[Opinion] Closing of the boundaries and the whole circus around…

To fully and intellectually address the issue of smuggling between Nigeria and Benin, it is necessary to question the history of common life between these states. Buhari is just taking up a solution that made him leave power in 1985.

Indeed, Nigeria enjoyed a prosperous economy until 1980 and it was from 1981, according to EMMANUEL GRÉGOIRE, in his scientific study entitled: Smuggling Pathways, that Nigeria <<< faced serious difficulties due to falling oil prices and declining exports: its income rose from $26 billion in 1980 to $6.8 billion in 1986. The federal authorities were then forced to take measures to save foreign currency>> ranging from banning the import of certain products (rice, sugar, rock salt…) to closing the borders and demonetizing the naira. Nigerian businessmen circumvented these provisions by fraudulently bringing in the goods sought from neighbouring countries: Niger, Benin and Cameroon. This is the very beginning of smuggling caused by the Nigerians and not by Benin.

This fraud persisted despite the prohibitions until Buhari came to power in December 1983. Let us remember that Buhari came to power by a coup. This led to the closure of the borders for several days. And five months later, the soldier and his friends decided to close the borders for an extended period to fight fraud. A closure that lasted from April 1984 to February 1986, about two years.

What Buhari did not calculate is that the longer the borders were closed, the better the smuggling would be. Angry as he does today with helicopters on the move, Buhari has strengthened his system with transfers of customs officers, arrests of traders, relieving agents… The Nigerians themselves were tired. Since at the time, a guy who married a woman in Niger, it was almost impossible for him to bring his wife to Nigeria. So to finish, probably, with this dark period, Buhari was overthrown in August 1985 by General Ibrahim Babangida who “adopted a more flexible policy towards traders and neighbouring countries” without opening borders. But activities slowly resumed until the end of that period.

Today, a new border closure in August 2019: for the same reason, smuggling; by the same leader, Buhari. This is not new. Buhari is just an heir to the British methods. In 1940, the colonist closed the borders against Niger for about the same reason.

What is fundamental is that Benin has always been impacted by Nigeria’s decisions and movements. And while it is regrettable that the operators’ activity has declined during this period, it is nevertheless important to stress that all the unrest today, even tending to demonise the Beninese authorities in place, is evidence of a lack of knowledge of current events on the one hand and of the ingenuity of operators who know how to adapt well on the other hand.

Otherwise, let him remind you that in May 2013, without closing borders, the essence of smuggling within Benin increased from 450 to 1200 CFA francs in two days. In March 2016, precisely on the 29th, “from 400 CFA francs the liter, gasoline went from half a day to 1500 CFA francs the liter in places before falling to 600 CFA francs” (fraternité 1/05/2016) the next day. August 20th to September 14th, 2019, soon to be a month of border closure, smuggling gasoline rose from CFAF 325 to 600 a litre and stabilized at around 500, 550. Demonstrating the adaptability of merchants on both sides of the border. This could suggest that operators in other sectors have the means to overcome this brutal and unilateral border closure. It is in the face of great difficulties that we discover the true strength of a person, a community, a country. Right now, there’s more to think about than to talk .

It’s time!

This is the time to welcome the promptness of the Beninese authorities who, following the closure, set up a crisis committee. Patrice Talon’s Benin must and will continue to dialogue, negotiate and act to reduce the impact of this closure on its operators in the short term and also find a solution to the loss of customs income at the corridor level.

Closed or open, it is time to develop a sustainable policy so that within 5, 10 or even 15 years, Benin will find the economic tools to establish a stable economy that will be less influenced by Nigerian pressures. Back to the wall, there are more opportunities to seize to end up with addiction than tears to shed.

B K H l’Intégral

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