About one week after President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the reopening of the borders shut one year ago, traders in Seme and Illela border, Sokoto State, said they were awaiting the reopening of the borders to business.
When our correspondent visited the two borders on Thursday, there were no human and vehicular traffic.
At Seme Border, only few petty traders and residents of the area were around.
On the eve of the Christmas, the road from Badagry to the border town was extremely free of vehicular movement.
But the number of security checkpoints from Badagry to Seme was more than 30 on both sides of the road.
Immigration, Police, Customs and other security officials were on the road to carry out their core responsibilities.
Although the border town is still sleeping in terms of economic activities as Customs officers are yet to allow goods to be ferried in and out of the country. No single truck or articulated vehicle was seen at the Customs clearing gate. There was no Customs officer at the gate.
But the immigration officers were up and doing. Any Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) citizen that has their valid travelling documents was allowed to enter or exit the country.
Speaking with The Nation, the Comptroller of Immigration, Seme Area Command, Bernard Zipamor, said the foreigners that were allowed into the country were forced to follow the guidelines on COVID-19 to stem its spreads.
“Since President Muhammadu Buhari gave the directive that the border be opened last week, our Comptroller-General has directed us to ensure full compliance and that is why we are allowing those who have their valid documents to enter the country,” he said.
Efforts to get the Customs Area Controller to speak proved abortive as the reporter was told that he was holding a meeting with other security agents.
The immigration officers were seen going round the place to assist the port health officials to ensure that the right things were done by the border community and the travellers.
But some of the residents of the area and traders who spoke with The Nation berated government officials for not allowing goods and vehicles to come into the country.
One of the residents, Mr James Ajato said: “When the president announced that the border has been opened, we were very excited.
‘’But since last week, there is no business activity going on here. Everywhere is empty. There is no way we can enjoy Christmas and the new year under this kind of situation.
‘’We appeal to the president to help us prevail on the security operatives attached to this command to help us bring life back to our community.”
A petty trader, Mrs Yemisi Adelaja said the security agents were extorting them with the little items they brought into the country.
“What the security agents are doing to us is not good. Despite the fact that we are petty traders, we pay the security operatives to bring the small items we are able to bring,” she said.
But a top Customs official who spoke under the condition of anonymity said the border would be opened immediately after the new year celebration.
“There is an agreement between the security personnel attached to this commahad that the border be fully reopened after the new year celebration. Therefore, if you come here after the new year , you will witness tremendous development in business activities around this area, “ the security official said.
At Illela border locals in surrounding border communities who depend on the usual flow of activities had their hopes dashed.
Illela, Maigatari, Mfun and Seme border control posts got the nod to reopen for normal activities though, the ban on rice importation and an array of other products is still in force.
However, only the operatives of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) were seen working.
The service allows the entry and exit of only passengers with valid travel documents.
Similarly, other agencies deployed to the border post had not also resumed operations.
A source at the border community who spoke on condition of anonymity said: “We jubilated on hearing the news of reopening all borders but to our surprise, it is a week after the directive and is still closed.
“As I speak to you now, last Sunday which was Illela market day, some of our people who could not help it, as they engaged themselves in illegal movements of goods in and out of the town through illegal routes.”
However, the Chairman of the Illela Market Cattle Sellers Association, Alhaji Bashar Zubairu, hailed President Buhari for reopening the border.
“Everything had stopped in the market for over a year and we are now beginning to pick from where were stopped in the hope that soon we will be counting our gains,” he stated.
Malam Isah Dan Ige who sells provision and other items at the main garage complex lamented that his business was on the verge of extinction due to border closure.
“When a friend came and told me about the reopening of Illela border post, I jubilated. To my dismay, it is a week today since the directive was given and the border is still not opened. We don’t know what is actually happening,” he said.