Committee report on 15-month border closure ready as manufacturers fault Federal Govt's action

Zainab Ahmed

Stakeholders in the manufacturing sector, including the Manufacturers’ Association of Nigeria’s Export Group and the Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry, on Wednesday, took a swipe at the Federal Government over prolonged closure of borders.

The export group of MAN and the ACCI, in separate interviews with The PUNCH, reviewed the closure of land borders since August 20, 2019 by the Federal Government and concluded that uncertainty it created was bad for the economy.

But the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, in an chat with State House correspondents after the Federal Executive meeting on Wednesday, said the committee on border closure set up by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), would soon submit its report.

She also assured Nigerians that the borders would soon be reopened.

Recall that on August 20, 2019, the government closed land borders to stop smuggling and encourage local production.

It also demanded that neighbouring countries should check smuggling from their own ends as part of the conditions for reopening the borders.

The President set up a ministerial committee consisting of Ahmed, her counterpart for interior, Rauf Aregbesola; the Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey J Onyeama, as well as heads of immigration and customs to review the decision.

But more than a year after it was set up, the committee has yet to submit its report to the President.

Discussions over border closure came to the fore on Wednesday as stakeholders assessed its impact on the economy, which had been hit by a recession.

The President of MAN’s Export Group, Chief Ede Dafinone, in an interview with The Punch, for instance, said the uncertainty surrounding the prolonged border closure affected investment decisions of manufacturers.

According to him, manufacturers who export to neighbouring African countries have lost confidence in the government as the border closure has discouraged long-term investments and affected the economy.

He said a particular company had stopped production completely as a result of the border closure as its products were produced solely for export and were too heavy to be airlifted.

However, Dafinone said a few companies said they benefited from the closure because influx of fake products through the land borders reduced.

He said, “It is actually difficult to have an exact measurement of its impact because there are some companies that have reported that it has helped their businesses because fake and cheap imports were stopped and there are some exporters who have complained that the border closure has affected their businesses drastically.

“What is very clear is that the sudden prolonged and unanticipated closure of the border is bad for business because of the business community cannot make projections at all for production for export. That uncertainty is clearly bad for long term investments. In that sense, it is definitely bad for the economy.”

Dafinone noted that a lot of manufacturers closed down their export segments because of border closure.

According to him, the government has to earn its goodwill by opening the borders and explaining to investors in more details than it has done.

On its part, the ACCI said government should own up to the fact that its closure of land borders was a wrong decision.

The President of ACCI, Adetokunbo Kayode, said the decision by government to close the borders without consulting private sector players, who use the borders, was wrong.

He said, “The border closure had multiplier base. One is that the decision was taken without consultation, which we think is wrong decision. Government was actually about to review it before the pandemic came and it had to lock up.

“You see, there is no perfect decision or policy or government. So when you are wrong just accept, because it is like being in a hole, in such a situation you don’t have to continue digging but to find a way to get out.”

Kayode described the closure of land borders by government as a reactive decision that was not given a thorough consideration.

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