In August 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the closure of Nigeria’s land borders with the neighbouring Benin Republic, to check the indiscriminate smuggling of goods, and to encourage local production of rice and other food crops in the country to ensure food security. On December 16, 2020, Buhari ordered the reopening of the borders shortly after the country was plunged into its worst recession in decades.
While the president’s intent for closing the borders was not much of a generally bad decision – as it aimed to ensure self-sufficiency through local production of food crops, it, however, had some negative impact on the economy.
Not only did the border closure stall bilateral trade with neighbouring countries, denying Nigeria the benefits of free trade, it also led to inflation as the prices of food items, especially rice, skyrocketed while many Nigerians bore the brunt.
The price of a bag of rice, for instance, had more than doubled in price. Businessmen and women also complained about the high cost of import duties that affected supplies due to the border closure.
While experts noted that the ban on the importation of food items that resulted from the closure of the borders was counter-productive as it did not translate into increased food crop production, especially with the growing insecurity which has led to several attacks on farmers in recent times. The measure was also seen as a breach of the protocol on free-trade and the free movement of people, established by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), to which Nigeria belongs as a key player.
On the other hand, the reopening of the border is a welcome development to Nigerians because it will place the country in an economically advantaged position. According to experts, “the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is expected to open up Nigerian businesses to a market of over 1.2 billion people and a GDP of $2.5trillion” in the coming year.
The Federal Government reportedly ratified the AfCFTA agreement on November 12, ahead of the December 5 deadline, issued by the African Union to its 55 member-states. The AfCFTA is expected to commence in January 2021.
On the flip side, there are concerns about the impact the border reopening will have on the country amidst the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic which may warrant a second nationwide lockdown if care is not taken. There are also concerns about the heightened insecurity due to the activities of terrorist groups the country is still grappling with.
With this in view, it is expected that the government will put measures in place to address the challenges that the reopening of the borders may pose even as the nation prepares to reap its benefits.