Nigeria is either playing the long game or gambling with border reopening

In the typical about-turn traipse that signifies most of this administration’s policy decisions, President Muhammadu Buhari has okayed the immediate reopening of the four major land borders in the country.

Nigeria’s finance minister, Zainab Ahmed, announced the reopening of the borders at the end of Wednesday’s Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting.

The four borders connecting Nigeria to its major trade neighbours are Seme which links Benin Republic in the South West, Ilela and Maitagari which link Niger Republic in the North West, and Mfun in the South-South that links Cameroon.

The President had ordered the border closure on August 21, 2019, to “promote interagency cooperation and increase preparedness to address trans-border security challenges such as terrorism, armed banditry, smuggling, [the] proliferation of small arms and light weapons, amongst others.”

The policy did not yield quite the result the presidency touted it would. Insecurity spiralled out of control to begin with. Food costs rose by 16.7 per cent in September 2020 compared to a year ago, pushing inflation to a 3 year high of over 14 per cent.

The finance minister revealed that the reopening does not change the existing ban on the “importation of rice, poultry and other banned products,” which she said will still be enforced by the border patrol team.

The four land borders, she said, “will be reopened immediately while the remaining borders are directed to be reopened on or before 31st of December, 2020.”

It is unclear what the president’s advisers said to make him order the closure, and eventually order a reopening, but the subsequent hike in food prices and inflation have vindicated analysts – basically all of Nigeria who argued that the country does not yet have the capacity to “eat from within”.

Whatever it might have been, the latest decision by the government is useful at a time like this.

Nigeria has ratified the free trade agreement which is set to come into effect on Jan 1, 2021. And with the country’s status as one of the continent’s largest economies, it is a good move for the ambitions of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

The ban, however, remains a dicey policy considering its implication to the agreement.

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