Commercial activities in border communities of Katsina, Sokoto, Borno and Zamfara states have collapsed following the decision of the Federal Government to close all the country’s borders with the Niger Republic in the wake of the military takeover of power in the Francophone country on August 3.
Checks by The THE TRACK MAGAZINE on the border communities in Katsina, Sokoto, Borno, and Zamfara within the week revealed that commercial activities in the communities have been paralysed with long lines of trucks loaded with goods still stranded at the borders. However, despite the heavy presence of security operatives, smuggling thrives across illegal borders in the states.
In the Jibia Local Government Area of Katsina State, residents expressed anxiety and anger at the low level of trading.
In Katsina State, aside from the Magamar-Jibia border post, another official border with the Niger Republic in Kwangolam (pronounced Kogolam) was equally closed.
A visit to Magamar-Jibia, Kogolam Maiyardua, Baure, Dankama, and Birni Kuka, among others, showed that economic activities were at the lowest ebb. The majority of traders in these communities now trade in farm produce such as yams and grains.
At Maiyardua, for instance, many traders have shifted from transborder trading to livestock, especially cattle, goats, and poultry. The presence of a cattle market seems to be the saving grace for the transborder traders in the community as no exports and importation businesses are taking place along the Kwangolam border post again.
Security operatives, including the policemen, officers of the Nigeria Customs Service and those of the Nigeria Immigration Service, still maintain their presence and checkpoints along the Kwangolam route.
THE TRACK MAGAZINE correspondent encountered more than 10 such checkpoints from Daura to Kwangolam, which is a distance of 16 kilometres. The security operatives were, however, not harassing travellers.
Indeed, security operatives at the Nigeria/Niger Republic border control station at Kwangolam could be said to be on vacation as no activity was going on there. If not for the presence of some residents, who engage in the car wash business a few metres away from the border post and the rope put across the road at the main gate of the border post, one could easily mistake the place for another part of the town.
During an interaction with our reporter, residents expressed anger over the situation, saying the border closure had eroded their businesses and plunged them into penury.
Ado Usman, 42, said, “Before the border closure in August, I used to come to Kwangolam every day from Zango as I was selling any product brought in through the borders. The products were mainly rice, sugar, spaghetti, and milk. I had my customers then who used to come from Kano and from all over Nigeria because they knew that once they were here, they would get the product. But since the border closure, life has not been easy. Even when some of the products find their way here, they are too expensive for people to buy.
‘’Many of us now eke out a living by assisting people to buy and sell livestock at the Maiyardua Kara market. Many of us have even joined the Okada business to survive, while some of us have relocated to other big cities like Lagos, Ibadan, and Port Harcourt where we have friends and relatives to survive. Things are really hard here but we hope the border will be reopened one day.’’
In Magamar-Jibia and other surrounding communities, including Jibia and Daddara, trading activities are at a very low ebb. Many shops have been closed down while many traders are now trading in farm produce just as in Kwangolam.
Jibia town, which used to be a commercial hub, was a shadow of itself when The THE TRACK MAGAZINE visited the town over the weekend.
Many traders in Jibia who volunteered to speak after being assured of anonymity alleged that even before Nigeria closed her border with the Niger Republic, officers and men of the NCS were extorting money from traders bringing goods to Jibia from other parts of the country. The traders added that this had discouraged many traders from conducting trading activities in Jibia.
Husseini Mubarak, 45, whose shop is located in one of the markets inside Jibia town, said, “We are begging the Federal Government to reopen the border in Jibia. The border closure has made many of us poor. No business: nothing is coming in; nothing is going out. Many of us now sell yams and grains to survive since those items we used to trade in are no longer coming in. Those of us who have farms cannot even go to the farms again because of bandits. There is no single week that bandits don’t storm Jibia. Life is really terrible here now.”
At the border control post at Magammar-Jibia a few farmers were seen passing through on foot either on their way to or returning from their farms. Otherwise, the premises of the border post were completely devoid of activities.
The security operatives on duty, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they were not facing any harassment from residents.
