Niger: Border Opening Must Be Explored To Bring In Food, Not Just For Export – TUC

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The Trade Union Congress (TUC), an arm of Nigeria’s organised labour, has said the directive of President Bola Tinubu to reopen Nigeria’s border with Niger Republic is a welcome development, but must be optimised for the purpose of bringing in food to cushion the recent hardship Nigerians are currently faced with.

Since closure of Nigeria’s border with Niger as a punitive measure in compliance with sanctions placed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on the Country over military seizure of power, the prices of food items have worsened with outcries to the President to open the border to allow in flow of food from her neighbours.

Niger Republic is known to be a soft spot for foreign rice, beverages, and other processed food items such as noodles, oil and spaghetti into Nigeria, particularly Northern States which share a border with the landlocked nation.

Niger Republic, Mali and Burkina Faso, in a latest development following ECOWAS’ sanctions on them withdrew from the regional group, further worsening the bilateral relationship between Niger Republic who shares a border with Nigeria.

Struggling with jihadist violence and poverty, the regimes have had tense ties with ECOWAS since coups took place in Niger last July, Burkina Faso in 2022 and Mali in 2020.

Nigeria’s foreign trade value was recorded to have been affected within the West African region following the decision of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, as the three military regimes of the nations announced their immediate withdrawal from ECOWAS in January.

They have hardened their positions in recent months and joined forces in an “Alliance of Sahel States.”

The development saw bilateral trade transactions crumbled with astronomic hike in the prices of rice from an earlier average price of N40,000 to over N90,000 recently. Other food staples such as corn, millet and oil also recorded about 100percent hike in price.

Since the border closure was enforced against Niger Republic following the country’s junta’s refusal to restore ousted President Muhammed Bazoum to office, prices of food items, including rice, millet, oil and other food staples that come into Nigeria through the Niger border have recorded a hike in prices.

Other commodities as clothes and beverages have equally recorded a soaring hike, a development that Nigerian border communities have lamented.

Border communities such as Illela Local Government Area of Sokoto State, which shares the border with Konni Local Government Area in Taohoua State of Niger Republic, Jibia in Katsina State, Yunusari Local Government Area of Yobe State, among others, have lamented hike in price of rice from N30,000 per 50kg bag, to over N70,000 since the border closure, even as other food staples most of which were from Niger have recorded similar hike.

Also, Nigerian traders have lamented the plummeting of trade transactions as exports of Nigerian made products, such as floor, cement, agricultural products, both perishable and non-perishable, house furniture, building materials, to Niger which is a strategic route to Mali, Mauritania, and other trade partners with Nigeria, have suffered.

Late last year, Nigerian traders under the platform of Arewa Economic Forum had lamented that its members lost about N13 billion weekly to closure of the borders with Niger.

They had called on the Federal Government to avoid punishing innocent Nigerians in a bid to sanction the military junta in Niger.

Seven northern Nigeria states, including Kebbi, Sokoto, Zamfara, Katsina Jigawa, Yobe and Borno share a 1,608 kilometres long border with five regions in the Niger Republic.

Chairman of Arewa Economic Forum, Alhaji Ibrahim Danda-Kate, had said Nigerian authorities should be mindful of the impact any closure of the border with Niger will create for Nigeria and other neighbouring nations.

He had noted Niger is a trade route to Mauritania, Mali and other trade partners with Nigeria.

Danda-Kate had said “the financial loss is about N13bn per week. Any disruption in the lives of those people will have a devastating effect on Nigeria and the rate of refugees more than what Nigeria currently has. We are not prepared enough to take in more refugees from Niger.”

Following soaring hike in food prices, protests had hit some parts of the North, including Kano and Minna, Niger State, recently in utter outcry against the unbearable hike in prices of food staples. In the Southwest, Ondo State equally witnessed a fair experience.

