Idiroko: The Ogun town wasting after border closure | Dailytrust

Idiroko: The Ogun town wasting after border closure

This used to be a busy entry point before the border closure
This used to be a busy entry point before the border closure

Since the closure of Nigeria’s borders in August 2019, residents of border towns in Ogun State have witnessed a massive economic downturn. Our correspondent visited Idiroko, a border town in Ogun State and reports on how tough life has become for the residents.

 

David Oluleye is a middle-aged resident of Idiroko, a border community in Ogun State. In the past, he used to make between N4,000 and N5,000 daily from his work as a commercial motorcyclist, or okada rider. But those days are long gone. Now he barely makes enough to fuel his vehicle, not to talk of feeding his family.

“I hardly make N1,000 daily and I must fuel my motorcycle,” he said.

His fortune changed after the federal government announced the closure of Nigeria’s borders in August 2019. Sixteen months after, the economy of border towns have been completely grounded, prices of commodities have skyrocketed, and incomes have dried up.

President Muhammadu Buhari said the sudden closure was to end rampant smuggling across the porous borders.

The closure dealt a huge blow to the Republic of Benin, Nigeria’s neighbour to the west, whose ports have been used to bring in goods into the country across the land borders. But border towns like Idiroko have suffered the blow as well.

In November 2019, the Federal Government, through the Nigeria Customs Service, directed that petroleum products should not be supplied to fuel stations within 20km of the borders. Before that, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), had raised an alarm over the increasing number of filling stations in border towns, saying they are funnels for fuel smuggling to neighbouring countries.

There are no fewer than 160 filling stations within border communities in Ogun State, Daily Trust findings show. Our correspondent reports that the affected stations cut across Ipokia, Yewa South and Imeko – Afon Local Areas of the state.

Before all these, Idiroko used to be a bustling town. It was notorious for smuggling and was a beehive of economic activities. Now it looks deserted, especially at the border area.

In the past, traders would be seen using various means of conveyance to transact different businesses across the border. Officers of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and Immigration used to be on both sides of the border to check people passing through to curb illegal trades.

All that has changed. It is all quiet now. Mostly. The vehicles seen passing through the border mostly belong to officials working with the border authorities. There were only a handful of officials at the checkpoints. They seemed to be doing little.

For the likes of David Oluleye, these changes have seen their incomes dip.

“The closure has affected residents of this area. Our business is no longer booming. People are suffering every day. People are dying every day; some people have already run mad because of the poor situation. People are crying out because the economy of this area has been badly affected. People have perished because of this situation,” he said.

Food sellers too like Mrs Celestina Titus are complaining as well.

“More than a year ago, everything was moving fine. Everywhere was bustling, but look at it now, everywhere is dry. Everywhere has turned to a bush, nothing seems to be working. Nothing is coming in or going out. When I prepare food, nobody to patronise me. People are not coming to the border to cross to the Republic of Benin. We are dying of hunger,” she said.

Both of them said the fuel scarcity in the area has seen prices go up.

“Federal Government, please, we are begging, help us and reopen the border. If the border is reopened today, things will return to normal. Our children are not going to school. No money to pay for school fees. No light, no water, our place is too dry. No fuel, everything is too costly. All fuelling stations at the border are closed. We buy a litre at N350. We get to buy fuel at Owode or Sango,” she said.

She also said prices of an okada ride have jumped from N50 to between N150 and N200.

According to another resident, Mrs Nimota Asogba, a trader, the security situation has worsened as there are many youths without jobs or any source of income.

“It is frustrating. Many have died; many have resorted to criminal activities to survive. No jobs. Even husbands can longer perform their responsibilities at home. For more than a year now, it has been extremely difficult to survive,” she said.

Also speaking with Daily Trust, a Customs License Agent and Chairman, Global Forwarders Association, Idiroko, Alhaji Tajudeen Adetayo said both the federal government and individuals have lost huge revenues to the border closure.

“It did a lot of damage to us. First and foremost, we do renew licenses for our operations. Every year, we renew the license for clearing of this job. We did it but nothing is going on.

“I am telling you, people are dying in this border. No movement. Nothing is going on again. All the trucks are lying fallow.

“Not everybody at the border is a smuggler. We have people doing legitimate businesses. All the revenue that was supposed to come from Idiroko has stopped due to the border closure,” he said.

Adetayo also said the preferential treatment given some companies to cross the border is dodgy.

“They granted Dangote a waiver in the same country? But others who are doing legitimate businesses are not allowed. This is injustice. We want the border to be reopened just like it’s opened to Dangote, BUA and others. The President should do something. Did we offend the government? People are hungry and dying every day for God’s sake,” he said.

The Ogun Area I Command Customs Controller, Michael Agbara admitted that some legitimate businesses have suffered due to the closure of land borders.

He, however, maintained that the advantages of the closure have outweighed its disadvantages.

“What was the genesis of border closure? The failure of our neighbour to adhere to the World Customs Organization (WCO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) standards. Let me give you one example. Transit trade is a worldwide phenomenon. In transit trade, if I am a transistor, passing through Cotonou port, whichever side I want to follow, it is not the business of Cotonou. They should just do their administrative process, escort and handover to the country that the goods are going to.

“For instance, if the goods land in Cotonou, going to Nigeria, they ought to escort it and hand it over to the Nigeria Customs Service. But they don’t do it. All the vehicles that enter Cotonou, they tell you it’s transit, once it is transit, why is it not handed over? They collect their money and release the goods to go anywhere either through where they like, be it bush or wherever. That’s not what WCO and WTO have in their provisions.

He said Nigeria cannot be a big brother forever and continue to incur losses on behalf of The Republic of Benin because it is against the country’s national interest.

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