When Nigeria closed its land borders with Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger in August 2019, the aim was to curb the escalation in the trade of illicit drugs and to stop weapons, ammunition and other contraband items being smuggled into the country.
Rice, especially, and poultry were among the items being smuggled.
But the closures did not stem the practice – the perpetrators just found new ways to bring in the contraband goods.
And the smuggling of arms and ammunition simply played into the hands of insurgents, providing them with weapons and making attacks more frequent and often deadly.
The federal government thought the border closures would boost Nigeria’s agriculture sector, particularly its production of rice, which is a staple food in the country.
It believed that if Brazil, with much less land available for agriculture, could establish itself as one of largest producers of rice in the world then Nigeria, with much more land available for farming, could do so too.
In 2019, in an effort to increase farming locally, the government set aside billions of naira for the Rice Farmers’ Association of Nigeria hoping to substantially increase production. But it was to little avail.
By closing the borders, President Muhammadu Buhari hoped to diversify the oil-dependent economy by bolstering the agriculture sector.
Africanews reported that Buhari’s unilateral move was criticised for violating commercial and freedom of movement treaties signed under the Economic Community of West African States.
Border communities in Nigeria also suffered as the prices of staple foods increased. Many citizens did not agree with the closures, saying they had brought more hardship to them and had a devastating effect on the poorest of the poor.
Analysts questioned the outcome and were concerned that the closures had been counterproductive.
Closing the borders, however, had a positive effect in the petroleum industry. In September 2019, Mele Kyari, the group managing director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Mele Kyari. tweeted that the closure of Nigeria’s borders, as well as other interventions, had helped to check the smuggling of premium motor spirit (petrol).
The borders were reopened in December 2020.
“But the ban on the importation of rice, poultry and other products is still in place and will be implemented by border patrol teams,” finance minister Zainab Ahmeda was quoted as saying.