What we will do if border closure remains –Leader, Ghana traders union
Clement Boateng is the National Organiser, Ghana Union of Traders Association. He speaks on the closure of Nigeria’s land borders and how it is affecting businesses in his country in this interview with ALEXANDER OKERE
Why did your organisation condemn the closure of land borders by the Nigerian government?
It (border closure) wasn’t a right decision because it infringes on the ECOWAS protocol. The foundation of the ECOWAS protocol is the free movement of people, goods and services. So, if for close to three months, the borders have been closed and people cannot move freely, goods cannot exit or enter, then it defeats the ECOWAS protocol. That was the reason our association issued a statement condemning the closure of the borders by the Nigerian authority.
How specifically has this affected Ghanaian traders?
It is not only Ghanaian traders that the closure has affected; it has affected almost all the ECOWAS countries that are using the borders – it affects Benin (Republic), Togo, Ivory Coast and Liberia. Our association issued that statement for the purpose of all the (affected) countries.
Have you received any response from the ECOWAS Commission over the closure?
We are amazed that the ECOWAS Commission has not said something or commented on the closure of the border. Before Nigeria closed its borders, it should have done some consultations with the countries that would be affected by the closure.
Are you saying no consultation was done?
No consultation was done before we realised that the borders were closed. We can even attest to the fact that Nigerians are complaining about the closure because Nigerian farmers cannot export their products.
One of the reasons given by the Nigerian government for the closure was the need to stop smuggling, promote trans-border security. What’s your reaction to that?
Well, if those were the reasons given for the closure of the borders, especially regarding security, I wouldn’t have much problem with that. But the manner the whole exercise was done wasn’t the best. We are worried about that. The Nigerian government should have informed other ECOWAS members, their security agencies, about the exercise it wanted to embark on to check security issues, rather than just closing the borders. Now, people’s goods that are perishable have gone bad and people have lost huge sums of money. I don’t think it is the best.
Can you quantify how much your members have lost since the closure?
I cannot quantify what we have lost. I cannot specifically say the amount that has been lost. But as far as I am concerned, we have lost a huge sum of money.
Can you list some of the goods from Ghana that have been affected?
Nigeria has something known as ECOWAS trade mobilisation scheme which means that all the 50-member states can send goods that are manufactured by each country to each country. But for three to four years, Nigeria banned 41 items which cannot be imported and the ECOWAS Commission is not saying anything. Some of the goods banned by Nigeria are poultry products, pharmaceuticals, textiles and furniture and I don’t think this is the best thing to do because one of the reasons for the establishment of ECOWAS is promote trade among the member-states with goods manufactured by them.
Nigeria had also alleged a breach of the ECOWAS protocol on transit demand by some neighbouring countries that tamper with the seals of transit containers from Nigeria. How would you respond to that?
Well, if there was a breach, Nigeria has every right to complain to the trade department of the ECOWAS to sort it out. Anything that breaches the sovereignty of a country within the ECOWAS commission must not be allowed.
Do you think Nigeria’s decision has any implication on its economy?
I don’t think the closure of the borders was the best thing to do because in September alone, Nigeria made about N115 billion, which was a boost to its revenue. But Nigeria thinks the closure is good and wants to extend it to 2020, that’s why my association has complained and our government must talk with them (Nigeria). They (Nigeria) said they were going to open a special corridor for us to channel goods from Ghana going there and the other way round. But we want a total opening of the borders. However, if the special corridor is in the interim, I think we will take it like that.
Smuggling of illicit food items is a major problem affecting local economies. What has the Ghanaian Trade Union done to sanction its members who may be involved in smuggling?
As far as we are concerned, none of our members has been engaged in smuggling. I visited Nigeria twice or thrice in a year and no member of my association has been arrested for engaging in smuggling. I can say that Ghanaians don’t engage in smuggling.
How does the union intend to implement the proposed boycott of made-in-Nigeria products, according to the reported statement you issued?
I don’t know where that came from. Maybe one of my regions issued that statement. But as far as I am concerned, the national association has not come out with any statement of that nature. I will have to check from my regions. As far as the national (body) is concerned, we haven’t called for any boycott.
Why is your country not happy with the border closure?
The Ghanaian government is not happy and that was why, when we complained to the government, our foreign affairs minister had to quickly rush to Abuja to engage the Nigerian authorities. That resulted in an agreement that they will open a corridor for us. The Ghanaian government is working things out with the Nigerian government.
What has been the impact of the border closure on Ghanaian families?
The impact has been negative. We also have a number of Nigerians who are engaged in business in Ghana. They bring their goods from Nigeria to trade but they are all complaining. It is taking a negative toll on business and it is not only Ghanaians that are complaining.
What will your association or Ghanaians do if the current situation continues for a long time?
We are praying that it doesn’t continue. But if it continues, we will not have any option than to look somewhere else.
What exactly do you mean?
We can go anywhere. One of the reasons we are doing business with Nigeria is because it is close to us. Even if you are flying in, in 45 minutes, you are in Lagos; you can do your shopping and come back. If you go by bus, in eight or nine hours, you will be in Lagos. But if it comes to a point that the borders are not open and business cannot go on, we won’t have any other alternative than to go to Dubai or Europe and bring our goods from there. We may boycott Nigeria for Dubai and other countries if this continues.
Do you think Nigeria’s economic will feel the brunt in the long run?
It will. I belong to the spare parts industry and my business counterparts are complaining that they have not been making any sales since the closure of the border. So, in the long run, it is the Nigerian economy that will be affected because they (Nigerian traders) will not make sales to be able to pay their taxes or import goods so that the Nigerian government can generate revenue.
How best can African countries address the problems associated with trans-border trade?
The solution to the problem is for the authorities to open their borders and make their security agencies patrol the borders day and night to check smuggling. Those doing genuine business should be allowed to take their goods across the borders.
Published on Punch Newspapers