Nigerians groan as economic hardship bites harder amidst spike in Covid-19 pandemic

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Nigeria's teeming population

Nigerians are daily confronted with the ravaging impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, economic hardship with unprecedented high food prices, high electricity tariffs and high fuel prices. However, the reopening of the land borders may provide a salutary effect in the area of high food prices and the agonies of Nigerians this Christmas season.

By Goddy Ikeh

 

AS the countdown to the Christmas Day, December 25, 2020 continues, the fears expressed by many Nigerians that this year’s Christmas celebrations will be gloomy are no doubt tied to the ravaging impacts of Covid-19, which, according to the Presidential Task Force, Nigeria has entered the second wave of the deadly infections and the economic hardship, which has been aggravated by high food prices.

But the announcement of the reopening of some of the country’s land borders on Wednesday, December 16, 2020 will obviously have the desired effect of bringing down the high food prices as well as the resumption of economic activities in the border towns.

The minister of finance, budget and national planning, Zainab Ahmed, who announced the reopening of the land borders, said that rice and poultry products remained banned.

The four affected borders, according to her, are Seme border in South- West, Ilela border in the North- West, Mfun border in the South-South and Maigatari border in the North-West. “The other land borders will be reopened on or before December 31, 2020,” she explained.

“I am here to report that the President approved the recommendations of the committee that I chaired with the Minister of Trade and Investment, Minister of Interior, Minister of Foreign Affairs, National Security Adviser and Comptroller-General of Customs as members.

“This committee was mandated to review and advice on the reopening of the Nigerian borders and after recommendations, the President approved the reopening of four land borders, namely Seme in the South-West, Ilela in the North-West, Maitagari in the North-West of the country and Mfun in the South-South.

“So, these four land borders will be reopened immediately while the remaining borders are directed to be reopened on or before December 31, 2020.

“Mr President has also directed on the reopening of the borders that, while others are being reopened, the ban on importation of rice, poultry and other banned products still subsists and will be implemented by the border patrol team,” the minister told State House correspondents.

Since the announcement of the reopening of the land borders, several organisations, including the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, LCCI, the Poultry Association of Nigeria, PAN, and the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, MAN among others, have reacted to the decision to reopen the borders, which had been long expected after the federal government in August 2019 closed the land borders to curtail smuggling.

Speaking on the reopening of the land borders, Muda Yusuf, Director-General, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, LCCI, said that the decision was in consonance with the recently ratified Africa Continental Free Trade Area, AfCFTA.

Yusuf believes that the development is beneficial to the Nigerian economy as many businesses, particularly the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, MSME, that depend on cross border trade, will be availed a wider reach, internationally.

“It is a welcome development and will be beneficial to the economy. “Many small businesses depend on cross border trade for a living and many manufacturers also leverage the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme, ETLS, to boost their business.

“Many also source their raw materials from countries in the sub-region, so again, we welcome the development,” he said.

He, however, stressed the need to strengthen the border policing and management mechanisms to avoid a relapse into the conditions that led to the closure in the first place.

According to him, the biggest challenge with the border management is an institutional issue and accountability should be demanded from the institutions that have the responsibility for border policing and management.

For Segun Ajayi-Kadir, Director-General, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, MAN, the decision is welcome and requested for necessary frameworks to monitor the borders effectively to make Nigerian products competitive locally and internationally.

“Going forward, government should establish joint border patrol with neighbouring countries involving police, customs, immigration, navy and state security services of the countries.

“Government must also provide necessary infrastructural facilities like reliable power supply, good road/rail transportation network etc to reduce production cost.

“Citizens must also be sensitised to patronise and consume locally produced goods, imbibe the benefit of consuming local goods and government should set a good example by patronising local products in all government purchases,” the report by the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, quoted Ajayi-Kadri as saying.

In the same vein, the Nigerian Association of Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, NACCIMA, lauded the decision to open the land borders and added that it was an important strategic move that would help the nation to exit recession by the first quarter of 2021.

The President of NACCIMA, Saratu Iya-Aliyu, said in a statement that the decision would surely improve the nation’s image and commitment to remaining a major economic player in the sub-region.

Iya-Aliyu said that the move was also a welcome strategic move in the context of Nigeria’s ratification of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area, AfCFTA, as it sent a clear signal of the nation’s readiness to effectively trade under the agreement.

“It is a positive decision because trade across our land borders is an important component of our cross border trade, which can help boost operations of our SMEs engaged in export of non-oil products through the land borders,” she said.

But the Director-General of the Poultry Association of Nigeria, PAN, Onallo Akpa, urged the government to ensure that frozen chicken is not smuggled into the country again.

“It assured us that the customs have been put on red alert to stop the smuggling of frozen chicken and that poultry imports into Nigeria has been banned. So it must keep to its words,” Akpa said in reaction to the reopening of the borders.

Apart from the fact that the reopening of the land borders was in line with the recently ratified AfCFTA, many Nigerians, who have applauded the reopening of the border about 10 days to Christmas and barely two weeks before the take-off of the Africa’s huge single market in January, have never stopped questioning the rationale behind the closing of the land borders for over 16 months. Some stakeholders have even requested for stocktaking of the gains of that  unproductive policy by the government and the shocking reluctance to reopen the borders despite appeals by the ECOWAS Commission and Nigeria’s neighbours and the huge economic loss to both Nigerians and foreigners alike.

However, the reopening of the borders is akin to solving one of the numerous challenges facing Nigerians. The retention of the high cost of petrol and energy will no doubt wipe out whatever gains from the reopening of the land borders. With the country entering the second wave of the deadly Covid-19 and the plan to resort to any form of lockdown will finally abort the plan of exiting the current recession in the first quarter of 2021.

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