By Ayo Akinfe
(1) We should be about a month into President Buhari’s land border closure policy now. Throughout October, Nigeria’s land borders have been shut to combat the dumping of cheap Chinese exports coming into the country through the port of Cotonou. Rice and cement in particular have been the two main concerns
(2) If you ask me, an easier way around this would have been to reach an agreement with Benin Republic, allowing Nigerian cargo inspectors to operate at the port of Cotonou. All they have to do is inspect all cargoes and then attach a tracker to every container. Once a consignment goes into Nigeria, just impound it. Over the long term, Benin simply has to merge with Nigeria as the port of Cotonou is her cash cow and once it is controlled by Nigeria, there is zero justification for Benin existing as an independent nation
(3) Over the last 10 years or so, Nigeria has stepped up the production of cement and rice, with Aliko Dangote leading the charge in a bid to reduce imports. However, the smart Chinese have found a way around this, exploiting a loophole in the Ecowas protocol. Once their goods go into the Ecowas market, they can be moved around the sub-region duty and tarrif-free. Nigeria responded by shutting her borders but this is not sustainable over the long term. More innovative solutions need to be found
(4) If you ask me, the only real issue here is Cotonou. All those other smugglers bringing rice into Nigeria on motorcycles through Niger Republic are trading in such small volumes, it is barely affecting the market. In contrast, 20 trailer loads, each with about three 20 ft containers leave Cotonou for Lagos daily, flooding the Nigerian market with cheap Chinese rice and cement. Take control of Cotonou port and the problem is solved. We are not the US who invaded Panama for something similar as they wanted to control trade through the Panama Canal. However, we could easily reach a cargo inspection deal. I expect Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, the man with ultimate control of the Nigerian Customs Service to come up with an agreement satisfactory to both countries
(5) No nation can survive if it constantly has balance of trade and balance of payment deficits, which is why Nigeria is looking to curb imports. However, this policy is meaningless unless it is part of a wider policy that involves the promotion of exports and venturing into new markets
(6) Just to give you an insight into the scale of the problem we face, do you know that 13 Boeing 747 cargo planes come to Nigeria daily offloading cargo then fly back empty. Sometimes they have to use sandbags to stabilise the aircraft because we have nothing to export
(7) The situation is no better at our sea ports as five out of every six ships that berth in Nigeria return to their bases empty. When people ask why the ports of Calabar, Warri and Port Harcourt are not used, I just laugh. I can tell you now that no shipping line is interested in them because they are not economically viable!
(8) Albania shut her borders to the whole world between 1945 and 1990 but hey, it did her little good. Albania was left as Europe’s poorest country, cut off from the outside world, benefitting nothing from the growth in technology, innovation, trade and commerce. If Nigeria keeps her borders shut for too long, she risks suffering a similar fate, so now is the time to put our thinking caps on
(9) What President Buhari and his government need to do is set themselves export targets. They need to give the Abuja, Kano, Lagos and Port Harcourt international airports monthly export targets. E.g groundnuts – 200,000 tonnes, cocoa – 10,000 tonnes, ankara fabrics – 5m tonnes, yam – 1m tonnes, cassava pellets – 2m tonnes, cashews – 10,000 tonnes, etc, etc
(10) Also, as we look to dredge and revive the ports of Warri, Ikot-Abasi, Calabar, Port Harcourt, Sapele, etc, our expansion plans have got to be export-based. Opening up more ports before coming up with the goods for export is just economic suicide. All it will do is make Nigeria a dumping ground for cheap goods and a haven for racketeers and smugglers. Nigerians, please get more productive. You are the problem, not the government!