The Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Ms Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey, has urged Nigeria to urgently review its decision to close its borders with Benin to ensure the return of normal regional trade.
She said the continuation of the closure of the borders, without an end in sight, might lead to political tension in countries severely affected by the closure.
The minister said this when she invited the Nigerian High Commissioner to Ghana, Mr Olufemi Michael Abikoye, to a meeting over the closure of the land borders in Accra yesterday.
The invitation of the High Commissioner came after the Ghana Union of Traders Associations (GUTA) had called on the minister last week and asked her to intervene in the matter and find a solution to it.
Nigeria has closed its Igolor and Seme-Krake (Nigeria-Benin) borders for the past two months, with the reason that the smuggling of contraband goods and light weapons from Benin to Nigeria and vice versa was affecting Nigerian businesses.
Closure affecting trade
According to Ms Botchwey, the government would exhaust all diplomatic avenues to get the government of Nigeria to reopen its western borders for the free flow of goods from Ghana to the sub-region.
She said the closure of the borders was adversely affecting Ghanaian traders.
“The closure of the borders has had considerable disruptions to trade in the sub-region, with grave consequential economic effects on Ghanaian traders,” she said.
While acknowledging the need to resolve the issues between Benin and Nigeria, the minister said Ghana should be isolated, since there was no bad blood between Ghana and Nigeria.
She said it was not fair to Ghana to open it borders to Nigeria to trade with ease while Ghanaian traders had their goods stuck at Nigeria’s borders.
“As we speak, Nigerian goods are entering Ghana without any problem and I think we should find ways of isolating the issues and the countries that you have problems with, so that Ghana’s exports can enter your markets without being lumped with all these issues that have emerged,” she told the High Commissioner.
She said truckloads of goods from Ghana had been detained at the Seme Border between Benin and Nigeria for weeks, adding that returning to use the seaports would be a major problem, as the traders had already lost millions of cedis within the last few weeks.
Interest of ECOWAS
“Ghana understands why a well-meaning country would take necessary action to curb smuggling and the illicit export of weapons and drugs into the country, especially against the backdrop of the security challenges in the sub-region,” she stated.
However, the minister said, such an action was expected to target the source of the problem, without creating disruptions to trade within the sub-region.
“In as much as the issue between Nigeria and Benin needs to be resolved, the collateral damage to Ghana is huge and it has a lot of consequences on our economy,” she said.
Ms Botchwey acknowledged the fact that Nigeria had the right to take certain measures to protect its local industries and economy; however, there was the need for it to also consider the commitments of West African countries to regional integration.
Mr Abikoye said it was unfortunate that the closure of the borders was affecting Ghana and other countries in the sub-region, even though they had nothing to do with the feud.
He said Nigeria had no choice but to close the borders to enable its leadership to strategise to find lasting solutions to the massive smuggling of contraband goods and the illicit export of light weapons from Benin to Nigeria.
He said several attempts, including the signing of a memorandum of understanding, to curb the smuggling activities had proved futile.
That, he said, had forced the Nigerian government to take the decision to close the borders.
Task force in place
Since the closure of the borders, Mr Abikoye said, a task force put together by the Nigerian government had seized about 1,000 smuggled vehicles, 200,000 bags of foreign rice, petroleum products and fertiliser.
He said Nigeria’s ports were opened and so traders could consider using them for their businesses to Nigeria in the meantime while Nigeria addressed the issues at hand.
The High Commissioner said Abuja would be willing to collaborate with Ghana to find a lasting solution to the situation.
“At the end of it, we’re helping our economies. The smuggling will stop and the emerging issues put on the platform and we will be very happy," he noted.
"I applaud you for calling for this meeting; it actually shows your diplomacy at the highest level. Whatever the concerns with respect to Ghanaian goods that are stuck at the borders, we shall convey them to Nigeria,” he added.
ICC President visit
In a related development, the President of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, The Netherlands, Mr Chile Eboe-Osuji, paid a courtesy call on Ms Botchwey at her office in Accra yesterday.
The visit by the ICC President formed part of his working visit to Ghana to discuss ways to strengthen the international criminal justice system aimed at suppressing impunity for the gravest crimes.
During the meeting, the ICC President and the minister reaffirmed the friendly and cooperative relations between Ghana and the ICC.
Ms Botchwey said Ghana would continue to support the ICC to execute its mandate of acting as the court of last resort, with the capacity to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes when national jurisdictions, for any reason, were unable or unwilling to do so.
She said while executing its mandate, the ICC should be fair and just to all state parties and also engage them as much as possible on various issues.