In August 2019, Nigeria partially closed its land borders, and since November, has banned the supply of petroleum products to communities within 20 KM of the land borders. The supply cut was to stop the smuggling of petroleum products to Nigeria’s neighbours where illicit dealers could make higher margins after selling subsidised products meant for the local market.
Authorities said the border policy has led to a reduction in the fuel consumption statistics, implying that the volume of products sold illegally across the borders fed into Nigeria’s consumption data.
In January, we decided to investigate the effectiveness and the impacts of the petroleum products supply cut policy, as well as the wider partial border closure. Two issues provided the motivation for our investigation. One, little or nothing was known regarding whether or not smuggling was still going on despite the border closure. So, we wanted to draw on the power of investigative journalism to answer the question of impacts and effectiveness. Two, we wanted to investigate and tell the story of the communities affected by the petroleum supply cut.
All Nigeria’s geo-political zones, except the southeast, have international land borders with Benin Republic (southwest, northcentral, and northwest); Niger Republic (northwest and northeast); Cameroon (southsouth and northeast); and Chad (northeast). So, we raised a five-member team to conduct field investigation in regions. The security situation in the northeast, where Boko Haram is still active, prevented coverage of the northeastern borders.
The field investigations yielded two reports that showed illicit trans-border trade in, or smuggling of, petroleum products and other goods was still rampant despite the border closure. Our investigations yielded a kind of turnaround that exposed how Nigeria’s immigration and customs officials are sabotaging the border closure policy by taking bribes from motorcyclists carrying illicit goods through illegal routes. Also, our investigations showed the torrid impacts of the petroleum supply cut policy on the affected communities.
Meanwhile, while in Sokoto, we came across what is perhaps the harshest spinoff of the border closure policy: at least three persons, believed to be drivers of Dangote Cement and Sokoto Cement trucks, had died, after being stranded for months at Nigeria’s border with Niger Republic. The three persons died during the wet season after they were bitten by snakes, PREMIUM TIMES was told. As the trucks are denied entry into Nigeria, the drivers and those described as “truck boys” have had to stay at the border but the conditions have become increasingly unbearable.
“The trucks had moved cement to countries as far away as Niger, Mali, Chad and Ghana,” one official said, seeking not to be named because of service rules on press interviews. “They were returning to Nigeria empty when the border closure was announced. Some got close to the (border) gate but we had to ask them to move back.”
“Immediately, we got the announcement, we shut the gate and trucks have been there since that day in August,” the official further said.
There is no certainty yet about when the borders will open.
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