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Nigeria’s Extension Of Border Closure Till January 2020: Implications Of A ‘Rice-less’ Christmas To The Citizenry

The Oasis Reporters

November 4, 2019

I was on the line to an African Shop in Texas recently and was quite taken aback at the number of White Caucasian women and men mingling in the shop, buying packaged ‘Garri’ ( processed from Cassava, a root crop grown in much of southern and Middle belt parts of Nigeria but is often a staple across Nigeria). There were also cartons of fried plantain chips, exported from Tunde Laniran farms in the African shop, on sale there. And of course in many other shops from coast to coast in the United States.

It signified one thing, the universality of food. Therefore if Whites and Asians consume our Nigerian staple by paying hard currency for them, what really is wrong in us buying what they also grow ?
If other foreign countries were to react in a similar fashion, how would that augur well for the Nigerian exporters and the economy ?

Therefore when the news broke that the Federal Government has extended the duration of the ongoing ‘Exercise Swift Response’ across the nation’s borders till next year, I sighed.

President Muhammadu Buhari approved the extension of the exercise until January 31, 2020.

Nigeria had closed all land borders with neighbouring countries in October, following an earlier closure of its borders with its western neighbour, the Republic of Benin in August.

This was contained in an official memo signed by the Comptroller (Enforcement) of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Mr Victor Dimka.

The memo, dated November 1, 2019 and addressed to the Sector Coordinators of the Joint Border Operation Drill – Sectors 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Dimka noted that the exercise has recorded “overwhelming success,” considering its benefits to the nation’s economy and security.

He, however, said the Customs have observed that a few strategic objectives have yet to be achieved, necessitating the extension.

The memo reads:

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 an extension of the exercise to January 31, 2020.

Consequently, you are requested to convey the development to all personnel for their awareness and guidance.

Meanwhile, allowances for personnel sustenance and fuelling of vehicles for the period of extension will be paid as soon as possible.

This is for your information and necessary action, please.

The exercise is being conducted by the Customs in collaboration with operatives of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) and other security agencies.

In an interview with Channels Television in August, the Comptroller-General of NIS, Mr Muhammad Babandede, had said, “There is no border closure but there was a border drill and there was an announcement from the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA).”

Two days later, President Muhammadu Buhari confirmed that there was a partial closure of Nigeria’s borders with the Benin Republic when he met with the country’s President, Patrice Talon, in Japan.

He attributed the development to the massive smuggling activities that have taken place on that corridor.

President Buhari said Nigeria has saved huge sums of money which would otherwise have been expended on importing rice using the nation’s scarce foreign reserves.

On October 14, the Comptroller General of Customs, Colonel Hameed Ali (rtd), announced that Nigeria has saved N1.4 billion naira since the exercise commenced.

He also revealed that a total of 317 suspected smugglers and 146 illegal migrants were arrested during the period.

The Customs boss was happy that the border closure was yielding the desired results as the nation’s consumption of petroleum products had dropped by 10.2 million litres, ending a report by Channels TV.

Bags of Rice in the booth, checkpoint ahead.

Nigerians have always eaten rice at festive occasions and even take it as a staple diet.
Nigerians witnessed the near absolute blockade placed on Eastern Nigeria especially, this time last year. Every vehicle traveling to the South East was thoroughly searched and rice bags going into the region were confiscated. Customs operatives were suspected to have made quite a kill in certain kinds of inducements and in the possible resale of rice during the festive occasion.

The reality is that Nigeria produces less than half of the amount of rice it consumes, and this is huge for a country of almost 180 million people.

If the problem is with the smuggling through our borders, can’t the government offer the same or better incentives that would make Ports or borders like Cotonou less attractive ?
What’s the big deal really ?

As things stand now, West African countries may be feeling the pinch. That does not mean they cannot hurt the economy of big taxpayers in the country who export goods and services to them.

Greg Abolo

Blogger at The Oasis Reporters.

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