With barely three months after Nigeria closed its border with Benin Republic, things have not been the same with the West African neighbours as the citizens, especially those in Porto Novo and Cotonou, are groaning in pains as a result of the closure.
The land borders were closed in August following criminal activities at the nation’s international boundaries with Benin and Niger.
One key concern cited by authorities was the rice that Beninese traders import from Asia and then illegally re-export to Nigeria. According to the Nigerian authorities, the importation of these goods jeopardises the country’s agricultural policy aimed at achieving food autonomy.
But these protectionist measures taken by President Muhammadu Buhari have had disastrous consequences on the citizens of Benin Republic, many of whom sell their produce on the Nigerian market.
Mostly hit by the disastrous effects are vegetable growers in Benin, who are now struggling to sell their produce. Now it is common to see spoiled, unsold vegetables abandoned by the side of the roads or, in some cases, even rotting on the vine.
Lorries load with these products were stranded at the borders and while the goods are rotting away, the tyres of the lorries have been deflated.
The hustling and bustling movements of traders and citizens between the Owode-Apa border to Porto Novo was virtually desolated with traders hanging in twos and threes discussing the effects of the border closure on their goods.
correspondent investigation in the country shows that the citizens have suffered significant losses since the border closure.
Most of the citizens heaped the blame of their sufferings on the policy of President Patrice Guillaume Talon, whom they said is tearing the country apart as a result of his hardiness, especially for his failure to dialogue with the Federal Government of Nigeria on how to re-open the borders.
Talon, Beninese businessman and politician was elected President of Benin on April 6, 2016. He ran as an independent candidate in the March 2016 presidential election. Although he finished second to Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou of the Cowry Forces for an Emerging Benin in the first round of voting, he won the second round with 65% of the vote.
“He (Talon) is not helping our matters. He has succeeded in destroying the good works of his predecessors with just three years in office and has put the residents at his mercy.
“We are really suffering as a result of this border closure and he is not looking at our sides at all. This we believe is not good for the citizens,” said a cleric, Very Rev. Martin Odoumbakou.
A scholar in one of the higher institutions in Porto Novo, Prof. Joel Hounsou, said they are feeling the heat more than Nigerians because they are at the receiving ends.
“It is very unfortunate what we are going through since this border closure. We are really suffering. You can see that our roads are empty because there is nothing to display or transport to Nigeria.
“And the pathetic side of it is that the government is less concerned about what we are going through. The citizens are suffering and lamenting and the government is not saying anything. This is too bad. Very bad my brother because we are suffering,” he lamented.
A trader at the Quartier Kpokomey market in Porto Novo, El-Hadja Mandinath Ategbo said they are now forced to eat their goods in order to prevent them from rotting away.
“What else can we do than to resort to eating our goods ourselves since we cannot get them down to Nigeria as a result of the border closure?
“We are tired of throwing them away to the dustbins. We labour in vain to harvest the goods and we cannot continue seeing the goods rotting away.
“It is our prayer that very soon, luck will smile at us and the border will be re-opened for us to do business and bring succour to our families because we are suffering and dying in silence,” she cried out loudly.
Jean Adounsiba, another vegetable farmer said he is facing the same struggles.”The majority of our sales were to Nigerians so, since the border was closed, we’ve reduced our production because we can’t sell as many vegetables. So we are sitting here, twiddling our thumbs. If the border stays closed, the future is gloomy.
“I visited one farmer’s garden where the tomatoes were just rotting on the vines,” said Adounsiba.
Madam Prisca Gbadamasi in one of the popular markets in Cotonou urged governments of the two countries to consider the plights of their citizens and save them from the present predicaments.
“We grow all different kinds of vegetables on our plots, including carrots, turnips and different kinds of greens.
“Before the borders were closed, lots of Nigerians came to buy our produce. We sold them about 15 tons of vegetables a month, which represented about 75 percent of our total production. They were especially fond of our lettuces and our carrots.
“But it has been really hard since Nigeria closed its borders. We are really struggling to sell our produce. “Here in Cotonou there is much less demand. People aren’t buying, so we’ve suffered enormous losses.
“We’d like our government to negotiate a re-opening of the border with the Nigerian government. That would be a good thing for us and business could start back up on both sides of the border.
“We’ve reduced our production because we can’t sell as many vegetables as before as a result of the border closure,” said Gbadamasi.
The Federal Government on Thursday held a meeting with delegations from Republic of Benin and Niger in Abuja, where modalities for the re-opening of the Nigerian land borders were discussed.
The parley which held under the auspices of the Tripartite Anti-smuggling Ministerial Committee at the ECOWAS Commission Secretariat, Asokoro, agreed to establish a joint border patrol team comprising the police, Customs and immigration of the three countries.
Representing Nigeria at the meeting were the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed (Finance, Budget and National Planning), Rauf Aregbesola (Interior), Lai Mohammed (Information), Zubairu Dauda (State, MFA) and Hajia Mariam Katagum (Minister of State, Trade and Industry).
On the Beninoise delegation were the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Aurelien Agbenonci, Mr. Romuald Wadagni (Economy and Finance) and Mrs. Shadiya Assouma (Industry and Commerce), while the Nigerien team had the Ministers of Interior, Mr. Mohamed Bazoum, Mr. Sadou Seydou (Trade and Private Sector) Lamido Goga (African Integration and Nigerien abroad) and Mr. Ahmat Jidoud (Budget).
The meeting was also attended by the ECOWAS Commissioner for Trade, Customs and Free Movement, Mr. Tel Konzi.
Reading the communiqué at the end of the meeting, Onyeama, who headed the Nigerian delegation, stated that the meeting also agreed on the establishment of a monitoring and evaluation committee of the three countries.
The mandate of the committee, he said, was to ensure actions that would facilitate and enhance the suppression of smuggled goods and other related matters.
Onyeama said, “We have agreed to put in place certain mechanisms that would enable us to open the borders; there was a consensus on that.
“We have agreed to set up a joint border patrol; so the three countries would send a list of officers that would be part of the joint border patrol team and they are going to be meeting on the 25th and 26th of this month.”
Responding to questions on the threat to Nigerian traders in Accra who had been asked to shut down their businesses by their Ghanaian counterparts, the minister said the Nigerian High Commissioner to Ghana was engaging with the government of Ghana on the development.
“We are in touch, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with the leadership of the Nigerian traders in Accra, Ghana and there is no threat as we understand it, to their physical safety.
“The important thing is we have found a solution to the problem and in the not too distant future, the borders would be opened and I think that would impact on the traders in Ghana as well,” the minister said.
The foreign affairs minister admitted that the border closure had impacted severely on the nation, but added that the benefits were high.
When asked if the concerns that led to the border closure had been addressed, the minister said, “It is being addressed. We believe if all the commitments that were made today (Thursday) by the three countries were kept, going forward, the problem would be minimal compared to what it was.”