President Muhammadu Buhari has disclosed that the partial closure of the Nigeria-Benin border was to restrict the massive illegal importation of rice into Nigeria.
The President disclosed this during a session with his Beninois counterpart, Patrice Talon, on the sidelines of the 7th Tokyo International Conference for African Development (TICAD7), in Yokohama, Japan on Wednesday.
The Partial Closure: According to a statement issued by the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, Buhari said the massive illegal importation of rice across the Nigeria-Benin border was threatening his administration’s food sufficiency policy.
“Now that our people in the rural areas are going back to their farms, and the country has saved huge sums of money which would otherwise have been expended on importing rice using our scarce foreign reserves, we cannot allow smuggling of the product at such alarming proportions to continue.”
According to the President, the partial closure of the country’s western border was to allow Nigeria’s security forces to develop a strategy on how to stem the dangerous trend and its wider ramifications.
While responding to the concerns raised by President Talon on the magnitude of suffering caused by the closure, President Buhari disclosed that the measure was taken in the interest of the country in the short term. He added he might reconsider reopening the border in the not too distant future.
The back-story: Seme border, a major border which crosses between Nigeria and the Benin Republic remained closed on Wednesday without formal notice, leaving thousands of people and vehicles stranded on both sides.
According to a source, the border which is believed to be the busiest land crossing in Nigeria was shut after some truckloads of prohibited tramadol and codeine were intercepted in Lagos on August 16.
Speaking earlier on the closure, the Spokesman for the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Joseph Attah, disclosed that the border could remain closed for the next 28 days. Also, Attah stated that the joint security team at the border will remain for the next 28 days.
“However, as I have always repeated, the borders are not closed. People with legitimate businesses and reasons are moving across the borders. If people stayed away from the borders, then ask if they are into legitimate businesses”
Recent Development: The move by the President to announce partial closure of the Nigeria-Benin border is obviously a follow up to the recent policy moves by the government to completely shut out the importation of food items.
Note that rice was included as part of the 41 items that would not be granted access to FOREX. The President has added more items in recent times. This, according to the government is intended to drive down the country’s import bill due to the depleting foreign reserves.
Already, Nigerians are raising concerns over the closure of the border as early findings suggest the price of the commodity is now jacking up due to hoarding and panic buying following the announcement.
In the meantime, the President has stated that a meeting with his counterparts from Benin and the Niger Republic would soon be called to determine strict and comprehensive measures to curtail the level of smuggling across their borders.