Buhari left power without having solved the main problem for which he was elected eight years ago: to end Boko Haram. Not only has Boko Haram not been defeated, but other armed groups have multiplied in the country. Nigeria has clearly become a failed state, including security failure. But what interests me is to see how this bankruptcy has impacted Benin.
It was August 19, 2019. A friend used like me to follow Nigerian news, informs me that the Nigerian borders have just been closed with Benin. A few phone calls to the left and to the right allowed me to realize that it was very real. But, when my friend was practically panicking, I blurted out, without really believing it: “Buhari believes he can harm Benin, but he will fail. Four years later, that prediction has come true beyond my expectations. Not only did Nigeria plunge into recession in 2020 partly due to the mad measure of its president, but Buhari was forced to reopen all borders on his own in early 2022. That is to say that without anyone asking him anything, he was forced to swallow his own vomit. He resisted Patrice Talon’s pleas for a long time, letting him think he wouldn’t. We remember that the host of Aso Rock, the presidential palace in Abuja, had told his Beninese counterpart that he would not reopen “his thing” until Benin had banned all re-export trade to Nigeria, concerning certain products. Among these products, of course, were rice, edible oils, used cars, frozen products and all kinds of goods. Benin was also prohibited from stocking rice in its stores, especially in localities near the Nigerian borders. Benin ended up convincing itself that it can live without Nigeria. And yesterday’s theories saying the opposite have fallen apart.
So I was saying that Buhari failed. But that’s not because the government’s response has been particularly effective. It failed because no border closure can stop trade between Benin and Nigeria. Actors simply found new ways around official checkpoints. I was in a border village when Buhari first closed the borders in 1985. It was the first time he came to power. And I distinctly remember how the villagers had organized themselves to thwart the whole armada put in place by both the Nigerian army and the Beninese army. As long as he remained in power, he never reopened the borders before being swept away in a coup.
It is that the now former Nigerian president only believes in one thing in economic matters: protectionism. For him, Nigeria must live in autarky to exist and prosper. It is a conception that he wanted to apply as soon as he came to power in 2015. That is to say that after 30 years, Muhammadu Buhari has not changed his economic conception one iota. It is based on a constant obsession: to make Nigerians close to others. In full XXIth century, it is an insult to the intelligence. And it was served beyond even what one could imagine. The worst is the advent of COVID-19 during this time. This pandemic has revealed to everyone the inability of the Buhari regime to control the record inflation which is affecting the markets and which is hardly abating. And while his regime was unable to stem the crisis, Benin was doing well. Benin was one of the countries cited as a reference by international financial institutions to illustrate the proper management of COVID-2019 funds. All these factors probably acted for the incognito reopening of the borders. Buhari learned it too late: you don’t develop a country by closing yourself off from others.
Should we hope for better with Tinubu, the new president? This is the question that torments all minds. The billionaire who has been in power since yesterday already knows that all protectionism is doomed to failure.
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