By Tony Obiechina, Abuja
The thorny issue of the recent closure of Nigeria’s borders came to the fore again on Monday as discussants at an economic conference expressed divergent views on the government’s policy.
The Special Adviser to the President for Economic Matters in the Office of the Vice-President, Dr Adeyemi Dipeolu and Senator Shehu Sani took opposing positions on the impact of the border closure on the nation’s economy.
It was at the African Economic Congress with theme, “Building the Africa We Want,” held at the Musa Yaradua Center in Abuja.
The Federal Government had in August closed its borders to neighbouring countries in an exercise code-named operation Exercise Swift Response.
The action which had resulted in joint border operations by a combined team of security agencies had been greeted by mixed reactions from stakeholders.
Sani and Dipeolu who were part of the panel of discussants on the impact of African Continental Free Trade Agreement on Africa’s economy expressed divergent views on the Federal Government’s decision to shut the borders.
Other members of the panel of discussants were, Special Advisor, African Union Commission, Prof Jerome Afeikhena; a lecturer at Baze University, Abuja, Dr Yima Sen and President of the International Center for Diplomacy, Karina Rhanem.
The Chief Executive Officer, African Economic Congress, Nancy Illoh moderated the session which was attended by top officials in both the public and private sector of the economy.
In his submission, Sani wondered why the Federal Government would decide to shut it’s borders to neighbouring countries at a time when it just signed the AfCFTA.
He said the objectives behind the AfCFTA was trade liberalisation, adding that the closure of the nation’s border was not in line with the overall objectives of the agreement.
“A lot has been said about the AfCFTA but I think what we need to remind ourselves is that the idea to integrate the continent economically is not acceptable”, he said.
“The idea of an African Free Trade Area is coming back to that reality that our future and destiny are tied to each other. But there are challenges that we have to be ready to face. One of which is the one that we are experiencing in the country today.
“You can’t sign an African Free Trade Agreement and close your borders. I don’t know how to call black white. And you also have to tell yourselves the truth that if we are desirous of building a more economic future our continent, then we have to sacrifice some of our irrelevant relationship with nations that are outside the continent.
“And on this, I believe that signing is one thing and following to the latter all the requisite of all the papers we sign is another.
“So I believe a conversation like this will ignite and encourage those who are in power to see that those things that we sign on paper come to light.”
Sani said the implementation of the AfCFTA would be based on an efficient Customs and Immigration system.
He said if the agreement is implemented without carrying out reforms in these agencies, then the outcomes would not be as expected.
When asked to respond to the issues raised by Sani, the Economic Adviser said that the border closure was done in national interest as countries that have borders with Nigeria have failed to honour trade agreements.
Dipeolu said, “I have a very straight forward answer. The simple answer is that we have signed (the agreement) but we have not ratified.
“More importantly, the AfCFTA is trying to introduce a rule based trading system in Africa. Now the very people who have already signed previous agreement with Nigeria on Customs cooperation and the rules that will affect transit of goods are not living up to those obligations.
“So you are not following on the things you have signed to and you want to hold me onto the things I have just signed to.
“What you will then have is that I will sign onto the AfCFTA and you will continue to do these things you are doing to undermine my economy by smuggling, dumping.
“So I think it’s an opportunity to remind ourselves that all obligations must be adhered to.”
The 3-day Congress continues on Tuesday with various sessions on Africa’s Business Leaders, Agriculture, Energy, Legislature, Civil Society Organization, Tax and African Start-up Challenge lined up for discussion.