Experts: Border reopening will make us competitive

The partial closure of Nigeria’s land border with neighbours will continue beyond January 2020 and will only be terminated until the set objectives are achieved.

Experts on Wednesday said the approval by President Muhammadu Buhari for the immediate reopening of four land borders, may see Nigeria being more competitive than before.

Hajia Zainab Ahmed, Minister of Finance, Budget and National Plan­ning, disclosed that President Bu­hari approved the reopening of the borders while briefing State House correspondents after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting on Wednesday at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

The 28th virtual FEC was pre­sided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.

Buhari, who is on a state visit to Kastina State, joined the vir­tual meeting from his home­town, Daura.

Ahmed listed the borders as Seme, South-West, Ile­la, North-West, Maigatari, North-West/North-Central and Mfun in South-South.

“The president has ap­proved the recommenda­tion of a committee, which I chaired, with the Minister of Industry, Trade and In­vestment; Interior, Foreign Affairs, National Security Adviser, Comptroller-Gener­al of Customs and Comptrol­ler-General of Immigration.

“This committee was man­dated to review and advise the president on the opening of Nigeria’s land borders.

“The president has ap­proved the reopening of four land borders, namely – Seme, South-West, Ilela, North West, Maigatari border in the North- West and North-Central and Mfum in the South-South.

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

She said that Buhari also directed that while the bor­ders were being reopened, the ban on the importation of rice, poultry and other prod­ucts still subsisted and would be implemented by the border patrol team.

Buhari, had on August 2019, directed the closing of Nigeria’s borders to curb smuggling of goods and weap­ons.

Meanwhile, the move by President Buhari to reopen the borders has not come to analysts as a surprise, as they said it was coming too late, though they commended it as a good decision.

Bismarck Rewane, Manag­ing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Financial Deriva­tives Company Limited and a member of the Economic Advisory Council (EAC), said the decision to reopen the bor­ders was an excellent one but coming too late.

“It’s been long overdue. It is better late than never. They should have reopened the border a long time ago. I think trading activities will improve and Nigeria may be more competitive than before now. It is an excellent decision and I am happy that the presi­dent made this move”, he said.

Prof. Uche Uwaleke, Head of Banking and Finance De­partment at the Nasarawa State University Keffi, said the reopening of land borders is a welcome development and timely in view of the festive season.

“I expect inflationary pres­sure on food items to moder­ate in the coming weeks. I also expect smuggling to reduce while government revenue receives a boost.

“However, with the rising cases of COVID-19 every effort should be made to ensure that this does not present a health challenge,” he said.

Cyril Ampka said the re­opening of the land borders is in the spirit and the letter of the ECOWAS and African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which mandates the free movement of goods and people.

“The ECOWAS bloc is dominated by Nigeria by vir­tue of the size of its economy and its regional influence and the reopening will go a long way to stop or reduce smug­gling of goods, especially, rice which were the order of the day while the borders were closed”, he said.

Ampka stressed that the closure of the borders has failed to stop the flow of arms into the country.

“Insurgents, militants, bandits, kidnappers, name them, carry arms freely and kill at will. Smuggling of rice into Nigeria continued to thrive and Nigeria apparent­ly has not gained much from closing its borders. We thank the Federal Government and President Buhari for reopen­ing the borders”, he said.

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Razia Khan, Chief Econo­mist for Africa and the Middle East at Standard Chartered, said, “The rise in food infla­tion does suggest that border closures may have played a part in temporarily pressur­ing prices higher.”

She added that the reopen­ing suggests the government is satisfied with the decision to close the borders.

There was jubilation in Seme, near Badagry, La­gos State, on Wednesday as the Federal Government ordered the reopening of four land borders across the country.

A large number of stake­holders and residents of Seme border community have expressed their joy at the de­velopment and commended President Buhari for reopen­ing the land borders.

Reacting, the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANCLA), Seme bor­der chapter, commended the Federal Government for re­opening the land borders.

Alhaji Bisiriyu Fanu, AN­CLA Seme chapter chairman, said that the reopening of the land borders was overdue, saying that the gesture will boost trans-border trade in the ECOWAS subregion.

Fanu said that many freight forwarders had lost their means of livelihoods as a result of the closure be­cause their goods were stuck on both sides of the border.

The Onimeke of Imeke­land, Oba Abraham Ogabi, also said that the reopening of the land border was a wel­come development.

