THEWILL EDITORIAL: AfCTA: Time To Reopen Nigeria’s Land Borders

SAN FRANCISCO, November 16, (THEWILL) – The ratification, Wednesday, of the treaty of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCTA) by Nigeria following the approval given at the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting has made it imperative for the country’s land borders to be re-opened.

The ratification of the AfCTA Treaty ahead of the December 5 deadline should be seen as an expression of the readiness and willingness by the Federal Government to abide by the agreement signed by Nigeria on July 7, 2019 at the 12th ExtraOrdinary session of the Assembly of the African Union in Niamey.

Nigeria had delayed her expression of interest in joining AfCTA because of the fears by President Muhammadu Buhari that it would turn the Nigerian market to a dumping ground for products from other member countries thus leading to competition with the country’s products.

It actually took the Ghanaian president, Nana Akufo Addo and his South African counterpart, Cyril Ramaphosa, one or two trips to Abuja to stress on President Buhari the need for Nigeria to join AfCTA for the continental trade zone to be a success.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) had earlier in the week disclosed in a statement that Nigeria and 23 other countries were yet to ratify the AfCTA treaty, less than two months to the take off of the trade pact on Jan 1, 2021.

Now that Nigeria has now signed the agreement, there are 23 other countries yet to ratify the deal. These include Algeria, Benin, Botswana, Burundi, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Comoros and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Others are Guinea-Bissau, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Morocco, Mozambique, Seychelles, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Tunisia and Zambia. Eritrea is the only country that has not indicated any interest in joining AfCTA.

That Nigeria has chosen to become the 31st member of the African Union (AU) to ratify the treaty has therefore made it expedient for the country to, without any delay, open her land borders for legitimate businesses in order not to defeat the goals and objectives of AfCTA. This is important as the continental arrangement has just less than two months to come into effect.

AfCTA had been created by 54 of the 55 African countries with the objectives of creating a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments, and thus pave the way for accelerating the establishment of the Customs Union in the continent.

Evidence on the ground indicates that the disadvantages of the over a year border closure far outweigh the reasons adduced for the closure by the Federal Government.

Though the problem of smuggling has been reduced to a considerable level along the land borders, especially in the Southwest and Lagos area, that could not be ascertained along the northern flanks. The infiltration of the country with small arms and ammunition have also been put under control with the border closure.

However, the effects of the land border closure on legitimate trans-border businesses have been massive as many businesses have been crippled from operating with over 2000 trucks stranded at the various land borders with goods heading to and from Nigeria.

Multinational companies with operations across West Africa were also adversely affected by the closure as they could not move their products into and outside the country through the land borders.

Diplomatic moves by neighbouring countries, especially Ghana, and others seriously affected by the closure, have failed to yield any result from the Nigerian Government. The closure was even considered as a move against the protocol of free movement of goods and people of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

The anger of the Ghanaian people and authorities over the closure of the Nigerian land borders and the effects on their businesses was thereafter transferred to Nigerian traders in Ghana whose shops had been shut for over a year now. The traders, who seem to have given up on any resolution of the crisis, are now pleading with the Federal Government to be evacuated from Ghana.

The recent waivers given to Dangote and BUA Cement as well as an oil and gas company to resume the export of their products to Nigeria’s West African neighbouring countries are clear indications of the need for the land borders to be re-opened to all legitimate businesses.

The reopening also becomes necessary to enable the Federal Government rake in billions of naira in revenue from non-oil exports through the land borders, especially now that the revenues accruing to the government are dwindling.

While THEWILL considers the waivers to the three companies to resume the export of their products through the land borders as a welcome development, we believe the government should extend same courtesies to all other legitimate businesses along the land borders.

We want to impress on the Federal Government the need to have a rethink over the closure as Nigeria cannot continue to be shut out from her West African neighbours under the guise of protecting local manufacturers. There is no country that is completely self-sustaining, especially in this new age, as we really need one another.

The Customs and Immigration Services should rather be strengthened and made to do their jobs effectively and efficiently at the borders instead of shutting the borders indefinitely. No country can afford to be living in self-denial and isolation from her neighbours and still continue to be parading itself as a member of the sub-regional and continental blocs.