By YVONNE ISHOLA

THE sudden closure of Seme Border which is a very busy crossing to Nigeria or between Nigeria and Benin Republic has elicited mixed reactions from residents of both countries. It is believed to be the busiest land crossing in Nigeria.

However, the Seme Border was closed recently without formal notice after some truckloads of prohibited tramadol and codeine were intercepted in Lagos on August 16. This action has caused a lot of inconveniences to business men and women that frequently ply that border into or out of Nigeria.

What this means is that on both sides of the border there are Nigeria’s indigenes and Benin Republic citizens who are stranded. They had come in or gone out for business or whatever reasons and are now stranded due to activities of a few bad eggs. Probably, housewives who had dashed out to do business for the day as usual but ended up stranded, leaving their young children and home in confusion.

Thousands of victims of this abrupt shut down by government are venting their frustrations on the social media. One of such, a housewife whose means of livelihood has always been crossing into Benin Republic to get a few items which she sells in her neighborhood, shares her ordeal.

“I have never felt this frustrated in my life. My young kids are now with my neighbors because I traveled with my keys and their father, my husband only visits weekends from Lagos town because of the nature of his job. As it is, the children are crying, they are still in their uniforms; their father is breathing fire and brimstone over my head instead of coming down with his keys to take care of our children. I have spent all I have and I feel hungry, filthy, tired. At the rate things are going, if the border still remains shut by weekend, I might sell off my wares at a give-away price to feed;” HajiyaBilkisu poured out her woes to a friend.

Another victim of the border closure posted a video of the hardship on Twitter on Wednesday. One can only imagine what these people are facing, the inconveniences, discomfort, sleeplessness, restlessness knowing that you left loose-ends at home not to mention hunger and thirst.

How do they even relief themselves or even freshen themselves up? Both borders must now be very filthy because of the number of people using their conveniences.

Lamenting his ordeal, another victim OyelesiMayowa tweeted, “Nigeria immigrations are treating their fellow Nigerians like animals at the Seme border. I have been here since 6:00pm yesterday, I pity this country.

Unfortunately for those stranded, they are suffering in silence. They complained that officials at the border have declined to explain the cause of the closure.

However, reports from Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) said an ongoing joint security exercise caused the closure. Customs spokesperson, Joseph Attah explained that “it will take several days and we have been working to ensure that it does not result in too much disruption for travelers.”

It is sad that at this stage in Nigeria’s growth (economically and otherwise), the government could still make a move that will affect the business world without prior warning. A simple action as that would have saved a lot of people so much pain and this move by government would have been applauded without any reservation.

Another man’s meat is another man’s poison is a very popular saying that aptly describes the situation we are faced with as regards the border closure. The Rice processing Association of Nigeria (RIPAN) on Thursday last week threw its weight behind government’s decision to close Nigerian borders with its neighbours to stem the activities of smugglers.

RIPAN which is beaming with smiles for government’s actions which it says is long overdue, also said the action was in the best interest of the economy. They described the action of the government as a life saver that had suddenly returned life to their rice value chain as the hitherto subdued mills have resumed operation within one week of the border closure.

Applauding government’s action, it said but for the prompt response by the government, the country would have lost about $400 million (about 150 billion) to smuggling. RIPAN also disclosed that intelligence showed that from January till date, over one million metric tones of rice was brought into Benin Republic from mostly Thailand and India. These of course find their way to Nigeria.

Speaking at a press briefing in Abuja recently, Alhaji Mohammed AbubakarMaifata, chairman of RIPAN urged Nigerians to support Buhari in his efforts to reposition agriculture and diversify the economy.

In his words; “We came to let the whole world know that we support this action and we are with government in this journey. We will support them with what we can, in term of information, statistics-whatever they need from us; we are ready to do it.”

Canvassing for support for government from other Nigerians, RIPAN chairman said “We want the whole nation to support the government in this fight. It is for the benefit of Nigeria. I want you to know that the insinuation that we cannot feed ourselves with rice is not true.

“We, as an association met yesterday and tasked ourselves to produce massively so that we can fill the gap that will be created by the stoppage of smuggling. And we are up to the task and determined to do it”, he added.

Maifata who had his deputy with him, Mr. Paul Eluhaiwe, gave the assurance that local mills were now optimised to meet the challenges resulting from the closure of the borders.

According to the RIPAN chairman,” All the mills are now open producing at almost 100 per cent capacity. Procurement of paddy has resumed by the millers and farmers are happy because they are expecting new harvest in November.

As if sensing Nigerians fears, he allayed it with the information that RIPAN has resolved not to take undue advantage of the situation by hiking the price of rice.

“In terms of pricing and supply, we also agree that we are not going to take advantage of this action for ourselves by hiking the price of rice”, Maifata disclosed.

Going by the above action, RIPAN revealed, “As such we all agreed that we are going to sell our rice from now on at N13,300 minimum and  maximum, because for some their location is very far from the paddy and so very difficult for them to operate but upon that there is no Nigerian rice that will be sold above N14,000 at factory.

“This is the commitment we made to government and we are determined and we are willing to keep to our words, God willing. Any contrary activities are not from us as we expect saboteurs to take advantage of the situation.  But we assure you that this will be our price”.

