Nigeria’s border closings can stem the tide of …

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari lamented an increase in smuggling since the partial reopening of the country’s borders. (Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool / Getty Images)

The continued cross-border smuggling raises questions about the effectiveness of the strategy and the real reasons for it.

First publication of Eat today

In August 2019 in Nigeria closed The country borders on neighboring Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger. While people were allowed to pass, the movement of goods was blocked.

The aim, according to Nigerian officials, is to curb the smuggling of goods, especially rice. However, the phenomenon has not stopped since the closure, raising questions about the effectiveness of the measure and the real reasons for the decision.

A February 2020 To meet The finance and trade ministers appointed by the Economic Community of West African States, who brought together Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Niger, Nigeria and Togo, have not resolved the situation.

A map of Nigeria and the surrounding West African nations. (Graphic: Supplied by ISS Today)

Nigeria announced a partial reopening of its land borders on December 16, 2020 and has only allowed light vehicles and pedestrians to pass through since January. Benin and Nigeria’s leaders take the issue to a higher level met in Abuja in January but the position remained unchanged. A bilateral meeting between Ghana and Nigeria on Sidelines the investment summit between Great Britain and Africa in January 2020 could not change Nigeria’s position either.

At the Abuja meeting, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari lamented an increase in smuggling since the partial reopening. His Beninese counterpart, Patrice Talon, suggested that Nigerian police and customs officers be stationed in the autonomous port of Cotonou in Benin to control exports to Nigeria. The two countries agreed to set up a working group to monitor the implementation of the Talon proposal, which could take place by June 2021.

The shutter calls memories the same measure imposed in 1984 by the then military ruler Buhari. The preference for protectionist economic policies is highlighted in order to stimulate growth and reduce unemployment.

Diplomats interviewed by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) attributed the 2019 closure to Nigeria’s concerns about the short-term effects of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). approval. The country ratified the trade agreement very late, in December 2020, just a month before it came into force in January 2021.

Nigeria expected the deal to further open its largest market in West Africa to outside companies, including those in neighboring countries. Industrial production of rice and corn in Nigeria is disorganized and weak, raising concerns that the AfCFTA would allow other suppliers to penetrate much of the Nigerian and regional markets. The free trade area does not provide a mechanism to regulate the informal cross-border trade that smugglers often exploit.

A short-term measure had to be taken to prevent local industrial companies from losing to external competitors. Nigeria apparently expected the closure to strengthen its industries and position them for export to West Africa.

Trade officials interviewed by the ISS said the closure likely opened up new smuggling routes as illegal traders are determined to move their goods across borders. However, they acknowledged that products – including rice – were likely smuggled in smaller shipments due to the difficulty of driving heavy trucks on alternative routes. Informal trade via unauthorized routes has been a longstanding economic practice in local communities.

The porosity of the Benin-Nigeria border, with numerous informal routes inaccessible to customs and immigration officials on either side, allows individuals and networks to smuggle goods without detection. The border is over 780 km long and often runs through dense forests and rivers that provide shelter for smugglers.

ISS investigations reveal cases of goods smuggled from Benin to Nigeria on unauthorized routes at night. Local communities, taxi and motorcyclists, small boats and border officials support the illegal trade. Smugglers pay the officers out based on the size of the shipments and the help they provide.

Many of the movements take place around the Okpara River and forest areas in the Borgou department of Benin, in the lagoon from Porto-Novo in Benin to Badagry in Nigeria and in the swampy areas in the Benin department of Ouémé.

The deep socio-economic ties between the communities on both sides of the border, especially Bariba, Fulani, Egun, Haoussa and Yoruba / Nago, allow smugglers to cross easily. They are supported by family relationships that blur nationalities.

Border communities also face major governance and development problems. The absence or weakness of the state and lack of economic opportunity make smuggling a useful source of livelihood.

Differences in financial policy, commodity prices and product preference also support smuggling in the region. Some products such as rice, oil and noodles are overwhelmed in Nigeria compared to Benin and Togo. These items are imported into Benin and Togo at lower tax rates and then smuggled into Nigeria for sale.

Nigerians too prefer get certain products from Benin, where they cost less, such as B. Dutch wax brand fabrics and used vehicles. And customs clearance processes are easier in Benin than in Nigeria, where the procedures are cumbersome and time-consuming.

Instead of closing borders, Nigeria and its neighbors should invest in better border security and surveillance, and ensure the development and enhancement of border communities that rely on smuggling for livelihoods. This requires agreements between the countries concerned to invest in rural development, improve border security and exchange of information, fight corruption among border guards and correct economic policies that enable smuggling. DM

Sampson Kwarkye, Senior Researcher, and Michaël Matongbada, Research Officer, ISS Regional Office for West Africa, the Sahel and Lake Chad.


Sampson Kwarkye and Michaël Matongbada

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