The ongoing closure of Nigeria’s land borders has been hailed by a key African development agency as necessary to curb economic criminalities in West Africa.
President Muhammadu Buhari has been widely criticised within Nigeria and by the leaders of other West African countries for ordering the closure of Nigerian land borders, shutting trade along crucial routes with its neighbours.
Critics hinged their argument on how badly-timed Nigeria’s decision was, coming as the continent was adopting the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The policy, signed in 2018 and now adopted by 54 out of 55 member states of the African Union, seeks to engender a more inclusive intra-African trade, policymakers said.
On Friday, Mr Buhari received a rare commendation for having the courage to institute the policy from Ibrahim Mayaki, the chief executive officer of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).
The head of Africa’s foremost development agency said Nigeria’s decision was aimed at “correcting a problem” rather than jeopardising the spirit of the recently-adopted continental free trade policy.
His interview with PREMIUM TIMES comes as NEPAD prepares to receive Mr Buhari on the sidelines of the ongoing African Union Summit in Addis Ababa. The Nigerian president would be delivering an address on African economy and social development at a programme organised by the key intervention agency.
Mr Buhari ordered the abrupt closure of the countries’ land borders in August 2019, leaving commuters, majorly traders, stranded for several days.
The government argued that the decision was aimed at driving down illegal dumping of goods that had gone unchecked for several years from neighbouring countries. The government also added worsening insecurity and illicit exportation of essential goods, especially petroleum products, as amongst the grounds the borders were shut.
“It is about applying the rules and the norms that comply with Ecowas policy,” Mr Mayaki, a former prime minister of Niger, told PREMIUM TIMES in Addis Ababa Friday afternoon. “I understand fully the Nigerian position.”
The NEPAD boss said the closure has achieved significantly its aim — driving debates about cross-border criminalities.
“It puts on the table crucial issues to reduce trade corruption,” he said. “People are making money [illegally] on both sides of the border.”
“Police, customs, other guards are making a lot and the level of corruption is very high,” he added.
Mr Mayaki, 68, who has led NEPAD since 2009, said solutions were being worked out on how to reduce corruption at border posts.
“We are working to boost the expansion of one-stop border post,” he said, saying it would be better to conduct export documentation at a common border post rather than a two-way border post that would be too arcane for easy detection of sharp practices amongst traders and border security officials.”