On the other hand, the Nigerian government has said that its borders would remain closed until affected countries begin to respect Nigeria’s policy on food importation.  This was disclosed by Hammed Ali, Comptroller-General of Customs, a forth night ago at Jigawa State during a visit to Maigatari border. A border that connects Nigeria to Niger Republic.

Speaking on the porous nature of Nigerian borders, Ali said”, Most criminals are not citizens of Nigeria.  They come in at will and go out at will because our borders are so porous.  They come and create havoc and disappear.

“This is why the President directed that we should go on and embark on this drill to ensure that we put into place a proper procedure for in and outflow of people”.

On this note, Ali said” we must also get our neigbhbours to agree with us on the protocols of transit routes”.

Concluding on a positive note, the NCS boss said Nigeria had enough food and is willing to secure its borders secure its .

A sharp drop in inflation rate in the country is an indication that there is light at the end of the tunnel.  It was reported that Nigeria’s inflation rate dropped from 11.8 percent in July to 11.02 percent in August, National Bureau of Statistics disclosed.

The NBS said the drop in inflation rate continued in August despite several pronouncements regarding restrictions on the import of some food items, minimum wage and the recent border closures.  In the same regard, food inflation dropped to 13.17% from 13.39% while core inflation dropped to 8.68% from 8.80% recorded in the previous month.

In consideration of the impact of border closure on consumer prices, the bureau stated that the country may not see significant effect on inflation now as the closure was only captured for 11 days during the 31 days reference period in August.

Shedding more light, NBS explained that the rise in the food index was caused by increases in prices of oils and fats, meat, bread, and cereals, potatoes, yams and the other tubers and fish.

To the common man, the joy is that farmers will start getting value for their sweat.  Their produce will not be looked upon as second best but as one and only.  It is our expectations that our farmers’ fortunes will turn around for good.  This, in turn will make farming, agriculture attractive to the youth who are in the labour market looking for government employment.

Government on its part can make agriculture very attractive by intensifying more efforts on providing the youth with soft loans or grants to go into farming.  This will kill two birds with one stone-provide employment and boost Nigeria’s food security not to mention making our economy vibrant.

The path government is towing to stem activities of smugglers is a good one.  It is time for our farmers to shine and have pride of place.  It is time for our manufacturers to be confident enough to produce goods and proudly inscript-made in Nigeria without any feeling of inferiority.  Which means they also have to work on giving us the best at affordable prices.

The porous nature of our borders have always been an issue of concern which has endangered the country.  Most criminals, merciless armed robbers, terrorists have been identified as nationals of foreign countries who  sneak into our country through our borders to perpetrate evil and then sneak back into their country undetected. Any attempt to stem the tide of criminality which is increasing by the day, is a welcome development.

Any move for the attainment of peace, economic growth and add value to our Naira is a welcomed development and should be embraced by all.  Peace is priceless.

Contrary to the assurance given us by RIPAN, the prices of local rice have skyrocketed matching the price of imported rice which was sold at N550 per measure for the good one. Government should set up modalities to check unwarranted price increase.  This could be due to the activities of middlemen.  No situation should make us start craving for foreign rice which is not as nutritional as our local rice according to dietictians More than ever, we need price control or some people will take advantage of the situation.

The believe that Nigeria is a dumping ground for any sub-standard goods including drugs will now become  a thing of the past.  Before Buhari’s administration’s move to secure the borders, it was a well known fact that all over the world, any  sub-standard product made as far as it does not bear the inscription ‘made in Nigeria(except for a few products), it will sell if it finds it way through Nigeria’s porous borders.  And if affordable.  Our nature is Eurocentric.  This feature of Nigeria and Nigerians have made us consumers of what other countries have bluntly refused as sub-standard or not fit to be consumed.  This is a topic for another day.

One often wonders, with the heavy presence of security operatives at borders, how such sub-standard goods, drugs, weapons of mass’ destruction pass undetected right under their noses? Is there usually a compromise or does money exchange hands so that some goods do not pass through the normal checks? So many unanswered questions.

We live in a country where some royal fathers are sacred cows, even at borders. Sometime ago, an immigration officer lamented the continued smuggling of weapons of mass destruction no matter how well they did their job. And concluded that the smuggling of such weapons cannot be unconnected to the fact that no security operative in his right senses would ever question or dare check the goods of some royal fathers anytime they travelled out and came back into the country. Who knows, just maybe, weapons are usually part of the goods checked in. Where is Nigeria heading to?

Nigerians joy seems to be short lived as Economic Community of West African States ECOWAS has been breathing fire and brimstone on Nigeria for shutting down its borders, saying that it contravenes the implementation of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area Act which Nigeria has signed. In addition, ECOWAS told Nigeria that closing its borders with other countries cannot prevent the smuggling of goods and services into the country.

In a statement recently, the bloc said “The ECOWAS Parliament calls for compliance with community provisions and the reopening of borders and a coordinated fight against smuggling in the region”.

ECOWAS further emphasized that “The root causes of this recurrent situation must be studied with a view to finding permanent solutions”.

This does not mean that Nigeria will leave everything to be taken care of collectively by ECOWAS. It has always been in existence while Nigeria carried its cross and suffered irreparable damages. Our problem is peculiar to us-porous border. What is the way forward?

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