Residents of the border communities in Ogun State on Thursday bemoaned the hardships of the border closure and appealed to the Federal government to urgently reverse the decision.
They accused the Federal government of being insensitive to their plights, lamenting that, lamenting that the hardships the closure had brought on the people outweighed its benefits.
Speaking on behalf of the over 400 communities along the border in the State, Emeritus Professor Anthony Asiwaju lamented that the border closure had completely grounded the economic activities of the border communities.
Asiwaju who was accompanied by eight Traditional Rulers from the communities spoke at press conference held at the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital.
The communities insisted that there was an urgent need for the Federal government to review the closure to save the people from hardships and hunger, arguing that, curbing smuggling goes beyond border closure as it requires well thought out policy and not “such simplistic approach”.
They also faulted the Federal government’s claims that the benefits of the border closure outweigh its pains, insisting that the government is over blowing gains accruing from the closure while ignoring the dire plights of the entire Nigerian border communities.
Some of the hardships faced by the residents, Asiwaju said included, difficulties to get fuel to carry out fuel related businesses and marketing their farm produce, saying, “This is because anytime we are transporting our farm produce to other cities for sale, Custom men arrest us for allegedly smuggling such produce from neighbouring Republic of Benin”.
He added, “The imperative for this Press Briefing has been underscored by the apparent insensitivity characteristic of physically distant decision makers in Abuja, who are understandably too far away to feel concerned about pains and sufferings caused Nigerian border communities in the margins of the State territory as a result of ill advised policy making at the centre”.
Asiwaju said the most painful aspect of the closure was that it had been enlarged to include banning of petrol and petroleum products in circulating within 20 kilometres of the border where the teeming masses of the affected border populations “Reside and carry out their legitimate rural economic activities”.
According to him, apart from small scale industries such as metal and wood works, hair dressing and block making among others which had been adversely affected by the closure, “There are a number of large scale mechanised commercial agriculture and agro -allied industrial projects,citing an over 500- hectares cassava mechanisation farm project cited at Idose village which he said had been abandoned by the owner because of lack of fuel or diesel to operate the farm machines”.
According to him, the farm is less than 15 kilometres from the Republic of Benin is owned by Afolabi Agro-Divine ventures limited who has been compelled to sack all his 45 staff.
“The operation at the farm have been completely grounded by the ban on the circulation of petroleum on which the machinery on the farm has depended”, the Emeritus Professor affirmed.
He added that there are other commercial farms in the area which had also closed shop for the same reason, resulting in the sacking of all their staff.
Asiwaju recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari as military Head of State in 1984 took similar action (border closure) which at the end of it all turned out to be counter- productive.
He alleged “Border closure is unnecessarily enriching security personnel in addition to their fat monthly renumeration to the detriment of the poor masses in border communities”.
“All of the aforementioned problems that have been occasioned on-going border closure have simply complicated and added on existing mass abuse of the human and peoples’ rights of the beleaguered border communities”.
“Apart from negating, with characteristic sovereign impunity all known bilateral understandings with Nigeria’s neighbours, including landlocked Niger and chad, whom we owe treaty obligations to give access to our ports, ongoing border closure,like the one ordered in April 1984, has meant rubbing salt into the running sore of neglect of the not inconsiderate Nigerian masses in the border areas”.
Asiwaju disclosed that in the time past Europe had similar problem but resolved it to harmonisation and therefore suggested that “Harmonisation” is one of the major ways to solve the situation”.