Ogabi said that the closure had paralysed socio-econom­ic activities of border com­ the trade between Republic of Benin and Badagry communities which relied on munities. ­

“We are in the border area, some of our people are mar­ried to their women and we do legitimate business with them.

“But the closure has af­fected our socio-economic relationship with the border communities of Benin Re­public.

“We thank the president and members of the FEC for reopening of the land bor­ders,” he said.

Also speaking, the Ala­shipa of Ashipa in Badagry, Alhaji Shehu Ayeni, said the closure had affected his community which shared land borders with Republic of Benin.

The traditional ruler, how­ever, appealed to government to ensure security operatives were posted to necessary points in the area to block the influx of contraband into the country.

Ayeni said that the reopen­ing of the Seme land border would put smiles on the faces of many residents of the com­munity.

The Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, also said on Wednesday that Nigerians should expect to receive the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of January 2021.

He said the technical work­ing group in the ministry was working on which vaccine will best suit Nigeria consid­ering that the country has no minus 80 degrees freezers.

Meanwhile, the Federal Government had last week announced that it has put machinery in place preparatory to the country re­ceiving 20 million COVID-19 vaccine early next year.

He said: “A technical working group is working on the question on vaccine. We have signed up with the World Health Organisation and the GAVI Alliance (for­merly the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation) for access to vaccines imme­diately they are available. But you know that these vaccines are new and are in packets and the producers are not giving any indemnity. These countries where these vaccines are manufactured, have of course, given them­selves the priority to serve themselves, serve their own citizens first and we hope that the pressure from the World Health Organisation and GAVI will be able to get reserves for other countries that are not manufacturing and they will be able to at­tend to what we signed up to.

“We signed up for ad­vanced market participation in COVAX. So, if we will be able to get our own, I think it will be in January. But there are two types of vaccines. There are those that have to be in ultra-deep freezers – the MRA type of vaccines. That is the freezer that must give you minus 80 percent type of degree.

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“There is another type that has to be in the deep freezer of minus 20 degree which is a deep freezer and there is another type that can be in minus two degree refriger­ators. This is the regular re­frigerator. The one that will be in regular refrigerators is easy. We have them here. The one that will be in minus 20 refrigerators is also going to be possible because we also have the freezers here but the one that will be in ultra-cold freezers, we hardly have ul­tra-cold freezers in this coun­try and to receive and store in those ultra-cold freezers will require that you purchase the ultra-cold freezers.

“So, we are working on the cost. Which one shall we get first? Obviously the one we can afford. Remember that we have 200 million citizens. We need to have a way to be able to get enough to be able to take care of our citizens. So, that means we must be able to get the vaccines that work well, with good cost of storage and cost of delivery. That is the one we will like to get as soon as they are available.

“We also had bilateral dis­cussions with manufacturers. Some of them have written to us that they want to have discussions with us. One of them, as I speak to you, is already having a discussion with the Ministry of Health and the one that British and Russia team are putting to­gether. We are working with them because if we cannot get enough from one source, we should be able to get from oth­er sources. So, we are looking at multiple sources.

“We had a conversation with United Arab Emirates. The ambassador came to see us and told us that they are buying vaccines from China and had tested them. So, they said they are introducing them to us. So, we said we would listen to them because the one that is effective and healthy in those countries and is available is the one we shall bring and that has also proven to be safe”, he said.

On the second wave of the virus in the country, the health minister said, “We have been talking about the imminence of COVID-19 second wave which has been going on in Europe and Amer­ica causing great embarrass­ment to the health system and which we have been talking about could be coming into our country is beginning to really manifest.

“It is that manifestation that we all have to wake up to and buckle up to confirm. It is not a job for the health sector alone, it is a job for everybody or all citizens. And for you who are here listening to us today to send the words out.

“First of all, what the pub­lic needs to do is to redouble their efforts to comply with all the advice that you have been given using your masks every time you’re outside of your house. Once you’re leaving your house put on a mask, a mask should cover your nose the way it covers your mouth. Do not take your mask down to talk to some­body, you should leave your mask on. You don’t need to pull it down. If you do that you have defeated the pur­pose. Wash your hands fre­quently. That advisory is still there and it has not changed. Use your hand sanitiser. So­cial distancing, keeping a gap between you and other people. Because more than 80 percent of people who have COVID-19 will not have a symptom, they’d be looking very fine.”

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