The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Sabo Nanono, said on Sunday that the Federal Government’s closure of the Nigerian border does not in any way breach the free trade agreement in the West African sub-region.
Speaking in Abuja, Nanono explained that the measure was meant to protect the country and its citizens from the illegal activities which take place at the borders.
“Free trade does not mean Nigeria has to be a dumping ground for everything imported by others. These products are not even from all these countries involved. So, why should they be feasting on us?
“Nigeria controls 60 to 70 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the West African sub-region.
“So, Nigeria’s economy still remains a buffer zone for the West African sub-region.
“Besides, most of the people that come into this country and melt into the population from the West African su-region come in because this country is accommodating them.
“This happens to the extent that some of these people, when they migrate into this country, you do not even know that they are immigrants.
“Take for example, people from Niger Republic when they come into Kano State, what will differentiate them from the people from Kano, or those from Benin Republic who come into Oyo State or Osun. They look like us.
“This situation creates a problem, and the border closure is a measure that has gone a long way in solving the problem,’’ Nanono told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).
The minister disclosed that the Federal Government was holding talks with the countries concerned to ensure that they keep to the terms of the free trade agreement.
He said the border closure was not meant to hurt anybody.
“It was a decision taken after careful deliberation and series of attempts by government to get the neighbouring countries to check the illegal activities at the borders.’’
Nanono pointed out that a lot of activities were going on at the borders which were not in the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians.
“Nigeria became a dumping ground for all kinds of imports, especially rice, which used to come from these neighbouring countries.
“The unfortunate thing about it is that most of the rice being imported are not healthy and 100 per cent of these rice were not produced in these countries. They were produced elsewhere.
“From what I gathered, some of the countries were even given some forms of assistance to curb these imports, but they refused to change.
“They went ahead, with their countries becoming routes to import rice and other things into this country.
“No country in the world can tolerate what we have tolerated over the years.
“This (Nigeria) is a country that can produce rice, not only to feed itself but also to export to other countries.
“Even before the closure of border, when the government changed policy from continuous importation of rice to restriction, the Nigerian farmers have showed that they can produce rice to feed this nation,” he said.
The minister said one of the major impacts of the closure of border was that Nigerians have began to consume local rice and other locally-produced commodities.
“l am pleased to note that the consumption of local rice has now gone beyond our imagination.
“In the Southern part of this country, people do not eat foreign rice anymore. In Ebonyi and Bayelsa, you can hardly see somebody selling foreign rice.
“They now eat Abakaliki rice and they are happy about it. It is fresh, nutritious and healthy.
“In fact, you can perceive the local rice’s good aroma in the mill, as opposed to the one being imported into the country which does not even add value to our health and which is not even nutritious. So, why should we even bother ourselves about this?
“We have reached a level where in the next two years we will start exporting rice, based on what I saw when I visited the cluster of rice millers at Kura in Kano State, which is about a one-kilometre stretch,” he said.
Nanono also said the Federal Government had began examining all issues surrounding all other commodities, apart from rice, being imported into the country.
“Any commodity Nigeria has the potential of producing or we are currently producing will be banned from being imported.
“This is to preserve the country’s foreign exchange and ensure national development.’’
He urged Nigerians to take advantage of the border closure to invest in any of the agricultural value chains, pointing out that opportunities for investment had been created.