Nigeria’s neighbour to the west, Benin Republic, is grappling with economic costs from the border closure by President Muhammadu Buhari. Several businesses, mostly in the agriculture and transport sectors, have been hit hard by the blockade.
The Nigerian leader on August 19 shut the frontiers with both Benin and Niger, in a bid to end rampant smuggling activities across the border. The president blamed the smuggling on the ‘supposed’ failure of both trade partners to guard their borders properly.
Smuggling is chronic across Nigeria’s porous borders, and in the case of Benin, it goes in both directions. Large quantities of frozen chickens, rice, fabric, and cars are often illegally routed to Nigeria after being taxed locally at the port of Cotonou, Benin’s economic capital.
In Benin, where there are few functioning petrol stations and fuel is expensive, Nigerian petrol is smuggled in and sold in jerry cans by roadsides. This is because Nigeria’s fuel, which is government-subsidized, is way cheaper than Benin’s.
According to reports, casualties from the trade tension, which has been on for over a month now, impact both countries. Nigerian consumers have been affected by the border closure with notable increases in the prices of basic food items such as rice, frozen foods.
But in Benin, a country that is ranked among the poorest globally and heavily reliant on trade with Nigeria – Africa’s biggest economy with a market of nearly 200 million people – the effect on traders has been devastating.
On a visit to markets in Grand Popo, one of the main agricultural communities of southern Benin, the country’s Agriculture Minister Gaston Dossouhoui branded the situation of things as ‘distressing’ and a ‘disaster,’ adding that it is very difficult for producers.
Head of Benin’s Chamber of Agriculture, Adjeoda Amoussou, was quoted as saying that the country’s small producers are “underwater” financially. “They’ve already had to run up millions (of CFA francs) in debt,” the official said.
The transport sector in Benin has also been hit due to the shortage of cheap Nigerian fuel after the boundary was closed. Reports show that a litre of imported contraband fuel has risen by about one euro ($1.10) since the border was closed, making it barely worth the effort for taxi and truck drivers to hit the road.
Despite the economic costs of the unilateral border closure and expert concerns that it goes against commercial and freedom of movement treaties signed under economic blocs as well as the newly-launched continental free trade agreement, the Nigerian government is unrelenting in its stance.
“The borders will remain closed until our neighbours control what goes through the borders and comply with the laws,” warned Hameed Ali, Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service.