Decision by a bloc of West African nations to shut down their borders with Niger as a way of sanctioning its coup plotters is harming local businesses in northern Nigeria, where a cross-border economy has boomed for years.
The bloc known as ECOWAS restricted financial transactions and shut the borders between Niger and its member nations as part of measures to force the coup plotters to reinstate Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum who was overthrown last month by soldiers in his Presidential Guard.
But the sting of the sanctions against the junta is being felt on the other side of the 1,600 kilometers, 995 miles, -long border, in Nigeria.
Niger accounts for 75% of the total value of exports from Nigeria´s cross-border informal trade, according to a study by the Central Bank of Nigeria. The bank´s latest report in 2016 valued goods traded across the border with Niger at 828 billion naira, $934 million, a year.
In Nigeria’s northwestern Katsina state, the border’s closure and restricted traffic on nearby roads left dozens of trucks stranded for days, most of them loaded with food items and other perishable goods. Prices of livestock, animal products and some commodities usually supplied from the city of Maradi in Niger have increased, local residents said.
Nigeria’s authorities are enforcing the restriction of movement across the border but the measure has also impacted traffic in the surrounding area, including truck drivers not heading to Niger but other border towns in Nigeria.
Truck driver Usman Kaura said he was ferrying bags of garri, a type of cassava flour, worth about 15 million naira, $17,000, from Nigeria´s Benue state to another part of Katsina, when he got stranded for five days in the heat in the border district of Jibia, alongside other drivers.
“The garri can spoil at any moment,” he said. “We are still inside Nigeria but yet we are stopped.”
The sanctions by the West African group ECOWAS – with a history of their own coups – have failed to force the coup plotters next door to reinstate Bazoum.
Since the July 26 coup, the mutinous soldiers have installed Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani as head of state and have also threatened to retaliate against any military intervention by ECOWAS member states. The junta has also rejected a proposed visit by representatives of ECOWAS, the African Union and United Nations.
Four coups in West Africa since 2020 do not bode well for the current ECOWAS chairman and Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu, at least as far as the bloc’s next steps are concerned.
Tinubu is seeking to make a good impression on the international scene, said Oluwole Ojewale of the Africa-focused Institute of Security Studies. Niger’s “coup is the first test of Tinubu´s leadership,” he said.
In the border region, local residents say business owners have taken advantage of the border closure to hike the prices of other goods.
A sack of 100 kilograms, 220 pounds, of corn now costs around $56, a 24% increase from last week, said Muawiya Ibrahim, a Katsina resident.
He lamented the divisions created by the border closure for the people on either side of the boundary. “We shared so much, we even married amongst each other,” he said.
“To say Nigeria and Niger are one is true,” Ibrahim added.