Ghana and Nigeria have agreed on the creation of a temporary corridor on Nigeria’s western border with Benin, where Ghanaian goods in transit from Benin, and vice versa, can pass to avoid collateral damage arising from the closure of Nigeria’s borders with Benin.
The Ghana Government is also expected to provide further information on Ghanaian companies that do business in Nigeria, the goods and companies affected and those likely to be affected by the closure of the borders, as well as stranded trucks at the borders to enable Nigeria’s officials to better identify the Ghanaian traders.
The decisions were reached when the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Ms Shirley Ayokor Botchwey, and the Minister of Trade and Industry, Mr Alan Kyerematen, held talks with their Nigerian counterparts on the border closure in Abuja last Wednesday.
While Ms Botchwey met with Nigeria’s Foreign Minister, Mr Geoffrey Jideofor Kwusike Onyeama, Mr Kyerematen held discussions with the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment of Nigeria, Mr Otunba Niyi Adebayo.
A statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday said the Abuja meetings were aimed at discussing further ways of providing a path towards resolving the challenges facing Ghanaian companies and traders following the closure of the Nigerian borders.
Nigeria partially closed its borders with Benin in August this year to curb the spate of rice smuggling which Africa’s most populous country said was threatening its attempt to boost local production.
Additionally, the move was aimed at stopping the movement of illicit weapons and other smuggled goods through the various entry points.
The closure, however, has affected the movement of goods and services from the West African sub-region into Nigeria through that section of the country’s border.
The Foreign Minister’s trip to Abuja was pursuant to ongoing efforts by the government of Ghana to ensure the safe passage of goods to Nigeria and the ECOWAS sub-region.
During the meeting, the Ghanaian Foreign Minister acknowledged the long-standing cordial relations and cooperation between Ghana and Nigeria.
She also acknowledged the value of the combined strength of the two countries in working towards the prosperity of their citizenry.
Mr Kyerematen, for his part, re-echoed the sentiments expressed by Ms Botchwey, while observing the compelling circumstances that led to the Abuja trip.
Ghana not target
For their part, the Nigerian ministers reiterated the fact that the closure of the borders was not targeted at Ghana but aimed at fighting against nefarious activities across those borders.
They explained that the said nefarious activities were undermining the security and the agricultural policies of Nigeria.
The ministers expressed regret for the collateral damage caused by the closure of the borders to Ghanaian businesses, traders and the Government of Ghana.
However, they noted that Nigerian businesses had also suffered severely from the action, which, for them, was necessary to preserve security and the economy of the country.
They gave assurance of the Federal Government’s readiness to work with Ghana to provide unhindered access to each other’s markets.
Meanwhile, the heads of Customs of both Ghana and Nigeria are expected to operationalise decisions by jointly working out modalities for the creation of a safe corridor.
They are also expected to address other outstanding issues relating to trade between Ghana and Nigeria.
The closure of the border has resulted in a devastating impact not only Benin, Nigeria’s western neighbour, but also on Ghanaians who trade in Nigeria, a country of some 190 million people.
The Federal Government directed that all imports should come through the country’s ports where effective monitoring could take place to bolster revenue generation, but the Ghana Union of Traders Association (GUTA) raised concerns over that directive due to the cost and inconvenience involved.
GUTA had claimed that Ghanaian traders had lost several millions of cedis in profits since the border was closed and, therefore, urged the Ghana Government to use all available diplomatic channels to allow the traders access to Nigeria.
GUTA President’s position
The President of GUTA, Dr Joseph Obeng, told the Daily Graphic yesterday that the association had a representative on the government’s delegation that visited Nigeria to explore the possibility of opening the border to traders from other countries.
“We are aware that the meeting was held and the report we had was that the Nigerian authorities reiterated the problem they had with Benin, but I do not have any official information as to whether an agreement has been reached for the border to be opened,” he said.
He said the major concern of the association was for the border to be opened, so that goods that had been stranded there could be traded.
He said it was worrying that although ECOWAS protocols existed and required countries to open their borders to member countries, Nigeria failed to do so.
“These people are abusing the ECOWAS Protocol and must be told in the face to open that corridor for people to send their goods. What Nigeria is doing presupposes that they do not have any regard for ECOWAS protocols and we need our government to also put its feet on the ground and protect local businesses, using the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC) Act,” Dr Obeng stressed.
Nigeria has remained resolute in its decision, with President Muhamadu Buhari giving his full backing to it and saying it will help end smuggling.
At a recent meeting with a delegation from the Nigerian Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, he was quoted as saying: “After many years of diplomacy and aggressive regulatory oversight which yielded few results, we decided to close our land borders for a limited time to assess the impact of this measure.
Within a few short weeks, we are already seeing a decline in the volumes of counterfeit smuggled goods in some of our major markets across the country.”
He added: “This validates our action as a government when we insist that the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) must not only promote free trade but legal trade of quality made-in-Africa goods and services.”
But, while the closure of the border continues to bite, some analysts have raised issues with Nigeria for taking a unilateral decision to close its border when the action is against ECOWAS protocols on the freedom of movement.
Besides, with both Nigeria and Benin among the 54 out of 55 African countries that signed onto the historic AfCFTA, the analysts say the shutting of the border could create problems for the removal of the continent’s trade barriers.