By Salisu Yusuf
Since August 2019, when Nigeria decided to close its border with neighbouring Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger, the Nigeria-Niger border has become a boundary for smuggling of especially arms and massive adornment of corruption. Officials of the Federal Government have turned the borderline into a business venture where collecting and giving unearned rewards are the order of the day.
A haulier recently told me that from Maigatari (in Jigawa State), Babban Mutum and Kongolam (in Katsina), there are no fewer than 30 border outposts where officers wave down passing motorists to collect kickbacks. This has resulted in creating more alternate routes where hauliers circumvent border posts.
To fully understand the level of corruption in our border guards, go to the length and width of the borderline between, say, Daura and Babban Mutum. You will easily see bits of laterite earth inlets going north, where these illegal hauliers transport goods in cars and trucks to avoid sandy earth on their way to Magaria in the Niger Republic.
In the midst of this, the new Nigeriene President, Bazoum Mohammed, introduced a free trade route-policy for the teeming youth. Formerly, Niger operated a protectionist economic policy under former President Tandja Muhammadu. Then, importing goods, especially petroleum products, was prohibited, and culprits were duly punished under strict laws. But, don’t forget that Niger, like its counterpart, also exports petroleum products.
Mr Bazoum, I think, implements his free trade policy, where youth are allowed to import goods from Nigeria due mainly to socio-political issues in the neighbouring countries; the raging civil war in Libya and insurgency in Nigeria and Mali. The President wants crime-free youth. Moreover, issues surrounding his election. He was labelled a Western stooge before his election. His policy might have changed that perception.
The free trade policy has given thousands of youth free access to illegally enter Nigeria, buy these products at a subsidized price as we buy, and export them on motorbikes to sell at a higher price. It’s indeed a gain.
You see them in our filling stations with jerricans queuing for the products daily. The spectre from the filling station to their convoy with a load of jerricans inside huge sacks, their high-velocity speed is so chaotic. They create a scene. Cases of collisions among motorcyclists, knocking down passersby, especially children, result in massive injuries and deaths. Wàllahi, there’s nothing like a border in those areas, only passages!
In addition, daily cases of traversing over the people’s farmlands by these marauding smugglers (because they don’t tread normal paths) pose a threat to possible tillage erosion. Their constant comings and goings leave no hope for agricultural sustainability.
Recently, smuggling has reached another dimension. Gendarmes in Niger have apprehended smugglers with huge caches of armaments trying to cross the border. Villagers discovered a cache of arms near Daɗin Sarki in Niger. Those who had kept the cache were possibly waiting for the cover of night to take it into Nigeria – a dumping ground for every malfeasance.
The clip of the arms is still viral on the WhatsApp application. Now I retrospectively see sense in former President Trump’s border wall with Mexico in order to evade criminals. Likewise, it’s high time Nigeria erected a border wall with Niger because their leaders, like their French counterparts, stocked in an international conspiracy, are after their country’s survival than the stability of Nigeria.
Nigeria misses millions of Naira in revenue from closing its borders and the hauliers’ ploys. When you tell the government this sad reality, some government economic mouthpieces put forward classroom economic theories to defend their economic policies. To understand this point, visit an excise office in the outskirts of Magaria in the Niger Republic and see lines of cars and trucks with loads of Nigerian goods. You will swear they all pass through the sky – alas, they pass through alternate routes that are discovered and explored by Nigeriene motorists and their local guides after the border closure.
The recent surge in kidnappings in Gumel and Suletankarkar in Jigawa State is a pointer to a grim future. However, there’s more to this border issue than meets the eye. It’s high time authorities in Nigeria nipped it in the bud before the Nigeria-Niger border becomes a threat not only to Nigeria but Africa. May we see a better Nigeria.
Salisu Yusuf wrote from Katsina via firstname.lastname@example.org.