Photograph — The Guardian

The Nigerian government has resorted to closing its land borders to all movement of goods in a bid to curb smuggling. The announcement was made on Monday by the controller general of the Nigerian Customs Service, Hammed Ali, in Abuja.

With no stated timeline for reopening them, all goods are banned from being exported or imported through the borders for now. These include goods that have often been exchanged legally.

Ali’s announcement is the first official confirmation of a total shutdown in trade across land borders in Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy. This is to ensure that the customs service has total control over what comes into the country.

Prior to this announcement, the president unexpectedly closed Nigeria’s borders to imported goods in August declaring the time had come to end rampant smuggling across the porous frontiers.

Despite the land border closure, it would still be possible for goods to cross at points equipped with special scanners. But authorities did not say where those locations were, according to Reuters

All imports are expected to come through the country’s ports where they can be monitored more easily and generate much-needed revenue. 

Ali added that the exercise would be sustained until the neighbouring countries duly comply with the ECOWAS protocols on the transit of goods. The NCS boss also said that diplomatic engagement was ongoing to ensure the cooperation of neighbouring countries

There is no given timeline for a relaxation of the controls as strategies on how best the goods can be handled are being put in place. 

Is the border closure a wrong move?

Although the closure does not affect Nigeria’s oil exportation, which is conducted almost entirely through the nation’s ports and offshore oil platforms, it would most likely affect the economy in terms of inflation, especially in food prices.

Nigeria relies heavily on imports to feed its booming population of 190 million. Traders and consumers will be largely affected and this would consequently lead to an increased cost of living for Nigerians. 

Food items such as rice, tomatoes, poultry, and sugar are bound to become more expensive for consumers. While it was illegal to bring these items into the country via land borders even before the border closure, they had often been smuggled.

Moreover, the closure has cast a shadow over a historic free-trade agreement as unilateral border closures go against all commercial and freedom of movement treaties signed under the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

In trying to articulate the solution to the smuggling issue at Nigerian borders, simply closing the border does not address the problem. There are issues to be considered in finding a solution to the preponderance of the smuggling of goods.

Although legal exports are expected to continue via seaports, Nigeria’s congested terminals, dilapidated road, and rail networks will make it difficult to quickly change import and export routes. 

Written by Faith Ikade.

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