Nigerians, mostly those living along border towns, earn their living through business transactions with neighbouring countries.
However, the once thriving businesses along these shores became crippled with the decision of the federal government to close its land borders to the movement of goods from neighbouring countries.
Our correspondent gathered that before the closure of the land border, the movement of goods was easy as long as the foreigners coming to trade in Nigeria had valid passports.
But with the closure of the border, the situation changed as it made business difficult; affected the prices of goods and the profits gained, as well as heightened illegal activities.
One such border community is Ibaka, a coastal town in Mbo, one of the five local government areas that make up the Oro nation in Akwa Ibom State. Ibaka borders Cameroon by sea and has a beach where many indigenes of the area, mostly fishermen, ply their trade or involve in marine-related businesses.
In fact, many states in the South-South and beyond source for sea food items like fish and crayfish, among others, from Ibaka beach. Close to the beach is a market where the fish and crayfish caught at sea are sold, making the place an attractive hub for business.
However, business transactions between border communities like Ibaka in Mbo and the Republic of Cameroon have been hampered, leading to a short change in the means of livelihood of the people.
But for the trite phrase, ‘man must survive’ to prove true, the business owners and their Cameroon counterparts looked for a way to earn a living by devising alternative means to subvert the government’s border closure order without committing any crime.
They introduced online transactions into their businesses which did not require their physical presence before their businesses were contracted and transacted.
Daily Trust on Sunday gathered that the clients simply make their requests for the goods they want, make the necessary financial payments for both the goods and the fares, while they sit back in Cameroon and get their goods delivered to them at their door steps.
According to Mr Unwana Akpama, a flying boat driver who traverses Marina beach in Ibaka and Cameroon on water by moving goods from the Nigerian border to the destination of the owners in Cameroon, his clients now transact business with him online, while he just makes delivery.
Akpama who has been plying his trade for 15 years, explained that the online transaction process cuts down the rigours of his clients having to pass through immigration and other forms of security checks in Nigeria, and also reduces the amount of money spent as tips to move the goods outside Mbo Local Government Area.
“I fly a boat from Ibaka to Edina in Cameroon, and I have been doing this business for 15 years. I start by loading the passengers, both people and cargo like shoes, wrappers, yam, malts like Guinness drinks etc. into the boat.
“Some of my customers from Cameroon bring Afang (vegetable leaves used to make a local delicacy) to sell here and buy things to take back to Cameroon. Few of them, when they leave Cameroon, call me and I wait for them at the border. Sometimes, I go to Cameroon to pick them.
“They come with franc, and change it to Nigerian currency. There is a bureau de change at the Marina beach in Ibaka, and they use the money to buy goods here to sell in Cameroon.
“When the Cameroonians who are my customers come, I escort them to Oron and leave them at Aba because of security issues. They trust me because I help them clear the security or I hand over the goods to the driver.
“Since the government closed the border, many Cameroonians carry out their businesses with us online. They don’t even come here again.
“Anything they want, we send it as a waybill. The person sends the goods to us and we bring it back to them. Doing the business transactions online helps to cut down on expenses,” he said.
Akpama who said business at the Marina beach in Ibaka is very profitable, however lamented that the border closure has promoted illegalities and affected the profit they make, as the cost of the goods and transportation has doubled.
First, he revealed that it promoted illegalities because business owners now route their goods through other local beaches to cut corners and beat immigration and other security agencies at the border in Ibaka.
According to him, Mbo has over 40 beaches but only five have the presence of security personnel, while over 15 local beaches were unmanned by security agencies. He said the unmanned beaches were where illegal trade thrived and contraband good/items like rice, cocaine, Indian hemp, and fuel, among others, were routed through the creeks to Cameroon and into Nigeria undetected.
Secondly, he explained that Cameroonians who would have legally applied for their passport to have access to the country to do business have discarded the quest for it, as passports were no longer necessary because of the border closure.
He said instead, security agencies collect about N3,400 from foreigners to enter the country via water without a passport, while any foreigner caught on land is made to pay N2,000. He further noted that the security agencies collect N5,000 for a bag of rice to be allowed to pass the border into the country.
“We have more than 40 beaches but five of them go to Cameroon. At some of the local beaches, they load fuel, pass through the creeks to escape security to go to Cameroon, but we only have government presence in five of them.
“There is illegal business but it does not pass through the border; it passes through other local beaches. They don’t bring illegal business to the border because of security agents.
“The illegal businesses include cocaine and indian hemp. Rice is not a problem because the security personnel collect their settlement; they collect N5,000 minimum for a bag of rice.
“No need to get a passport; it is not working since the border was closed. Business was good when the border was open, but now that the border is closed, things are expensive. Things for which we used to pay N5,000 now cost N10,000.
“When the police search you, and see rice or any other product, they would want to know how you got to Nigeria. If you say from Cameroon, they will ask you how come because the border is closed, and that becomes a problem,” Akpama stated.
Our correspondent gathered that the Cameroonians who come to trade in Nigeria stay in the country for about three days to transact their businesses and afterwards return to Cameroon.
They are said to enjoy the protection of the security agencies manning the border as they are always protected against any attack from criminal elements in the country.
On how he copes with passengers in the face of danger or mishap on the sea, Akpama said he served as a conductor for two years before he became a driver, adding that he was used to dangers on the sea.
He explained that there have been several instances where his engine malfunctioned while on high sea, adding that they have a network where he can call on his fellow colleagues to assist where such situations arise.
“I have one speed boat. I have had several cases when my engine spoilt while on the water. I call my colleagues; we have a network that even if it happens in Cameroon, we call our colleagues to help or ask them to bring the parts and we fix it.
“I am not afraid to die on the water. In this business, we are used to the dangers. I served as a conductor for two years before I became a driver, so you use that period to learn about the trade,” he said.