– Senators split over presidential action – Africa’s free trade stumbles
THE shock waves over Nigeria’s land border closure which continues to sweep across neighbouring countries, reverberated at the Senate on Wednesday.
President Muhammadu Buhari last month ordered the border closure.
Some senators criticised the decision on the grounds that it has further put pressure on the economy and deprived many Nigerians of their livelihood.
Senate Minority Leader Enyinnaya Abaribe, Senators Abba Moro, Gabriel Suswan and Sani Musa, among others, opposed the border closure.
Moro, a former minister of interior, noted that there are 87 official borders and 1,900 unofficial borders around the country. Suswan wondered why Nigeria signed trade agreements with other countries and thereafter closed its borders.
Abaribe said the implication of borders closure was that the Nigerian Customs Service, the Nigeria Immigration Service, National Boundary Commission, and the various military and security agencies failed in their responsibilities.
He urged the government to open discussions with neighbouring countries to control the movement of unauthorised persons in and out of the country.
He said most people who are smuggling banned products, especially rice, are using commercial motorcycles to bring the products through illegal routes.
Abaribe said the continued closure of the borders would further put serious pressure and suffering on the nation.
But after a heated debate of the motion titled: “The impact of border closure on the Nigerian economy,” sponsored by Senator Adamu Aliero and eight others, the Senate resolved to support President Buhari’s decision.
Senate President Ahmad Lawan noted that the motion was simply on the urgent need save the nation’s economy and save the people.
Lawan said: “I think this motion is supposed to be straight forward. We save our economy and save our people. Smuggling causes a lot of damage.
“Our people eat the wrong food items that are smuggled into the country. Of course, security is part of it. So, we pray that the resolutions will be well adhered to and, of course, implemented by the executive arm of government.”
Adopting the prayers of the motion, which were put to a voice vote by Lawan, the Senate urged the ministries of Foreign Affairs and Interior to increase diplomatic outreach to the government of the Republic of Benin, Cameroun, Niger and Chad to take urgent measures to stop their domains from being used as base to perpetuate the illegal importation of unwanted goods into Nigeria.
The Senate also enjoined the Nigeria Customs Service and the security services to intensify their role of curbing smuggling across the borders and pledged the support for their “onerous task of ridding Nigeria of smuggled goods and services.
The Senate reassured “friendly countries around the world that the border closure should not be perceived as a punitive measure targeted at them, but a necessary action to save our economy from collapse and protect our people from terrorism and insecurity.”
It directed its committees on Customs and Tariffs, Trade and Investment and Interior to assess the effectiveness of temporary closure of borders and recommend necessary sustainable solutions.
The Senate further urged a holistic “review of the country’s border control mechanism and also the empowerment of relevant government agencies to properly delineate Nigerian borders so as to effectively man same.”
The Red Chamber commended President Muhammadu Buhari “on the very patriotic decision to temporarily shut down all our land borders to rectify the deteriorating effect on our country of persistent smuggling of products that negatively affect the Nigerian economy and the wellbeing of our nation.
In his lead debate, Senator Aliero (Kebbi Central District), said apart from the temporary closure of land borders, the security agencies have resolved to secure the country’s territorial integrity against trans-border crime and criminality.
He urged the Senate to note that, as a result of the situation in the border towns, the Nigerian economy is experiencing a lot of positive derivatives that is impacting on the country.
The senator said: “For instance, fuel smuggling has significantly reduced, thereby saving the country billions of scarce foreign exchange spent by Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation to import fuel into Nigeria.
“The Group Managing Director of NNPC, during a press conference recently, stated that smugglers are no longer finding it easy to smuggle petroleum products through the land borders. Consequently, petroleum products have become readily available in every part of the country.
“The smuggling of textile and vegetable oil imported from Malaysia through the land borders, which has negatively affected local production, is equally grounded to a halt.
“The good news of the Federal Government’s action is that it has led to the revival of local production of vegetable oil, and increased employment generation.”
He noted that other products like rice, processed frozen chicken, tomato puree and tomato paste, frozen fish and sugar that come into Nigeria through Benin Republic and Cameroonian borders have also stopped.
“It has made it impossible for smugglers of small and light weapons to bring them into the country. This has reduced supply of arms and ammunitions to bandits and insurgents,” he said.
Aliero also called on the Senate to be aware that the manufacturing sector has “suddenly breathed a sigh of relief from the ongoing economic boost resulting in factories coming back to produce items like tomato puree, milk, chicken, fish and even toothpicks directly.
As a result of the border closure, it is clear that the economy is moving up positively.”
He said that deteriorating security situation in the country has slowed down, “particularly because arms smuggling through the borders and foreign fighters coming to boost the insurgency of Boko Haram and their Islamic State of West Africa (ISWA) collaborators has been jolted.”
Senators Bala Ibn Na’Allah, Emmanuel Bwacha and others supported the border closure.