Nine days ago, Nigerians woke up to news that the busiest land border in Nigeria, Seme was closed. This left several workers and traders who shuttle between Benin Republic and Nigeria stranded at the border. Investigations to find out who gave the directive as well as the reasons proved futile. However, mainstream media sources reported that some of the military officials carrying out the order informed them that it was a presidential directive and may continue for as long as 28 days under an operation named Border Green.
The operation is expected to focus on the prohibition of fraudulent export of petroleum products and fight against the importation through land borders of second-hand vehicles, rice and some other products. As of today, several trucks of major consumer companies remain stuck at the border hoping to move goods into neighbouring regional markets.
Despite the spate of criticisms that have come against the decision, the Rice Processors Association of Nigeria (RIPAN) has come out to back the decision by the government to close the borders. This according to them would save the country about US$400 million spent on smuggling rice into the country. Its common knowledge that a lot of rice consumed in Nigeria are smuggled from Benin Republic with the country seeing a massive inflow of rice importation from Thailand despite its small population.
We believe this move represents another attempt by the Nigerian government to tackle the rising menace of smuggling. From our viewpoint, we have remained critics of Nigeria’s porous borders which we believe aids the smuggling of food and other items whose local capacity, if developed, can produce at a good cost advantage. Thus, any attempt to make our borders less porous would be a step in the right direction.
Nevertheless, we consider the decision to shut the borders for 28 days as not just an inappropriate mechanism to solve our border challenges as this would hurt legal exports and imports going out and coming into the country, but also a temporary solution to an endemic problem. Shutting the borders and reopening after a few days solves nothing. Although policies like the border closure are designed to engineer local industrial capacity development, structural and systemic bottlenecks in Nigeria’s operating environment would continue to hinder adequate investments in local production.
This ultimately would lead to the creation of artificial scarcity, and drive prices of life necessities higher, hurting an already depressed consumer base.