The Chairman of Jibia Peoples Forum, Alhaji Gide Dahiru, insisted that the border closure had brought hardships on the residents and the traders in the local government. He implored the Federal Government to find an amicable solution to the problem in the Niger Republic.
He declared, “As patriotic Nigerians, we support every action taken by the Federal Government on the border closure. We, however, need to tell the truth that many people, especially traders, now focus on farm products. The closure has made many to close shops as there are no products coming again.
“The situation in Jibia is compounded by the activities of bandits. People cannot go to farms again as bandits would kidnap them and demand ransom before they are released. So, food is scarce; there are no trading activities in all our markets again. Even the local products brought from other parts of Nigeria do not easily get to Jibia because of extortion by security agents along the Katsina/Jibia highway.
“We are only appealing to the Federal Government to know that Jibia is a local government in Nigeria and people residing there are Nigerians. Although some of us have historical links with the Niger Republic, the fact still remains that we in Jibia are Nigerians and should not be allowed to die of hunger and poverty because of the border closure and the activities of bandits.”
The Chairman of the Katsina State chapter of the Civil Society Organisations of Nigeria, Mallam Abdurahman Abdullahi, also declared that the Federal Government should review the current border closure with the Niger Republic.
He said, “Border closure affects economic activities of communities neighbouring Niger Republic. This by extension leads to an increase in criminal activities in those areas as people’s sources of livelihood have been cut off. If you go to Magama Jibia, Kongolom, Baure, Dankama, and other Katsina State communities sharing borders with Niger Republic, you will shed tears. These places that used to be commercial hubs in the past are made dry by border closure. ”
The NCS Comptroller in charge of the Katsina Area Command, Muhammed Umar, has, however, met with stakeholders in 12 border communities in Katsina State where he urged them to discourage trans-border crimes and promote national security.
Smuggling booms at Zamfara’s 100 porous borders
Zamfara State has no border post officially constructed by the Federal Government to check smuggling activities.
However, there are over 100 porous borders between the Zurmi and Shinkafi Local Government Areas of the state that link the country with the neighbouring Niger Republic.
Checks by The THE TRACK MAGAZINE showed that there is free movement of goods and services to and from the neighbouring Niger Republic through these porous borders, a situation which explained that the border closure arrangement has collapsed.
At Gidan Jaja and Gurbin Bore towns in the Zurmi Local Government Area as well as other parts of the Shinkafi Local Government Area, vehicles and motorcycles were seen going out of the country to the Niger Republic and returning without any restrictions.
Essential commodities like rice and clothing materials are now imported to the country from Niger Republic through Gidan Jaja and other porous borders with little or no pressure from the security agents at checkpoints.
A businessman, who gave his name as Abdullahi Kaura, said Customs officers have now relaxed their activities with regard to the seizure of smuggled items unlike before when they pursued and arrested defaulters.
According to Abdullahi, Customs officers at checkpoints have stopped harassing people who import goods from Niger Republic, adding that, “business activities from the two neighbouring countries that have been crippled in the past as a result of the border closure have now returned to normal.”
Efforts to speak to Customs officers in the state proved abortive as none of them was ready to speak on the matter.
Sokoto’s Illela community is now a shadow of itself
In Sokoto State, Illela Local Government Area, which is the one-time busiest and bubbling border town between Nigeria and Niger Republic, is now a shadow of itself as commercial activities have gone down to the lowest level in the history of the town.
Most of the residents who relied on the activities of the border for their day-to-day businesses, which the majority of the youths in the area are known for, said they now find it hard to feed.
When The PUNCH visited the Illela border community to ascertain the current situation in the once-busy town, it was observed that the economic situation of the town had gone down completely when the border was in use for commercial activities.
The most noticeable activity in the area is the scores of articulated vehicles trapped at the other end of the border which have all been there following the closure of the border by the federal government.
Most of the trapped trucks, such as Dangote and BUA cement factory, are loaded with different types of goods which include textiles, charcoal, and soap among others.
