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Economic hardship: Borno, Adamawa traders, labourers chase dreams to Chad, Cameroon

Before dawn, Muna Garage in Maiduguri, Borno State, was already abuzz with activities – passengers and traders haggling, while a fleet of commercial trucks warm…

Before dawn, Muna Garage in Maiduguri, Borno State, was already abuzz with activities – passengers and traders haggling, while a fleet of commercial trucks warm up, eagerly waiting to hit the road.

At the Nigeria Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) office inside the park, men and women in groups, obviously foreign and local traders, were busy settling transportation costs.

Pyramids of assorted goods and materials were seen parked in the busy park, with the owners, mostly Chadians and Cameroonians, guarding them before getting them loaded on trucks to the target destinations.

On the other side of the park, local bureau-de-change (BDC) operators were busy converting Chadian CFA to naira for smooth business transactions between buyers, sellers and vehicle owners.

“They are from Chad, they used come here every week to buy goods and transport them back to their country. But most times, it is our local traders who are now migrating their businesses to Chad, loading from here,” he said.

Mista Kenneth, a tall and well-built young man, who accompanied an elderly woman he called Mama and his siblings to board a truck to Ngala, up to Cameroon, then Chad, said they were forced on the journey by economic hardship in Nigeria.economic hardship

“Mama said she would not speak to journalist, but to crown it all, most people you see here are trying to escape the current economic hardship in the country.

“Majority here are petty business owners and labourers who couldn’t cope with the harsh situation, so they decided to move to Chad and Cameroon for greener pastures,” he said.

However, the predicament of Mama and the other passengers in the car is not isolated, thousands of labourers and traders like her are on a daily move to the neighbouring countries to absorb the economic tension.

Most of them – men, women and children – risking their lives into Cameroon and Chad – also blamed the continued downward slide of the naira and the rising cost of living in the country to be the reason.

Few days back, the prices of goods like cement, rice, sugar, spaghetti, beans and other groceries, have gone astronomically high, but even higher in Borno and Adamawa states than anywhere in the country.

How Chadians lured Nigerian traders into export

Aliyu Makinta, one of the traders in Maiduguri, said as the naira continued to fall freely, Chadian CFA continued gaining advantage over the naira, and attracted their businessmen into Nigeria for cheaper goods.

“At one point, they used to buy everything when they came – food and non food items – in very large quantities and transport it back home. And with this, Nigerian traders find a new lease of life in exporting to Chad.

Mala Shettima, a National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) official at Muna Garage, said that 30 to 40 trucks used to load goods to the neighbouring countries from Maiduguri everyday.

“Goods they mostly export to Chad are cement, onions, oranges, potatoes and other vegetables. On average, 30 trucks loaded with goods leave here on a daily basis,” he said.

Chadian CFA out-values naira

Some of the traders and labourers interviewed by this reporter said for them to keep afloat, they had to export what they had to the neighbouring country.

According to them, the growing presence of Chadian traders within Maiduguri is alarming a new crisis among the local traders because they are gradually taking over the business.

“They would come to Maiduguri with CFA, convert it to naira at an exchange rate of 10,000 CFA to N22,000 and  buy almost all kinds of goods, including bread, and transport them to Chad through Gambarou Ngala.

“Sadly, if they come here (Maiduguri) to buy cement or provision, they mock our money calling it ‘Karton’, meaning ‘worthless paper’. Some would even say Nigeria wouldn’t survive if they stopped coming,” A trader at Muna Garage, Babu Alhaji Muhammad lamented.

He said the number of labourers moving out of the state was alarming, and “they would go there, do their manual jobs and return home with CFA, change it to naira and get the full value.

“I want the government to look into this issue because they would understand that it’s a crisis if they knew how many people are leaving for Chad from Maiduguri everyday,” he said.

Another interesting part is how Chadians are coming into Nigeria to buy bread and other baked products to be selling in Chad and other places.

Hassana Modu, a bread seller stationed in Muna Garage, complained that Nigerians had turned slaves to the foreigners that come in to buy goods.

“I established contact with Chadians and we are doing business since the naira value started falling, but they don’t respect us. They would come with just 100,000 CFA and buy goods worth N1million.

“Go to the cement seller’s shed and find out. Before one Nigerian could buy a bag of cement, these Chadians would have bought 10 or 20. Not only that, they buy other building materials and transport them to their country.

“I sometimes ask myself where Nigeria got it wrong. These smaller countries that we are better than by all standards are now belittling us,” he said.

Migrating youths push wheelbarrows in Chad

Babagana Mustapha, a resident of Gambarou Ngala, the Nigerian border to Cameroon, said that from January till date, over 1,000 youths had migrated to Chad through Cameroon.

“I was in Cameroon and Chad last week, and I can tell you that we saw over 200 youths from Maiduguri trying to cross to Chad at Kusiri, a Cameroonian town sharing boundary with Chad.

“The youths were armed with wheelbarrows and sacks filled with their belongings. I was very surprised when I saw their number trying to cross to Chad.

“When I entered the market in Bongori last two weeks, Nigerians – men, women and children – were all over when I entered the last two weeks.

“From Ngala to Kusiri to N’Djamena is over 130 kilometers, but the way our people are migrating is a source of worry, but I learnt that Cameroonian authorities have started controlling the influx of Nigerians,” he said.

Mustapha also revealed that at least 30 to 40 trucks loaded with onions and cement leave Nigeria for Chad on a daily basis.

Zulum meets traders, securities over rising cost of cement, foodstuff

The Borno State governor, Prof Babagana Zulum, has described the continuous skyrocketing prices of building materials and food items as a matter of great concern to his administration.

Zulum, who convened an emergency meeting with the traders and security heads on Wednesday, said the target was to see how to ameliorate the suffering of masses over rising food items in the state.

He said there was an urgent need to proffer solutions to address the hardship faced by citizens as a result of the falling value of the naira ahead of Ramadan fast.

“In the country in general and Borno State in particular, it is a matter of great concern to me, similarly, the continuous increasing of building materials, especially cement in Borno State.

“We must look inward to address the suffering of our people. That’s why I called you all into this meeting,” he said.

He told the traders that they must prepare to sacrifice in order to help people already distressed by the crisis in the state.

Zulum also promised the traders of his intention of establishing rice and reviving the floor mill to cushion the effect of inflation.

Fintiri bans export of building materials

Also, the Adamawa State governor, Ahmadu Umaru Fintiri, has banned the transportation of building materials to neighbouring countries from the state.

In a statement by his chief press secretary, Humwashi Wonosikou, Fintiri noted that the directive became necessary to curb the rising price of building materials in the state, “which is caused by the exportation of the materials by unpatriotic Nigerians across the border,” he said

He warned that the government would impound vehicles found conveying these items across the border and prosecute anyone found to be involved.

“All security agencies operating in border communities have been instructed by the governor to intensify surveillance to prevent trucks from moving large quantities of building materials to neighbouring countries,” the statement reads.

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