Less than a month to the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) going into full swing on January 1st, there have been concerns that the Federal Government may still not reopen the land borders which has been closed for 16 months.
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Even after Nigeria ratified its membership of the African free-trade zone due to be launched in January, the initial reluctance to join the bloc for fear of exposing local industries to dumping by countries outside Africa is somewhat being resolved.
However, on Tuesday 8th December, President Muhammadu Buhari hinted in a release that the borders may soon be opened; yet with no particular date assigned in that effect.
Meanwhile, worse politics has been playing behind the scenes in the details around the opening of the border. Allegations that money exchanged hands between a prominent Nigerian businessman and a top Nigerian civil servant about 5 years ago is determining who and who enjoys waivers from the closed land border.
According to a report by People’s Gazette, Ms Hadiza Bala Usman, a former activist and current head of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) received N100 million transfer from Alhaji Aliko Dangote on February 6, 2015, while another N100 million came through three days later on February 9. The bank transfers were tagged with ambiguous descriptions that made it difficult to conclude their purpose, but the timing of the fund transfer suggests that it was meant as a catalyst for the APC presidential campaign which was fast waning back in February 2015.
Five years later, Dangote Group, the company owned by Aliko Dangote appears to be recouping its contribution to the APC campaign years ago by enjoying a special waiver to export its product through the ‘closed’ land border. This latest largesse which Dangote benefits from the government stands apart from the FOREX waivers, concessions and tax rebates which the Dangote Group reportedly benefits from the government at a cost to Nigerian taxpayers.
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But the crux of the list of people who benefit at the expense of the nation does not end with some of the special concessions and rebates. The direction of trade policy now also seem to greatly favour some highly connected individuals who can literally call the shots on when the land borders will be thrown open irrespective of AfCFTA being activated. That vested interests could thwart the direction fiscal policy is supposed to follow is not ideal for our fledgeling nation.
While Vice President Yemi Osinbajo suggested about a month ago that the land borders will soon be thrown open, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Sabo Nanono, later came out to reject the notion that the borders will open soon. The Finance Minister, Hajia Zainab Ahmed, assured Nigerians that the borders will soon be opened once a reopening date is sanctioned by the president. However, one can tell that top government executives are pretty much divided over the issue of the reopening of land borders.
As the price of popular Nigerian rice staple dishes continue to drop, the question now on the lips of some Nigerians is: could this event be in anticipation of the AfCFTA launch that wholesalers are crashing the prices of their old goods in order to accommodate new stock? Would the Federal Government honour the AfCFTA pact and throw the borders open in order to allow free trade with other African nations and especially West Africa? Would the Nigerian economy experience some anticipated shocks or will it be that of net positive impact on Nigeria’s balance of trade?
In the end, the extent to which all of these political gimmicks stack up to the fate of the Nigerian economy at all levels, and the livelihood of a majority of Nigerians, is wired into whether better fiscal policies will result from the AfCFTA taking off by January or not.
Featured Image Source: Council On Foreign Relations
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