Border closure bites hard on rice and textile traders in Benin republic
Investigation by our reporter has revealed that the major textile and rice markets in Cotonou, Benin Republic, have seen a massive decline in patronage following the complete closure of the land borders and increased clampdown on smuggling. A 24-hour observation at the Seme border post revealed a complete compliance with the FG’s directive on the closure of borders to both imports and exports as only passenger movement is allowed.
In August, President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the closure of Nigeria’s land border with Benin, hence preventing the import of goods. This recent move is part of an effort to tackle smuggling and associated corruption and also to spur domestic agricultural industry. On October 14, 2019, Nigeria ordered the closure of its border with Benin, as well as those with other countries, for the same reason. According to the Nigerian maritime site Ships and Ports, in 2014 Benin lowered its tariffs on rice imports from 35 to seven per cent, while Cameroon erased it completely from 10 per cent. Neighbouring Benin then recorded an astronomical rise in imports from Thailand, the world’s second largest producer of rice. At its height, each of Benin’s 11.5 million citizens would have had to consume at least 150kg of rice from Thailand alone. With the market for smuggled food now restricted, domestic food prices – already high – have gone up and the economy of neighbouring Benin, a staging area for smuggling into Nigeria has been devastated. At the border front on the Benin area, commercial activities have drastically reduced from mere observation compared with the last time this reporter visited before the closure. Foreign rice, which litters most shops around the area hardly get buyers despite selling at N9,000. Commercial cab drivers are not left out. Mr Oliver, a Benin citizen who conveyed this reporter to the major market for cars, textile and rice, repeatedly expressed frustration at the border closure. Oliver said, “Oga, I used to do five trips between Seme border and Cotonou daily before the closure. I have been at the park since 04:30am and it is 12:30pm, and this is my first trip.” Right inside the border area, trailers carrying sardine, milk, turkey and chicken have been abandoned, with many of them already rotting and smelling. Our reporter also came across several trailer loads of cow skin (kpomo) purportedly from Mali also rotting away and forcing the owners to rent warehouses to offload. Some others were seen drying the skin on the floor along the road to salvage some.
At the textile and rice market in Dantokpa and Missebo in Cotonou, the major dealers are mostly Chinese and Lebanese and the native Benin people chasing after clients and getting commission from sales. The market is a shadow of itself, with the shops stocked with goods and very few native buyers. A Lebanese textile trader, Samir, said, “What Nigeria has done is devastating. We had already ordered these goods on the high sea for December rush when the government closed the border. When Nigerians used to come, one person buys textile wax worth around CFR15m CFR. But these days, as big as this shop, I hardly make sales of CFR100,000.” When our reporter visited the used clothes section of the market, the lamentations were the same. Emeka Eze, a trader in used clothes, said, “My brother, we are in serious trouble. I have not been able to sell one bale in one month. I used to sell two bales in one day when the borders were opened. “We are begging the Cotonou government to settle with our government so that we can survive.” At the several mega car plazas around Tokpa, the story was the same for used car dealers, mostly Lebanese and Indians. Luxembourg-based shipping company, BIM e-solutions, said an average of 10,000 cars arrived at the Cotonou port from Europe monthly. Findings by our reporter revealed that a used 2014 Lexus SUV which used to be sold for CFR15m now goes for around CFR11m. On the Nigerian side, some amount of foreign rice makes it to the communities around the Seme border and a 50kg bag is sold for N11,000. However, the several Customs, Immigration and police checkpoints have discouraged buyers as you would be forced to pay heavily to move just one bag to Badagry; a 10km distance. In fact, commercial drivers reject passengers with any kind of load except you open them for inspection to ensure that nothing inside will land them in trouble.
A passenger from Seme to Badagry who had five pieces of dry fish worth about N1,000 in the taxi this reporter traveled in, paid N200 at each of the two checkpoints to Customs before we were allowed to continue. The Customs checkpoints at Sesikodji junction and Gbaji road junction are notorious for these checks and extortion as closely observed by this reporter. At the bridge before Badagry, there are about five checkpoints, with a distance of 50 meters from one to the other, comprising Customs, Police and Immigration. These officials collect money for a pair of shoes, a bottle of groundnut oil, fish, textile, herbs, tin tomatoes, among others. The officers are ruthless; they can be seen recklessly emptying travellers bags in search of contraband. Meanwhile, the impact of the border closure seems to be creeping in as workers at Nichem Textile Factory around Ogolonto area of Ikorodu, Lagos, told our reporter that they had resumed their shifts owing to increased patronage of the company’s products. A worker said, “We were recalled recently because their inventory has gone down and we have continued to be busy in the last three months.”The National Cotton Association of Nigeria (NACOTAN) said the border closure had not only curtailed importation of smuggled textile materials into Nigeria, but that it was reviving the Cotton, Textile and Garment (CTG) sub-sector.
In an interview with the President of NACOTAN, Mr. Anibe Achimugu, he said, “The reduction in the influx of textile materials into the country has boosted the morale of players in the sub-sector to get back to work. The major advantage of the closure is the control it has brought to the importation of smuggled textile materials, including used clothes. The closure has reduced that significantly, but that also puts a burden on us to fill the gap. We have to start developing our internal capacities to meet the needs of Nigerians. The association is fully in support of the partial closure of borders. Meanwhile, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, has said if the closure of the land borders was sustained for the next two years, the issue of insurgency, banditry and kidnapping would be eradicated. Emefiele who stated this at the first Convocation Lecture of Edo University, Iyamho, Auchi, at the weekend, explained that if the youths, who were into vices, were gainfully engaged, insecurity would reduce to the barest minimum. He said, “I can tell you that if our borders remain closed for two years, the issue of Boko Haram, kidnapping, banditry and Yahoo-Yahoo will stop.
CBN will promote this policy by making sure that we produce what we consume and eat what we produce.” He vowed that the apex bank would not allow the country to be used as dumping ground for smuggled goods. Emefiele further said, “Instead of some neighbouring countries to develop policies to grow their own economies, they rather engage in things that undermine the Nigerian economy. Meanwhile the federal government has given the go ahead for Nigerian borders to remain shut until January next year.