June 15, 2024

THE people of Sokoto never expected the dire situation presently confronting them, threatening their happiness and peace. But the sad reality soon dawned on them, casting a spell of discomfort on them, and since then it has been lamentations galore.

This came in the wake of the military coup in Niger Republic and the attendant closure of the Nigeria-Niger border, leaving residents of the border communities in Sokoto State, Nigeria stranded.

Over the years, these communities in Sokoto have been depending on goods and services smuggled into the locations from the loosely manned borders with Niger. But the story has since changed with the closure of the vast borders, which now restrict the free flow of the foreign products and services they had been enjoying before the coup in Niger. Presently, they are left wondering what will happen next as the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, now led by Nigeria’s president, Ahmed Bola Tinubu, has threatened to deploy military force to flush out the coup leaders.

Worse hit among all the border communities following the border closure is the prosperous city of Illela, which shares boundary with Birnin Kouni in Niger Republic. It is the major route to Niger Republic and the place where Nigeria’s Customs Services, NCS, maintains a control post and uses it effectively to monitor the movement of goods and services across the two borders.

As a result of their proximity, the two neighbours in Nigeria and Niger Republic have been mixing freely and have a long history of inter-marriage, social interactions and business engagements despite the fact that they speak different languages. Birnin Kouni, a border town in Niger, speaks French language being a former colony of France, while Illela a Nigerian border town, speaks English.

Arewa Voice correspondent, who visited the border communities to assess the economic impact triggered by the recent coup and the subsequent closure of the borders by Nigeria, reported that commercial activities were brought to a halt immediately after the military takeover in Niger and the closure announced by Nigeria.

Arewa Voice also noted that the closure of the borders has led to the skyrocketing of the prices of livestocks and cash crops beyond the reach of the average family. One of the residents in Illela border town, Alhaji Isah Sarkin Alaru Illela, told AV that the recent coup has negatively affected the socio-economic dynamics of the area and added to their plight. He regretted that before the military takeover and closure of the borders, there was unhindered exchange of goods and services between them, including vehicular repairs, transportation, livestock trading and monetary exchange, which have all been abruptly disrupted.

A resident of Illela town and an importer, Alhaji Sarkin Alaru, described the situation in Illela and communities located along the border as horrible as people are now contending with hunger and abject poverty. Our correspondent saw a caravan of articulated trucks taking over the shoulder of the once busy motorway that connects Niger Republic to Nigeria through the border town of Illela Sokoto State. Our correspondent noted that as a result of the negative development, the faces of the truck drivers and their conductors who normally do business between Nigeria and Niger, told eloquent tales of anger, frustration and anxiety as they continued to wait for when the situation would change.

But it appears as if their hope for a quick resolution of the problem would not be realised as the military junta in Niger has ignored the threat by Nigeria to storm the country use military force against the junta.

Shehu Hassan, a truck driver stated that he and the other colleagues had exhausted the little money they had to get food. As of the time of meeting him, he said they were relying on whatever help they could get from Illela border to survive. Hassan, who was subbing while speaking with our correspondent, said he was returning from Niger’s capital city in Niamey when he was told to end his journey at the border as he would not be allowed into Nigeria. He said he and others, who were caught up by the sudden closure of the borders, have since been stranded at the border with their trucks and goods.

Hassan said, “We are all Nigerians doing our legal business as drivers for God’s sake. We should not be treated like criminals or aliens in our country. We left Mangu in Plateau State to deliver Irish potatoes in Niamey and we had all our documents before we left Nigeria but here we are now, without any hope of when we will return home. “The only mistake we made here is being citizens of this country who embarked on our daily legitimate activities but now treated like common criminals. We need to be permitted to come return home after embarking on a routine business trip,” Hassan pleaded.

Our Correspondent also gathered that most of the truckers had spent more than 14 days at the border post without an inkling of when they would be permitted to move to their respective destinations given the feud between ECOWAS and the military junta in Niger.

Sani Mai Sharon, a driver stated that he had been here for about 10 days; stuck in one place without knowing when I am going to leave here. I have exhausted all my money to the extent that I don’t know what to do next. “We can’t go forward or backward. As things stand now, we don’t know when and how to leave here. The most unfortunate aspect of it all is the issue of hunger, which is seriously dealing with us. I am appealing to the leadership of ECOWAS to quickly reach a compromise with the new military leaders in Niger to restore normalcy in the country, but cautioned against the use of force, which he said could have more negative consequence on Nigerians living in border towns”.

The use of force should not be encouraged in any way by ECOWAS. It will hurt the lives of our people, especially those of them living in border towns. They should think of the lives of our people living in this area who are direct neighbours of Kwani, a border community in Niger. “We are already paying for the effects of insecurity in this area, when we go into war with Niger, who knows how that will affect our people? Our advice to President Bola Tinubu-led ECOWAS is to continue negotiating a reasonable resolution of the crisis.”

Some drivers who attempted to return to Sokoto were held by security agents in a small community about 35 km from Illela town, Tudun Koki. The truckers called on the Nigerian Customs Service to allow them return to their company since they could not proceed to their destination in Niger. The ever-busy Illela, which boasts of an international market, has more or less become a ghost town, as forms of business and commerce have come to a standstill. A business magnate with many filling stations and plazas, Alhaji Bello Kwando, said there had been a reduction in business activities in the community. ”Our business activities have dropped drastically in this town since the border closure was announced. I am sure that you are aware that the border is the major thing that contributed to business activities here and now with the closure, things are not easy for us again,” Kwando stated.

When the acting Comptroller-General of Customs Bashir Adewale Adeniyi, visited the border recently, he quickly asked the controller in charge of Illela border how the residents were adjusting to the closure of the border and the reply was shocking: “The communities are extremely unhappy with the border closure, sir,” the controller of the Illela outpost replried. It is left to be seen how far their anger and patience can endure as the coup in Niger takes a larger life than it initially was.

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