Just as the issue of removing the fuel subsidy or leaving it, the issue of closing the Nigerian borders or leaving them opened is also a confusing one in Nigeria right now, so confusing many don’t know where to stand, and many who know where to stand don’t know why they are standing there. Many of the ones who argue the borders should be left opened say so because they believe not exchanging things and people with neighboring countries makes things really hard for a country like Nigeria, and closing the borders would render so many people who have illegal jobs at the borders unemployed, thereby making things hard for them too. Putting Nigeria on this spot now, these make it look like the Nigerian government is trying to put the people through hardship for some policies that may not be worth it in the end.
Also, there are others who believe the borders need to be closed to facilitate development; which sounds good too. But lots of these people take this stance base on their vaguely understood story of China and how she looked inward and went from doing really bad economically to doing really good. Even the ones in government talk about this success story of China to make the people believe they are making this right policy Nigeria needs so much at this time.
At the faces of these arguments, they all sound so good until lights are shed on the hidden parts of this policy and telling the deep tales of how China succeeded economically, then we would see that looking inward is only a tiny part of what brought about the development China enjoys now, and it is in fact so shallow to compare Nigeria with China economically at any point of the latter’s development. For a start, China decided to stop/reduce foreign economic dependence because they had seriously invested in their human resources—arguably the only thing they have, and in fact have more than every other country in the world. Nigeria is the most populated country in Africa, but even at the level of Africa, Nigeria still cannot easily stop needing things and people from the neighboring countries that are supposed to be looking up to her for their needs. Major reason for this being our absolute focus on the crude oil which distracts the people from wanting to break new grounds and also the government from investing in the people to enable them break new grounds. The people want to work for the government or in the government, which forces the government to focus on job creation (when they should focus on creating platforms for innovation and exposure), and the enlargement of the government to employ more people (when they should in fact focus on making the government smaller and less paying to build the spirit of service in the public servants instead of seeing politics as a business).
To not talk too much about the Nigerian crude oil being a big distraction to the economy so it wouldn’t seem as if the whole of Nigerian problems are blamed on her possession of crude oil and trading it. To tell whether closing the borders would help the Nigerian economy or not, let’s talk about how it is certain that the forces at the borders would only see that as a means of enriching themselves through illegal dealings and bribes that would end up allowing some level of flow at the borders, even when blocking the flow is the reason why the borders are closed in the first place. The corruption in the forces will surely make it difficult for the closure of the borders to have much effect when it comes to importation and exportation, and it is safe to believe when it comes to the case of Nigeria and her neighboring countries, the flow of goods and services is only one-sided—only flowing into Nigeria. To think Nigeria can’t have good rice lest we import from the borders. Oil and even things as small as tomato pastes and spaghetti are on the list of the things that must be brought into Nigeria. We indeed need that border closed! But when we close our borders, it shouldn’t be because we want to force our people to look inward when they have almost nothing to replace what they are being shut out on, but to give the startups who could do good but need to be paid attention to the opportunity to have the attention their products and services need. But what have we done with our startups? We are killing them with taxes and policies that would never help them stay in business just to favor the big producers who are very few by the way and singly dominated by the hegemonic Dangote. Which makes it look like every time an economic policy is made, it is made directly just because of Dangote. This is not how looking inward would help us develop economically! Companies should be able to grow when borders are closed—big or small, not just the few big ones or just one company.
We have closed the borders, but what are we doing to replace the things that are being imported—the things Nigerians believe they need and can’t replace? Are we not still enjoining Nigerians to buy Nigerian while we buy abroad? How do we want Nigerians to buy Nigerian while we don’t give the producers of Nigerian the spot to take in the market? Are there any supports for the creative Aba people yet? Because there is no way the closing of the borders would work unless we consider these things mentioned. It is very rough to think closing the borders would make us a China overnight, that’s not how it happened there, and it’s not how it’s going to happen here. It’s going to be a procedural and a long term thing—while closing the borders cannot be the first and the loudest of the processes.
Olusegun Peters is a businessman, an investor and a scholar. He is the founder of primerinfotech.com and pec-ng.com. He is passionate about contributing his knowledge to impacting as many people as possible one person at a time. Read more about Olusegun Peters here