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Buhari approves extension of border closure, gives fresh date

Nigerians clamouring for the reopening of the nation’s borders with neighbouring countries may have to wait longer to realise their dream as President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday approved a policy extension to keep the corridors shut until the objectives of the policy are achieved.

This came as the Nigeria Customs Service on Sunday clarified that the memo which gave January 31, 2020 as possible date for reopening of land borders simply referred to the end of the joint security operation called Ex Swift Response, as the country's  land frontiers will remain shut until the objectives of the policy are achieved.

Customs Spokesman, Joseph Attah, said the internal memo is referring to the end of this phase of the joint security Ex Swift Response and not a terminal date for the partial border closure. “Security operation of this kind is usually in phases.

“The partial border closure will continue until the set objectives are achieved,” the statement said.

Earlier a presidential directive announced on Sunday, November 3, 2019, in a memo, which Victor Dimka,  Deputy Comptroller of Customs in charge of Enforcement, Investigation and Inspectorate conveyed to sector Coordinators had given January 31 as the terminal date for the closure

The memo with reference number NCS/ENF/ABJ/221/S.45, marked “Restricted” and dated November 1, 2019, read in part, “I am directed to inform you that it is observed that despite the overwhelming success of the operation, particularly the security and economic benefits to the nation, a few strategic objectives are yet to be achieved. Against this background, Mr President has approved the extension of the exercise to January 31, 2020…

Nationnewslead learnt from a reliable source that the extended period announced by Federal Government through NCS does not signal the end of the operation but only serves for the first phase of the exercise.

Nigeria’s four major borders in the North-West, North-Central, South- West, and South-South geopolitical zones were closed on August 21, 2019 in a bid to stem criminal activities including smuggling and enhance the economy, a move that has generated mixed reactions.

Government had deployed Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) and the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), in collaboration with the Armed Forces of Nigeria (AFN) as well as the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), other security and intelligence agencies on a joint border security exercise, codenamed “EX-SWIFT RESPONSE”.

The joint exercise is being coordinated by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) and taking place simultaneously in 4 geopolitical zones, namely; South-South, South-West, North-Central and North-West.

But since the closure of the borders, businesses around these four corridors, especially Seme and Idiroko borders have been paralysed as the two busiest borders now record low patronage.

The exercise has also jerked up prices of staple food items like rice, yam, tomato, pepper, fish, meat, frozen chickens, garri and others by over 65 per cent. Though, the Federal Government claims the policy has reduced smuggling drastically, and forcing Nigerians to patronise locally made rice and other food items, stakeholders are worried it is imposing more hardship on poor citizens.

According to the Comptroller General of Custom Col Hameed Ali (retd) disgoods worth N1.4 billion have been seized since the Service and the other security agencies partially closed the land borders on August 20.

The operation has also led to the deportation of some Pakistanis and South Koreans, just  as 146 illegal immigrants have been arrested because their presence in the country is inimical to its socio-economic well being.

Only recently, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, stated that the nation’s borders would remain closed until its neighbours meet the conditions for their reopening.

The CBN governor said since the closure of the borders rice and poultry farmers who before now could not sell their products due to smuggling and dumping are now smiling to the bank.

Emefiele said: “You will all recall that in November 2015 President Muhammadu Buhari, the Central Bank and some state governors went to Kebbi State to launch the Wet Season Rice Farming. Since then, we have seen an astronomical growth in the number of farmers who have been going into rice farming and our paddy production has gone up also quite exponentially.”

His position was in synch with the position held by the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, who told a new conference at the recently concluded IMF/World Bank Annual Meetings in Washington DC that the closure was to force the neighbours to commit to honouring bilateral agreements which they have failed to implement over time

Meanwhile some Nigerian experts have described Buhari’s extension of the border closure as a terrible economic decision capable of killing small and medium enterprises that rely on trans-border transactions to survive.

They insist the move also hurts the spirit of regional trade and urged the government to look for ways to improve border security instead of a total shutdown.

Prof Stephen Onyeiwu, Chair of the Economics Department, Allegheny College said the border closure in the first instance was an implicit admission of the failure of Customs and Immigrations to adequately police the land borders.

According to him, thousands of Nigerians, especially women, engage in buying and selling of consumer goods around the border areas. “They buy at low prices in one country and sell at higher prices in another.

Also commenting on the development, Dr Nnaemeka Obiaraeri described  the border closure one of the crudest and most retrogressive decisions and actions of the Buhari government in recent times.

Mansur Ahmed, an executive director at Dangote Group and President, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) at a recent interview said he appreciates the need to shut the land borders as a first step to checking the hemorrhaging effects of dumping.

He, however, warned that the operation should be short-lived as SMEs will be worse off for it if it lingers unending.

Meanwhile, Market Leaders and Traders Association of Nigeria, Lagos Chapter has bemoaned the closure of the borders, pleading with the Federal Government to reopen the borders as it is destroying businesses  affected.

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