Badagry-Seme border closure: A tale of hunger games?

With Nigeria having shut its border, the legions of motorbike riders who used to satisfy the nation’s hunger for imported rice has declined
Badagry-Seme border closure: A tale of hunger games?

Trade between African nations have gone on well before the start of the colonial era.

Trade led to a relationship which grew into different symbiotic relationships over the years for the different countries and people involved.

Recently, Nigeria closed its land borders with sister African nations in a bid to reduce the influx of arms and ammunition, banned goods and boost local production of agricultural and poultry goods in Nigeria.

I visited the Seme Border between Nigeria and Benin Republic to find out things first hand.

Armed with nothing but a camera, a tripod, camera lenses, identification cards and my crew, our journey started as early as 4 am.

The roads and streets, as expected, were calm with little or no other people on the road with us. Other than street lamps around Eko bridge, we had the darkness for company as we drove away from Victoria Island.

The skies brightened up at about past six in the morning. This visibility came right on time, to combat the next hurdle. Bad roads.

The gaping holes on the Lagos-Badagry Expressway led motorist to drive against traffic on both sides of the road. The criss-cross movements from either lane occurred at intervals until we got to our destination.

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Parked trucks greeted us at the gate to the border. The available Customs officials and other security personnel told us that they were not authorized to speak to press.

While Nigeria’s Head of Custom Service, Retired Colonel Hameed Ali insisted that the border will remain closed, people have begun arguing over whether it is brotherly for Nigeria to close its borders or not.

In the face of the recently signed Africa Free Continental Trade Agreement, it is also not wrong to protect an economy from external economic aggression and boost local production which is currently looking like the positive outcome of this closure.

The days of heaping 50-kilo sacks of rice across the saddle of their motorbike and slipping a few notes to a customs officer are now gone.

With Nigeria having snapped its borders shut, the legions of motorbike riders who used to satisfy the nation’s hunger for imported rice are lucky at best to sneak through a few packets of Basmati.

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The some 3,000 sacks of rice per day that motorbike riders estimate they previously smuggled across the border from Benin have slowed to a trickle.

As a result, the price of rice has skyrocketed, from ₦9,000 for a 50-kilo sack, to ₦22,000, a price higher than Nigeria’s minimum monthly wage of ₦18,000.

Nigeria says it is turning to local rice product. But at 4.8 million tonnes last year, local rice production was still not enough for the 190 million Nigerians, who spend about a tenth of their food budget on the staple.

Beyond quantity, there is also the issue of quality.

“It’s the imported rice people love,” said one trader at the market in Badagry.

“Nigerian rice is not good enough and too expensive.”

The border closure means Nigeria is choked off from supplies until the next harvest by local farmers.

The Badagry market, usually teeming with activity thanks to its location near the border, now lacks its usual hubbub.

Not only is there almost no rice to be had, there is almost no macaroni, cooking oil, or sugar either.

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“We can’t depend only on local production,” said market director Todowede Baba Oja.

“No one is on an island. We depend on one another. This suffering is getting out of hand.”

Even the butcher who sells locally-produced beef is having trouble, as his customers have little left for meat after paying higher prices for staples.

People have “no more money”, he said.

Only time will tell whether Nigeria’s food protectionist policy would not lead to a hunger game among citizens of both countries.

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