Living, trading with tears across Nigerian borders

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Without basic infrastructure and social amenities, life in any society could be arduous. This appears to be the story of residents in major border towns across Nigeria.. Living, trading with tears across Nigerian borders• How Infrastructure Deficit Can Undermine AfCFTA• Nigerians Travel To Cotonou For Medical Treatment

Without basic infrastructure and social amenities, life in any society could be arduous. This appears to be the story of residents in major border towns across Nigeria, especially traders who traverse the communities daily to eke a living. A recent visit by The Guardian to some of the border towns showed that they suffer from massive infrastructure deficit. In some instances, the lack of infrastructure is so precarious that it endangers the lives of international traders and the residents. Nigeria is bordered by Benin Republic, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger; it shares maritime borders with Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, and São Tomé and Príncipe. On the coast of West Africa, it is also bordered by the Bight of Benin and the Gulf of Guinea in south.   Checks by The Guardian revealed that in virtually all the border areas, the Nigerian communities lack basic infrastructural such as well equipped hospitals, pipe borne water, seamless communication network, and good road network, among others, thereby making live almost unbearable for cross-border traders and residents.     Aside from formal trade, informal cross-border trade (ICBT) is pervasive and has a long history given the West African region’s artificial and often porous borders. It is a long history of regional trade, which has thrived more because of weak border enforcement and, perhaps most importantly, lack of coordination of economic policies among neighbouring countries. For instance, to underscore the volume of trading that goes on at the borders, statistics have it that ICBT generates about 20 per cent of Benin Republic’s GDP.

As a result observers have expressed the view that if the nation’s trade corridors were given a facelift with proper infrastructure, facilities and institutions, it would reduce transportation costs and time, while boosting trade. 

With government policies and multiple security checkpoints to contend with, traders across the borders regularly go through hard times commuting and transporting their wares through a network of bad roads, a situation that increases the cost of doing business across the corridor.  Taking the poor roads into consideration, experts expressed concern and noted that the road infrastructure deficiency at the border towns might impact negatively on the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). They added that the land border trade corridors required good infrastructure to aid seamless and cost-effective movement of goods. 

IN another development, due to the unavailability of good healthcare facility, a near death case was recently recorded at Chikanda border. Chikanda is a border between Nigeria and Benin Republic. The town is located in Baruten local council area in the North Central district of Kwara State. The local government begins in Ilesha Baruba and ends in Chikanda, the border town known for oil importation and exportation. Chikanda is far from development. It lacks pipe borne water and hospital among other basic amenities that should make life meaningful for its residents and traders. Indeed, the poor state of health facilities, according to a trader who spoke with The Guardian, almost led to the untimely death of a colleague who took ill while in transit and was unable to get proper medical attention until he was moved across the border to the neighbouring country.

Executive Chairman, West African Association for Cross-Border Trade and Agro-Forestry-Pastoral, Fishery Products and Food (WACTAF), Alhaji Nassiru Alasoadua Salami, in an exclusive chat with The Guardian, lamented the lack of infrastructure at the border areas, urging the government to provide facilities that would improve the well being of residents and traders.

He narrated his experience, saying: “All Nigerian borders that I have visited lack infrastructure. At Chikanda, there is no water nor hospital on the Nigerian side, but there is hospital on the Benin side. One of our officials was sick in Chikanda, we had to travel about 65 kilometers to Baruten Local Council headquarters. The hospital had no equipment; I still had to rush to Benin, which is about 20 kilometres away. The emergency point at the border is also on the Benin side. They gave him first aid and directed us to a standard hospital. If not for their support and provision of infrastructure, he could have died.  Salami explained that the challenges are the same across all Nigerian borders, pointing out that residents at Seme border usually cross to Benin to treat themselves because Badagry is about 15 kilometers away. “If you want to minimise smuggling, you have to provide infrastructure and create jobs for them; you don’t leave them to suffer and resort to illegal trade. If we do not put structures in place at the borders, if we did not provide infrastructure, and do not provide jobs for border communities, we would continue to have security challenges and it would be difficult for us to tackle smuggling,” he said.

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