The desire to save the manufacturing sector and international community’s pressure influenced President Muhammadu Buhari to end the closure of the country’s land borders, it was learnt at the weekend.
Besides, the continued closure of the borders negated the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS)
The AfCTA treaty is expected to come into effect from January 1, and Nigeria is part of the execution of the continental agreement.
Sources said there was high inventory of unsold manufactured goods, especially those with market base and significant presence in West Africa.
It was also learnt that the closure of the borders for 15 months had increased unemployment, apart from earning the nation poor credit rating.
The President was said to have felt that Nigeria had sent enough signal to its neighbours that it will no longer tolerate criminalities along its borders.
These were contained in a fact-sheet on how President Buhari accepted the advisory of a Presidential Committee headed by Finance, Budget and National Planning Minister Hajiya Zainab Ahmed.
A member of the committee, Minister of Interior Rauf Aregnesola, said at the weekend in Ilesa, Osun State, that border reopening is not about movement of people alone, but the movement of goods and services originating from West Africa for trading.
“Nigeria is a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The essence of the sub-regional organisation and the key factor is the free movement of people, goods and services. The passport we are carrying is ECOWAS passport, not even Nigerian passport. What that means is that as a Nigerian, we are ECOWAS citizens. Border reopening is not only about movement. Movement is natural, which must be documented.
“With border closure, we stopped the movement of people, goods and services produced around West Africa. Now that we have reopened four borders, we have deployed a technology called Migration Information Data Analysis System, (MINDARS). With this technology, we 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, photograph, name and other details in a central database. Nobody can now be anonymous through our border posts,” Aregbesola said.
According to him, all banned goods remain banned, despite the reopening of the borders.
He listed poultry, rice and other contrabands such as psychotropic drugs, arms and ammunition, money laundering as the affected items.
Nigeria shut its borders on August 20, last year.
Last week, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved the immediate reopening of four – Seme (Southwest), Illela (Northest), Maigatari (Northwest/Northeast) and Mfum (Southsouth).
The others are to reopen on or before December 31,
A top source, who spoke in confidence, said the President accepted the recommendation of the inter-ministerial committee to save the private sector from collapse.
The source said: “The President’s realisation that ordinary Nigerians and the private sector were taking the brunt of the border closure caused him to rethink the decision.
“According to the report of a presidential committee which recommended the reopening of the border, one of the significant issues that stood out in the summary of the committee’s findings and recommendations include the negative impact of the border closure on the private sector.
“The report noted, among other things, that the continued closure had negatively impacted some private sector businesses in Nigeria.
“Other fresh facts that emerged from the report on why the Federal Government reopened the borders included the very high inventory of unsold finished manufactured goods, especially those with market base and significant presence in West Africa, which ultimately led to unemployment and poor credit rating.”
The source quoted the committee’s report as saying: “Despite the significant benefits of the partial border closure in helping to curb the activities of smugglers, irregular migrants and other forms of criminality, among other benefits; the committee’s findings revealed that the policy was potentially detrimental to Nigeria’s overall immediate and long term economic, security, diplomatic and social interests.”
The source also identified the need to honour international agreements as one of reasons.
“The committee also stated that the prolonged border closure had indirectly limited Nigeria’s market, especially as the country is regarded as the most industrialised country in the ECOWAS region and a leading member of the ETLS.
“Its report then added that the border closure affected Nigeria’s capacity to strengthen the workforce of relevant government security agencies with modern facilities (surveillance cameras, drones); as well as funding for training, to effectively monitor the entry and exit points in the event of a Joint Border Operation.”
Despite the issues raised by the committee, the report claimed the partial closure had some benefits.
The source claimed the report indicated as follows: “It significantly reduced the prevalence of illegalities around the borders and positively impacted such key sectors of the Nigerian economy like oil and gas, agriculture, industry, etc.”
It said: “The committee further recommended that with the reopening of the borders, appropriate border management and control measures are put in place to curb smuggling and other criminal activities perpetuated through illegal unmanned routes.
“It said these measures would also check possible abuse of the efforts of government towards enhancing its economic interests and national security.”
The Federal Government shut the borders citing the need to reduce smuggling activities, armed banditry, human trafficking, irregular migration, proliferation of small arms and light weapons, and other trans-border crimes.
The reopening was greeted with excitement, because of the restoration of economic activities.
However, the source warned “it’s not going to be business as usual regarding some of the criminal activities, which the President wants to ensure are effectively curtailed.”