Former Ghanaian President, John Dramani Mahama is calling on Nigeria to reopen her inland borders. According to Mahama, if the Nigerian government opens its borders, it can boost economic activities in West Africa. The former Ghanaian president aired his view at a lecture in commemoration of the 7th Realnews Magazine Anniversary in Lagos. The topic of the lecture was “Beyond Politics: An Economic Narrative for West Africa“. While speaking during the event, Mahama opined that Nigeria’s decision to close its borders was hurting the ECOWAS agenda.
ECOWAS stands for Economic Community of West Africa States. It is a regional economic bloc of West African states established in 1975 and has 15 member states. The objective of the body is regional economic integration. It involves the cooperation of member states to ensure free trade aimed at enhancing economic growth and development in the region. With Nigeria being the headquarters of ECOWAS, closure of its borders contravenes the objectives of the body.
In August, Nigeria made a unilateral decision to close its border to Ghana and other West African countries. As a result, there is a pause in free trade in the region. Nigerian indicated that the move is to end widespread smuggling through its porous borders. Consequently, the closure will go on until January next year. John Dramani Mahama stated that it was unfortunate that economic activity in the region was suffering because of the country’s weak institutions.
Impact of Nigeria’s Border Closure on Business in the ECOWAS Region
The closure of Nigerian borders is taking a toll on SMEs in Ghana, Togo, and Cote d’Ivoire. These countries rely heavily on inter-county trade, However, some businesses in Nigeria are not immune to the impasse. According to John Dramani Mahama, businesses in Nigeria were equally suffering because they depend on supplies from neighbors. Recently Nigeria and her neighbors signed a joint border task force deal. In line with the agreement, the former president is now calling for the opening of the border to allow free trade. Mahama’s advice to Nigeria’s government is to strengthen its systems and institutions to tackle the problem of smuggling.
Nigeria is the largest economy in the West Africa region and home to ECOWAS headquarters. John Dramani Mahama, who was also a former chairman of ECOWAS, indicated that his interest was seeing the region prosper. According to him, the decision by the Nigerian government was causing regional economic instability. Consequently, it is breaking the objective principles for the formation of ECOWAS. The trading bloc’s objective is to foster collective self-sufficiency through economic cooperation. John Dramani Mahama said,
“Nigeria must invest in strengthening its institutions and systems that are responsible for the importation of illegal or prohibited goods. The total closure of especially the Benin border is having a significant toll on many small and medium enterprises especially in Togo, Ghana, and Cote d’Ivoire that rely on inter-country trade for survival… As an economic and regional bloc, a lot of economic opportunities are available to us and we must take advantage of them.“
Promoting free trade in Africa
Africa has a substantial urbanizing population. Thus, there is a need to develop services and digital economies. However, this is attainable if African countries can cooperate and allow free trade. Digital economies, if well nurtured, will grow faster and could employ the growing young population.
Correspondingly, there is massive potential in the ICT, creative industry, tourism as well as financial services sectors. John Dramani Mahama also stated that in most African countries, the services sector is growing fast—with massive economic prospects. According to the former president, it will be difficult to make these gains if free trade is hampered.