The Minister of Agriculture, Food, and Security, Senator Abubakar Kyari, has disclosed a plan by the federal government to shut its land borders once again in a bid to check the soaring food inflation, which has in turn occasioned hardship and poverty.
Kyari unveiled the idea while addressing members of the Senate and the national economic team on Friday, in Abuja.
Kyari attributed Nigeria’s food inflation to unchecked smuggling activities.
He pointed out that agricultural products, such as soybeans and sesame, were being illicitly exported to neighbouring countries without proper documentation, leading to supply shortages and inflated prices within Nigeria.
Kyari also raised concerns about foreign investors purchasing crops at inflated prices without reinvesting in the Nigerian economy, exacerbating the challenges faced by the Ministry of Agriculture in catering to Nigeria’s burgeoning population, which now exceeds 230 million people. Despite efforts to bolster domestic food production, economic hurdles persist, impeding progress in tackling food insecurity and inflation.
However, Kyari’s proposal has ignited a fierce debate among experts and citizens, with concerns raised about its potential to exacerbate the already high food inflation gripping the nation.
Critics had fired salvos at his controversial plan. The critics draw parallels to a similar border closure initiative undertaken in 2019 during the Buhari-led administration, which notably drove up the prices of essential food items, particularly rice.
Among the experts that have cautioned against Kyari’s proposed border closure suggestion is Dr Yemi Cole, Group Chief Economist with Afreximbank and Statistician-General of the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Cole emphasized the need to learn from historical evidence of the past as it would provide insights as to whether or not a policy is feasible.
“How will closing borders lower food prices? because elementary economics and historical evidence when this was done just a few years ago will suggest the opposite effect,” he said.
Similarly, popular real estate lawyer, Segun Awosanya ‘segalink’ tweeted “I don’t know whether it is the fog in our clime that is making political appointees overplay their hand.
Haven’t we learned anything from history? Have they completely lost touch with reality and wise counsel? What is going on?”
X user @STmorakinyo tweeted “It’s like those people are living in different realities with us… price of basic foodstuff has tripled in just months and you still want to shut down the supply chain to lower it?
If the food is surplus in the market, would the price triple?”
African Health Report recalls that Nigerians are still yet to recover from the harsh economic burden imposed on them by Muhammad Buhari, in 2019 via the closure of land borders. Buhari so ordered the border closure as his economic recovery policy. But this proved to be ill-thought because sooner than later, Nigerians were faced with severe consequences. For example, his border closure reform pushed up the price of foodstuffs, particularly rice. Regrettably, Nigerians are still reeling under the yoke of that decision to date.
Only yesterday, a prominent member of a presidential task force under the Buhari presidency, Prof. Itse Sagey expressed regrets over some decisions by the government that brought untold hardships on the citizens. Sagey a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), in the same vein, lampooned President Bola Tinubu over the removal of subsidy.
Linking the decision to the current suffering of Nigerians, Sagey said Tinubu’s decision was hasty. He said Tinubu should not have removed the subsidy on fuel until after six months in office.
Unfortunately, under the same Buhari, Nigeria was described as “multi-dimensional poverty”, owing to those policies that failed to address in particular, human wellbeing-social security, food availability, lack of access to health care, poor living conditions of many citizens, and so on. The spill-over effect of those policies has not adequately been addressed, which is why Nigerians think that the Agric minister’s proposal should be regarded as an ‘a-dead-on arrival idea’.
Looking back, Nigeria’s heavy reliance on imports to meet the needs of its 200 million population has been compounded by rising insecurity, forcing farmers to abandon their fields due to threats from bandits and kidnappers.
Nigeria’s inflation rate currently stands at 28.9 per cent while food inflation stands at 33.93 per cent as of December 2023 according to the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
As an afterthought, the government-owned up.
Hear the then Minister of Finance, Budget, and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, “The policy had contributed to a surge in food prices, consequently driving headline inflation to 11.61 per cent in October 2019”. She reportedly admitted.
In a nutshell, the adverse impact of the previous border closure on inflation was acknowledged by the federal government in November 2019.