Despite land border closure by the Buhari administration for more 14 months, Nigeria still spent around N1.85 trillion on food imports in 2020. This fact was disclosed by the presidential Economic Advisory Council (ECA).
Nigeria in October 2019 closed its land borders to all movement of goods. “All goods, for now, are banned from being exported or imported through our land borders and that is to ensure that we have total control over what comes in”, Hameed Ali, Comptroller-General of Nigerian Customs Service said then in Abuja.
President Muhammadu Buhari unexpectedly closed the country’s land borders to imported goods in declaring the time had come to end rampant smuggling across the porous frontiers. The closure had a devastating effect on Benin, Nigeria’s neighbour to the west, which has been a key exporter of foodstuffs to the country.
While the action also pushed up prices for staples such as rice at markets around Nigeria, Ali’s announcement was the first official confirmation of a total shutdown in trade across Nigeria’s land borders – including goods that had been moving legally.
The closure did not affect Nigeria’s oil exports, which are exported almost entirely via the country’s ports and offshore oil platforms. Ali said that all imports should come through the country’s ports where they can be monitored more easily and generate much-needed revenue.
Nigeria relies heavily on imports to feed its booming population of some 190 million, but the government is seeking to bolster domestic agriculture as it looks to diversify the oil-dependent economy.
Unilateral border closures went against all commercial and freedom of movement treaties signed under the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). It cast a shadow over a historic free-trade agreement, signed by African countries that reached a key operational threshold in July.
Nigeria, as well as Benin, had signed onto the pact on the eve of the landmark day- a move hailed as a crucial push towards ending the continent’s trade barriers.
The land borders were, however, reopen last December.
Chairman of the ECA, Doyin Salami, made the N1.85 trillion figure public at the 2021 National Economic Outlook event organised by the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN) held virtually.
According to Salami, “despite border closure, our national import of food amounted to N1.85 trillion between January and September 2020, a 62 percent increase when compared to the same period in 2019. This suggests a weakness in our ability to feed ourselves and raises the need to consider a review of intervention policies in agriculture.
“Agriculture continues to decelerate growing at 1.7 percent year-to-date while consumer sensitive sectors like manufacturing and distribution continue to contract in double digits.”
Continuing, Salami said it was partly as a result of the serious climatic concerns which were undermining agricultural output, noting also that about 2.5 million farmers were impacted by floods in 2019.