Some residents of the border community appealed to the federal government to consider the plight of residents of the border towns in the country and open the border for business activities.
The security situation in the town and at the border post was very tight, as the border now has the presence of military personnel which was not the same as before the border was closed in August.
Meanwhile, despite pleas by Nigerians, especially those involved in import and exporting business to allow stranded goods back in the country, many trucks are still stranded at the border post with their goods unable to gain access back to the country.
It was gathered that the trucks have been stranded at the border post since August when the President directed that all land borders with the Niger Republic closed.
Some of the drivers of the trailers who spoke condemned the attitude of the federal government, saying they were treated like aliens in their country.
Adamu Nasiru, a motor boy of one of the trucks, said, “It is very unfortunate how we are being treated in our country despite committing no offence.
“We are into our legitimate job driving trailer. If for any reason a border is shut, does it mean we should remain or stay in no man’s land for this long without being cared for by our government?
“We have been sleeping on the bare floor here since, some of us were attacked by snakes here and some fell sick due to unfavourable conditions of where we live here.
“I think we deserve to know our offence; if I choose this work instead of being a criminal is that an offence in this country?
“Our appeal to the government is to allow us access to our country, hence, we have all our documents intact, as such we should be allowed in to reunite with our families while we are still alive”
Also speaking, Godwin Monday, a truck driver who was on hs way from Burkina Faso en route Niger Republic before the closure of the borders, lamented that life has never been the same since he was trapped at the border.
“I actually don’t know what to say again. We have done all that is necessary by pleading with the government and the security agents here to allow us passage so we can go back to the country all to no avail.
“We are here surviving on what people give us in Illela. Most of us have sold all our diesel to eat, while some of us have turned labourers assisting locals on their farms here. Please help us appeal to Mr President to allow us back into our country with our vehicles.
“We choose this work which we all believe is a legitimate work, we are not criminals and should not be treated like one in our fatherland. It is very very unfair on us. We are not criminals. They should allow us to go back into the country.”
Meanwhile, it was gathered that despite the closure of the border by the authorities, smuggling activities were still going on around the bushes in the area.
Scores of motorcycles were seen with different types of loads coming in from the Niger Republic, while some others were leaving the Nigeria axis to Niger.
A motorcyclist who spoke said no amount of border closure could stop the activities of illegal smuggling of goods in the area.
Nuhu (surname withheld), while speaking with our correspondent, said he had been operating as a transporter for smugglers for over 10 years.
“I have been doing this now for over 10 years, so, I see no reason why I cannot continue when I already know the ins and outs of the job.
“Security agents cannot disturb us because we don’t deal with border and as such we are miles apart in our dealings.
“Those among them who patronise us along the bush know us very well and once we settle them we have nothing to worry about.
“Even due to borders closure by other countries with Niger Republic, business activities in Niger have also been affected.”
A shop owner in the area, Altine Illeila, who also spoke with our correspondent, linked the border closure to the high cost of foodstuffs in the market.
He said when the border was in operation, smuggling activities were not too expensive and as such, the cost of goods in Illeila was very much okay.
He also described the stress being encountered while taking petty things to Kwani and other states in Niger Republic as too much.
“I’m sure you are aware that we sell most of our soft drinks in Niger Republic. Drinks such as Coca-Cola, Maltina, Nutrimilk, and energy drinks among others there with reasonable profits but that has stopped now.
“For anyone who intends to bring things into the country or take out any goods or items must be ready to part with more bribes which will turn out to cause an increase in the price of such goods.”
Efforts to speak with officials at the border post were not successful as both Customs and Immigration, among others, declined to comment, saying they were not authorised to speak with the press over the issue.
But the Comptroller, NCS, Sokoto/Zamfara Command, Musa Omale, during a visit to the border town commended the residents for complying with the directive on the closure of the land border.
The Comptroller, who was monitoring the compliance as well as boosting the morale of the officers and men of the command, reminded them that the Federal Government directed the closure of all border stations with the Niger Republic following the military coup.