President Tinubu had declared the distribution of food palliatives as part of response measures to the hardship, which has been worsened by the discontinuation of subsidy payment on Premium Motor Spirit, (PMS), popularly known as petrol.

InsideBusiness reported on Wednesday the disclosure by the Federal Government that it had commenced the distribution of assorted grains to the tune of 42,000 metric tons as part of its relief package to Nigerians.

Coming nearly two weeks after the Presidency revealed that the grains were being bagged for distribution, the Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, Abubakar Kyari, disclosed commencement of distribution when he briefed State House correspondents after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting at the Aso Rock Villa, Abuja on Wednesday.

President Bola Tinubu, had on February 8, ordered the immediate release of 102,000 metric tons of various grain types from the Strategic Reserve and the Rice Millers Association of Nigeria.

However, there have been outcries by stakeholders calling for the reopening of the borders as a temporary measure to cushion the ongoing hardship.

President Bola Tinubu on Wednesday ordered the opening of Nigeria’s land and air borders with the Republic of Niger.

The decision is coming amidst outcries over the hardship of food crisis with soaring hike in prices, which has been associated largely with the closure of the border with Niger Republic from where large proportion of foreign rice, millet and corn, get into Nigeria majorly around the North.

President Tinubu also directed the lifting of other sanctions against the country with immediate effect.

“President Tinubu has also approved the lifting of financial and economic sanctions against the Republic of Guinea,” a statement signed by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Ajuri Ngelale read.

The statement was titled ‘Nigeria opens land and air borders with Republic of Niger, lifts other sanctions.’

Tinubu’s directive came just days after the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government lifted economic and travel sanctions on Niger, Mali, and Guinea at its extraordinary summit on February 24, 2024, in Abuja.

ECOWAS leaders had agreed to lift economic sanctions against the Republic of Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea.

Consequently, President Tinubu directed that the following sanctions imposed on the Republic of Niger be lifted immediately:

“Closure of land and air borders between Nigeria and Niger Republic, as well as ECOWAS no-fly zone on all commercial flights to and from Niger Republic.

“Suspension of all commercial and financial transactions between Nigeria and Niger, as well as a freeze of all service transactions, including utility services and electricity to the Niger Republic.

“Freeze of assets of the Republic of Niger in ECOWAS Central Banks and freeze of assets of the Republic of Niger, state enterprises, and parastatals in commercial banks.

“Suspension of Niger from all financial assistance and transactions with all financial institutions, particularly EBID and BOAD.

“Travel bans on government officials and their family members,” the statement read.

Reacting to the development, the National President of the Trade Union Congress, Festus Osifo, told InsideBusiness that the opening of the borders must not just be restricted to allow export from Nigeria, but must be optimised to bring in food items and other commodities of necessity into the Country.

Osifo asserted that improving food supply in Nigeria is “very paramount at the moment”, mentioning that whatever measure will assist in achieving that must be encouraged.

The TUC President told InsideBusiness:  “Any endeavour that will help in facilitating trade in West Africa is welcome.

“The opening of border shouldn’t just only be for exporting our items to West Africa, but bring in food and other essential commodities that are required in Nigeria.

“Improving food supply in Nigeria is very paramount at the moment and whatever will assist us in achieving that must be encouraged. When supply improves and demand remain constant, price will reduce.”

Following President Tinubu’s declaration to reopen land and air borders with Nigeria’s neigbour, Niger Republic, the Comptroller-General of Immigration, Kemi Nandap, has directed all personnel deployed to the Nigeria-Niger border to resume work.

Nandap gave the directive in a statement signed by the Acting Service Public Relations Officer, Mr Kenneth Kure, on Thursday in Abuja.

The CGI directed all Comptrollers stationed at States and Border Commands along the Nigeria-Niger Republic border to comply promptly and lift all restrictions on human movement.

The CGI assured that the service would continue to facilitate safe and orderly border crossings while upholding the integrity and security of Nigeria’s borders.

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