Special Report Nigeria – Niger Border Closure: Smuggling thrives as traders find alternative routes
“We pass through illegal routes in the bush. And over there, we pay through the nose as security agents demand huge sums of money.”
As Nigerians and Nigeriens continue to bear the brunt of the military takeover in Niger Republic, Faith Awa Maji writes on how residents of Jibia town, Katsina State have revived commercial activities at the border.
Once a busy route through which businesses thrived around Nigeria, Jibia – Niger Border has turned into a ghost town following the closure of all land borders between Nigeria and Niger Republic.
The closure has no doubt led to increased hardship for people whose day-to-day business and homes lie on, and have since been affected after the military took over the country’s civilian rule.
On July 26, a troop of presidential guards toppled the Nigerien government and ousted President Mohamed Bazoum Bazoum and was taken into custody by the military junta.
Following the coup plot, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) rolled out sanctions against the Niger Republic.
In its response to the sanctions, the military junta in Niger Republic also announced the total closure of its borders and airspace.
While diplomatic and military interventions are being considered as options towards restoring democratic power in the country, residents and traders around border communities such as Jibia, Katsina State seem to bear the brunt of the new development and sanctions imposed by the ECOWAS.
The situation at the border town appear to get worse by the day as traders are groan in pain and agony following the impact of the border closure.
Reports also indicate that the economic anguish arising from the sanctions has equally handicapped those who travel in and out of the two countries as a result of the restrictions.
One of those affected by the border closure is a truck driver, Halidu, who plyed the Maradi – Jibia route his hitherto regular journey has since been hampered by the closure of the border measure.
According to Halidu, when he knew that plying regular routes is no longer visible and due to his inability to make ends meet, together with other drivers have since resorted to exploiting illegal routes as means of survival. “We pass through illegal routes in the bush. And over there, we pay through the nose as security agents demand huge sums of money.”
A resident and shop owner at the Jibia border town, Musa, lamented that traders around the area now live from hand to mouth, adding that the border closure had affected the lives of people and commercial activities on both sides of the border.
He believes the political instability in Niger and continued action of the ECOWAS on Niger Republic may further lead into committing crime and criminality.
“Can you imagine how our people, especially those of us who are business men, are now living from hand to mouth as if we don’t have any work to do and this is due to border closure, just imagine it.
“It is no longer news that those of us at this border community, solidly rely on activities within the border as a source of livelihood and now that this has been closed for an offence we know nothing about, ECOWAS under President Bola Tinubu should come to the aid of our people.”
Speaking on the development to our correspondent in Katsina State during the visit, a tricycle driver, Malam Umar, said taking the illegal routes is the only way to survive at this critical time to survive in Nigeria.
“We now make use of the bush to take passengers and goods to and fro here. We have security agencies from Nigeria and Niger Republic who we settle for easy movement.
“Before now, we used to have regular passengers or goods with a pay of N1500 per person or bag of smuggled rice but with the border closure, hike in cost of petroleum as well as settlement for security agencies in the bush, we now collect about N2500.’
Further investigation revealed that no fewer than two illegal routes have been discovered along the Nigeria-Jibia-Niger border as business activities flow in and out of Nigeria through the illegal routes while the official border was seen with the presence of Customs, Immigration and secret service officials to ensure full compliance.
On 4th August 2023, the Federal Government ordered the immediate closure of all land borders with the Republic of Niger, over the current political instability in that country.
The Acting Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs, Bashir Adeniyi Adewale, who visited Nigeria’s border facilities with Niger, in Katsina State briefed reporters on the development, at Jibia.
According to him, “as we know, President Ahmed Bola Tinubu is a champion of economic integration in West Africa.
“He believes so much that trade with our neighbor can bring prosperity to Nigerians and other people within the sub-region.
“He had demonstrated this in words and this might have contributed to his emergence as Head of ECOWAS within a month of his emergence as President of Nigeria.
“Now, we have a situation in our hands where there is instability and insecurity.
“This situation does not allow for trade to flourish.
“We cannot have any meaningful trade in an atmosphere of insecurity and instability that we presently have in Niger Republic.
“That is why the ECOWAS, through the authority of the Heads of States, had taken the decision to suspend and close all land borders with the Republic of Niger.
“It is the responsibility of the Nigeria Customs Service, working with other agencies of government, to implement the decision in its entirety.
“I have gone round some border stations and I am happy with what I have seen in terms of compliance.
“The Nigeria Customs Service has joint operations with other security agencies at the border drills and they have been deployed to ask the border areas to carry out the implementation of the border closure order.
“The compliance had to be 100 per cent which means that all in-bound and out-bound cargoes in and out of Nigeria will not be allowed during the period of border closure.”
Although hundreds of trucks were stuck at the border that when the announcement was made, only four were seen at the border and also revealed that they were moved to Nigeria through the illegal routes at night.
One of the drivers who is familiar with the activities at the illegal routes, pleaded anonymity said that “there are also officials of Customs and Immigration Services in there and the higher bidder gets his goods in or out the border. My sister, we have to survive. We only thrive through business between the two countries and out of the blues, the government closed our only means of livelihood. We cannot go to the farm anymore due to the activities of terrorists. This business is the only thing we are surviving on and we will not wait to starve and will not join bad people to perpetrate evil that is why we choose this.
A meat seller, Malam Abubakar, however was of the opinion Jibia local government area be merged with Niger Republic due to neglect by the Nigerian government that left them in abject poverty, insecurity and food scarcity among other negative consequences.
“We are rejected by our country and because we belong to Nigeria, Niger Republic too are not friendly with us as well. What have we done to the Nigerian government? We have suffered and we are suffering from insecurity every day of our lives, hunger, poverty level is high amongst us. Eighty per cent families can not feed family members again. Unlike during President Buhari regime despite the border closure, we could be allowed to enter Niger to trade but the case is different where you cannot cross no matter what. Yes, I know there was political instability in Niger but why can’t ECOWAS use diplomatic means in solving the issues? Yes, I also know that these people take these stringent measures only after their personal gains and do not have the heart of the poor at heart. I’m calling on President Tinubu to review this measure because we Nigerians have one or two things to do with Nigeriens especially those of us at the border communities.
“Many States in the North West bordering the Niger Republic look alike, one religion and similar cultural affiliation. Why can’t I call for us to be merged with Niger? Did you know that we cannot even bring a bag of grains to Jibia even within Katsina State? How many security operatives checkpoints have you seen on your way to this place? There are more than 20 in Jibia, which is just 49 kilometres from Katsina city. Harassments everywhere in the hands of security agencies. They tag everyone of us bad hence the maltreatment.
“I desire change especially in the areas of fighting the ravaging insecurity bedeviling us, addressing the scourge of hunger and poverty level in the land but hunger could be tackled if President Tinubu opens borders for businesses to thrive. Yes, because we belong to the business community.”
The traders called on the government at all levels to urgently consider their plight and resolve the matter on time and diplomatically.