He said, “Today’s tour is a follow-up to the Comptroller General of Customs visit to ensure full-scale compliance and to further serve as a morale booster to the officers and men of the command.
“Since the closure, the command has continued to leverage intelligence to record numbers of interception.
“I am impressed with the additional layers of enforcement put in place. I also want to thank other sister security agencies for their cooperation towards enforcing the compliance, I implore you all to keep the tempo.”
Omale further extended his appreciation to the stakeholders, which include importers, exporters, and agents, as well as the community for their patience over the current situation while assuring that the command is also hoping for a quick amicable resolution of the crisis
Borno residents groan
Transborder traders in Borno State recount horrid experiences as trans-border commercial activities shrink by over 70 per cent following the closure, even though about 30 per cent of such trade flows illegally through bush routes, according to investigations by THE TRACK MAGAZINE.
“I import into Nigeria from Niger food items like maize, beans, onions, fish and export fishing nets, hooks, and most other essential commodities that are not available in Niger,” Bukar Alibe said.
“Before the closure of the border, I used to shuttle between both countries with at least five pickup loads of these commodities through the Gaidam border post daily.
“Now, I hardly do so with one pickup load in a week or even two weeks, and I must tell you, most of us now do so through illegal bush roots because Customs officials at both sides of the border would certainly seize the goods.”
He continued, “At the Gaidam (Yobe State) and Damasak (Borno State) border towns, unquantifiable huge volumes of our goods lie waste because they cannot be transported across.”
Alibe disclosed, “My N500,000 worth of onions I was trying to bring in from Niger rotted away at the Nigerien side of the border because of the border closure,” adding, “A friend of mine, Alhaji Modu Idriss’ about N5m worth of smoked fish was confiscated by the Nigerien Customs officials while trying to port it through the border post.”
He said the closure of the border had been devastating to Nigeriens and Nigerian traders.
Alibe further explained, “At both sides, transborder business has virtually completely been halted.
“While the Niger Republic, which relies about 70 to 80 per cent on the importation of goods through Nigeria, is starved of most of its needed essential commodities, plunging their population into more untold hardships, the Nigerian transborder businessmen are also plunged into hardships because this has been our livelihood for ages.”
Aimi Aji trades in rice and smoked fish across the border. He used to shuttle at least three times monthly between both countries through the Gaidam border. Now, he says, he does so only about once through an illegal bush root.
“My goods have never been seized by Customs officials since the closure of the border, but my 90 sacks of rice worth over N2m I was about to transport to Niger are now stocked up in Gaidam. Transborder trade has been my only occupation; I am not doing anything now for sustenance; I am only spending out of my capital.”
Babagana Mutikime trades in fabrics, cell phones (iPhone, Smart, and Android) as well as women’s wear.
“I used to export about N10m worth of these items, sometimes even more, to Niger Republic,” he disclosed, continuing with deep grief, “Now I have about N5m worth of these commodities, which I can’t export to Niger.
“My main problem is that the larger percentage of the items are cell phones, and the cell phones are not the type preferred by Nigerians; they are the type preferred by Nigeriens.
“So, however much I slash their prices, they will not be bought by Nigerians; I tried that, and I regretted it because the prices offered were just too humiliating to me as a businessman because I would be selling at an unacceptable loss.”
He lamented gutturally, “I can tell you that I have now spent about N3m out of my capital for the upkeep of my family because I have been doing virtually nothing since the closure of the border.”
Alhaji Ahmed Ashemi is the Chairman of the Borno State Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines, and Agriculture.
“Nobody can tell you the number of billions of naira lost as a result of the halting of transborder trade due to the closure of the border because there are no formal records to enable us to do that credibly, but I can authoritatively tell you that transborder trade has shrunk by over 70 per cent since the closure of the borders,” Ashemi said.
He also said, “Although the issue at hand affects Nigeria/Niger Republic transborder trade, to substantial percentages it also affects trade between Nigeria, the Central and East African countries because the borders with Chad and Cameroon are also closed, and the government has not officially informed us that they have been opened.