Monarchs, residents of Kwara border communities want closure reviewed
Soldiers at the Chikanda border in Baruten local government area of Kwara State The Federal Government, recently, ordered the closure of all Nigerian land borders to prevent smuggling of illegal items like rice, vehicles, ammunition, among others. The task force constituted for the assignment swiftly swung into action. However, the action has taken a toll on the communities and people living in and around the borders.
The northern part of Kwara State is the most hit by this closure. The communities claim to have been neglected over the years and have not enjoyed government presence in the area.
According to some of their monarchs, they relate more with the Republic of Benin and access some of their essential services due to proximity. "Life, living and interaction have been difficult for those of us living in the border communities, and our situation is worse when compared to that of other border communities across the country."
This is part of the lamentations from some traditional rulers of border communities across Kwara State. A visit to some of the communities of Ilesha-Baruba, Gwanara, Bukuro, Okuta, Yashikra reveals that the federal government needs to put more measures in place for the comfort of Nigerians living in those areas.
Though applauding the federal government for the steps taken for economic and security reasons, they, however, lamented over the stress the closure of the border has plunged them in.
Emir of Gwanara, Alhaji Sabi Idris Kotokotogi, said the federal government's decision to close the land borders is affecting them seriously, adding that "any time the government takes this kind of decision; it is those of us living at the borders that suffer the consequences.
"All activities at the border are in comatose – prices of petrol and other commodities have increased. The border communities are not as happy as it is. It is not everyone living at the border communities that are smugglers. We are all feeling the pain of the closure and I think there should be a way to look at it.
The authorities see every tanker of petrol coming here as smuggled but it is not so. If the price of petrol goes up, the price of everything else follows suit. As I speak to you, petrol is being sold at N400 per litre; for how long can a poor community like mine continue to bear such hardship?
"All the items we use here come from Nigeria but still very expensive. I see reasons with the government on its decision but they should ensure that every petrol tanker that is meant for Baruten stays in Baruten and doesn't get across to the border," the emir said.
For the farmers in Gwanara, the closure is a prayer answered because the smuggling activities have been affecting their farming and work in recent times. Chairman, All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) Baruten branch, Mal. Ahmed O. Aluma expressed satisfaction over the closure saying it is a good and welcomed idea.
According to him, "I retired 31years ago from the civil service; I’m now on my farm. I plant too much on my farm but in the end, it is a failure in the sense that the sales of the products aren't commensurate to the stress put into farming and harvesting because smuggled goods like rice enter the country which allows local formers to be forgotten. We’re doing so much on our farms but getting nothing in return for our hard work. Like the anchor borrower scheme, when they borrow us money they will say for a specific number of hectares they need this specific number of tons.
At the end of the day, you get less and even if you get the accurate request the price you will sell it won't show for what you took on the loan. So for this simple reason, we the farmers are happy with the development. As they say, there is always a downside to everything, even though, the farmers are happy, they also complained about the hike in price the border closure has caused. "But on the other side with the petrol price everything went high, they even closed petrol stations in most of our villages, a litre used to be sold at N150 now it has skyrocketed to N400 per litre. We have abundant land for farming to make Nigeria food sufficient but we don't have that encouragement to farm much because it becomes difficult for us to sell at the end of harvest. Nigeria is self-sufficient in food production and we produce well over 500,000 tons of rice if the activities of smugglers are cut completely."
Secretary to the Gwanara Emirate council, Alhaji Musa Woruyo, commended the effort of the Federal Government at securing the borders but regretted that the intention of government is affecting persons, especially the downtrodden. He said, "There's no official increase in petrol pump price but at the border, we pay higher. I know the government has good intentions. Within this short period of border closure, we've had a little bit of peace.
The government should, however, look at it holistically and do something to ease the burden of those living in border communities." When asked if there were issues of human rights abuse by the taskforce, Woruyo said there was none, adding that the team has been supportive as long as you don't have any contraband items. For the Emir of Yashikira, Alhaji Umar Usman Sariki said the closure affected them both negatively and positively. "The closure has affected the essential services we access across the border. We depend on Liki and Paraku for our health services mostly because we don't have functional hospitals from here up till Ilesha Baruba. The hospital here is not up to the task. Affinity along the border has been affected.
The socio-cultural interaction has been affected too because drummers and entertainers come from Benin Republic whenever we are celebrating to entertain us. "It is also good for our government and people because citizens need to be law-abiding all the time, but in most cases, we go against the law consciously or unconsciously. The populations that usually go against the law are not found among the residents of the border communities. Those involved in illegal businesses do not live here. The importation of rice is not done by indigenes, we don’t even know them and we are not beneficiaries of the illegal trade.
The closure protects national interest as well as ours, to grow our economy. If not for our ceremonies, we are not interested in consuming imported rice. "The petrol station owners are not from Baruten; they are from outside this place, and such owners usually make use of what we call tarmac. Fifty percent of the products are offloaded in Baruten while the remaining fifty percent cross the border. Nigerian petrol is being sold everywhere in Benin Republic, and we are deprived of the product since the sellers are prevented from crossing the border. The scarcity is pronounced because it is only when they are taking it out that they drop a little for us but the price is still a bit okay in my emirate. We know that we cannot follow the price regime. Because of the distance and condition of our roads, they use smaller trucks to bring the product here which makes it costly. It has affected all other commodities," the traditional ruler explained. The Emir of Okuta, Alhaji Idris Sero, who shares a similar experience with the other monarchs, says the people of Kwara North in Baruten are of the same tribe with the people of the northern part of Benin Republic, and their interaction has been greatly affected. “We are closer to Benin Republic than Nigeria and it is cheaper to assess essential services from there than from Nigeria. The distance we cover to access health services in Benin Republic is shorter than going to the closest town in Nigeria," the emir said.
A motorcyclist at the Bukuro border, Adamu Aliyu, said business has been dull for them because they thrive on moving passengers in and around the border. "We used to charge passengers N2000 from Bukuro to Gwanara but now it's N3000, and then to Shaki was N4000 but now N6000," he said. The taskforce team at the borders was seen turning people back, while those moving items like charcoal, yam flour, yams, grains, and other farm produce were made to offload the items for checks. The stop-and-search by the task force was to ascertain that illegal and prohibited items are not smuggled with other locally produced items by the people of the area into the country.
Residents, however, say the closure of the borders is impacting them negatively and called on the federal government to come up with palliative measures to ease their suffering.