it would go a long way to escape recession.
Its National President, Hajiya Saratu Aliyu, noted that the border reopening was a crucial move to enable Nigeria to escape recession by first quarter of 2021. Before now, Aliyu noted that the association had been calling on the government to reopen the land borders because of the negative effect it would have on the economy. She explained: “The decision by the Federal Government to reopen four of our land borders at Ilela, Maitagari, Seme and Mfum, with immediate effect is a most welcome development and one of the important strategic moves, in our quest to exit recession in first quarter of 2021.” Aliyu maintained that the reopening will help the country retain its position as a major economic player in the West African sub-region, adding that the decision shows the country’s readiness to trade under African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). She added: “It is a positive decision because trade across our land borders is an important component of our cross border trade which can help boost operations of our small and medium enterprises (SMEs) engaged in export of non-oil products through the land borders.This move is also a welcome strategic move in context of our ratification of the AfCFTA. Because it is a clear signal of our readiness to effectively trade under the agreement.”
There is need by the government to assist manufacturers and other exporters through intervention fund in order to boost their businesses and the nation’s economy.