Stakeholders in the economy have listed critical conditions that the Federal Government must meet for Nigeria to enjoy the full benefits of the border closure.
The stakeholders, comprising importers, exporters, industrialists, ports operators, clearing agents, freight forwarders, and security agencies gathered at the Headquarters of Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), in Lagos, at the weekend, to look at the gains of the border closure, and suggest how to further strengthen the economy.
They agreed that the Federal Government should henceforth look inward, encourage local production, and review its fiscal policies to encourage producers of both consumables and physical goods.
Executive Secretary, NSC, Hassan Bello, who presided over the meeting said the border closure is temporary and would help the Government to take stock of what is happening to the Nigerian economy.
He said the Council is more concerned about what is happening at the ports after the partial closure of the land borders, saying that the meeting is at the instance of the government, adding that all suggestions would be taken into consideration.
Bello lamented that for a long time, Nigeria has been taking things lightly with its neighbours, and even though the country is often referred to as the ‘Big Brother’, she has become the dumping ground for other African countries.
“Nigeria is looking inwards to see what can be done to boost its economy; reality has set in now that our source of revenue, which is crude oil is no longer sustainable, we have also found out the need for serious diversification.
“The closure of the border has caused pain, but if there is no pain, there is no gain. It is our duty to support what the Customs is doing; it is also our duty to proffer solutions.
“Before the border is opened, Nigeria has certain obligations, we need to look inwards and build capacity. Nigeria cannot remain as an import economy alone, it’s about time we start exporting; if we don’t export, we would perish. We need to have factories and insist on our right to international trade,” he said.
National Vice President, Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Kayode Farinto, advised the government to take advantage of the border closure and build industries, adding that with the closure, the level of importation would increase at seaports.
Farinto, who noted that the integration of the port system and access to the port has been a total failure, said there is a need for a permanent solution to the call-up system for trucks entering into the port.
“This is the best time the government to start taking records; the border closure will increase the level of job creation, and they should start giving us statistics of the level of employment this has generated.
“We commend the government for giving incentives to local rice producers; there is also a need for Nigerians to have an attitudinal change by making sure we embrace Nigerian rice, they are cheap and affordable.
“There is the need for Customs at this time to review its mode of operations; let us remove all the blockade we have on the road to the port. Government should also try to review the auto policy, 70% of new vehicles are smuggled into Nigeria, the government should make new vehicles attract lesser duties, if these are not reviewed Nigerians will go back to Cotonou,” he said.
Chairman of Nigerian Ports Consultative Council, Kunle Folarin commended the Federal Government for shutting the borders, saying that the exercise goes beyond international trade, but also about the security of the country.
He said going by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) protocols, neighbouring countries are not keeping to the terms and agreement; rather, they are making nonsense of Nigeria.
According to him, there are 13 treaties between Nigeria and other West African nations, not only on the borders but also on inspection of vessels.
Folarin advised the Shippers’ Council to re-establish strategic alliances with her counterparts in Benin, Ghana, and Togo, so that they would know what Nigeria wants, and where she is going with its economy.
“Why are the neighbouring countries crying that we closed our borders; they should stop crying more than the bereaved,” he said.
On his part, Anniette Basset, representing the NACCIMA Export Group, noted that closing the border is a signal that Nigerian security agencies are not doing their job.
He said Nigeria is only telling the international community that she does not have strong security that can man her entry points.
He advised, “There should be a deliberate projection plan of where the country is heading in the next three years. First, the government should help subsidise local industries and farmers to grow more produce, especially rice, at a lower price as it is done in other countries.
“Secondly, you don’t close borders, you can only raise the tariff, if the government should increase tariff, everybody would walk away from importation, and embrace locally made goods. But what happens if we walk away from importation and locally-made goods are not available, do we expect Nigerians to die?”
Chairperson of Women in Maritime (WIMA Africa) Bola Muse, advised that government takes advantage of the increased volume of cargoes at the ports and compel shipping lines and terminal operators to reduce port charges.
Founder, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Boniface Aniebonam, said the borders should not be reopened until the neighbouring countries have complied with the ECOWAS treaties and protocols.
He, however, lamented that lack of communication with stakeholders before the borders was shut, noting that government agencies ought to have explained to stakeholders the need for the closure.
“Anyone that is not supporting government closure of the border is because they are not informed or not patriotic,” he said
Managing Director, Inland Container Nigeria Limited (ICNL), Ismail Yusuf, also supported the government on the border closure.
He, however, called for the strengthening of security agencies at the border post, saying: Before such decisions are taken, notice should have been given to stakeholders so that they would have been prepared for it, not to take them unawares.
“The closure caught everyone unawares, I was at the Niger Republic when the closure was announced, 300 Dangote trucks could not come into the country, and this has affected their business, so also other traders were affected,” he said.