Nigeria will reopen four border crossing points immediately, more than a year after closing its land frontiers to crack down on smuggling, the government said on Wednesday.

Nigeria closed its land borders last year to curb smuggling of rice and arms, which it says threatens efforts to boost local production and security, and to generate state revenues through import duties.

The government at a cabinet meeting approved the reopening of Seme border to the South West, Illela and Maigatari border in the North West and Mfun in the South. The others will be reopened on December 31.

It kept restrictions on rice import and some other products.

Last month, the government ratified its membership of the African free-trade zone due to be launched in January, after initial reluctance to join the bloc for fear of exposing local industries to dumping by countries outside Africa.

Discussions to reopen Nigeria’s borders closed to the movement of goods have been going on for months. Nigeria has insisted on levying duties on goods transiting its country through neighbouring nations to curb smuggling.


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More than a year after it closed its land borders, Nigeria is looking to reopen them ‘as soon as possible’, President Muhammadu Buhari said Tuesday. Mr Buhari stated this during a meeting with governors elected on the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in Abuja. The president said the closure of the borders was also an attempt to control the smuggling of weapons and drugs from neighboring countries.

“Now that the message has sunk in with our neighbours, we are looking into reopening the borders as soon as possible,” the president was quoted as saying by his spokesperson, Garba Shehu. Nigeria first showed its willingness to re-open the border last month, amid skyrocketing food prices and increased calls for reopening of the borders. The move came after the nation fell into its second recession in five years, according to GDP data released by the National Bureau of Statistics for the third quarter of 2020. Many have attributed the economic recession partly to the border closure that has been in place since August 2019, which, among others, has seen inflation rise to a 30-month high.

Policy experts have said that lifting the blockade will help check the recession, the nation’s worst in decades, and ease the economic hardship faced by Nigerians. Last month, the Minister of Finance Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, said Mr Buhari would soon receive a report of a presidential committee to advise on the reopening of the borders.

Mrs Ahmed said although the committee set up by Mr Buhari had done an assessment of the gains of the closure and had recommended to the president to reopen the borders, the report had not been submitted. The committee has as members the ministers of finance, budget and national planning, interior and foreign affairs, she said, noting that the report would be submitted “once members of the committee sign the report.

“We have made an assessment. The president set up a committee and we have made an assessment and all the members of the committee agreed and are recommending to the president that it is time to reopen the borders,” she said. “The objective has been met in the sense that we have been able, over these couple of months, to work together with our partners in a tripartite committee and do a joint border patrol together and reinforce the sanctity of the commitments that we made to each other.

“So, each side has learnt its lessons. Nigeria has been affecting our partners in terms of businesses that we have in Nigeria as well. So, we will be expecting that the borders will be reopened very soon. The date will be decided by Mr President.” On Tuesday, although Mr Buhari said the government would act on the border closure issue “as soon as possible”, the president did not specify the date.


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Nigeria’s chronic power shortages have been a defining feature of the country’s path to sustainable economic development.

As an oil-producing net importer of petroleum products, this makes the lack of investment in Nigeria’s own domestic energy infrastructure even more stark – a trend which must be reversed.

Currently, peak power supply is a quarter of the total 20,000MW demand in the country. With electricity generation per head 25% below sub-Saharan African averages, the country spends $12bn annually on diesel to power generators. This cost comes with additional health and environmental hazards, highlighting the importance of developing a sustainable, reliable energy mix.

Economic productivity is severely impacted because of inconsistent power supply. Its resulting cost to the economy is estimated at $29bn annually. In the context of an anticipated COVID-19-induced recession forecast to be the worst in four decades, there is an urgent need to act.

The gas sector offers a more environmentally friendly alternative than oil. Policy implementation in the shape of the Nigerian Gas Transportation Network Code (NGTNC) illustrates a potential future of an equitable and competitive gas market. Better infrastructure and broader access to gas across the country can have a considerable impact.

Most importantly, these steps open the door to increased investment. Where private sector participation had previously been muted, there is currently an uptick in activity. A healthy proportion of this has been directed to development of midstream assets, and with the influence of the NGTNC the sector’s potential will increase.

New Investments

African Infrastructure Investment Managers (AIIM) sees value in this, as reflected in our recent activity through our pan-African AIIF3 fund. By acquiring stakes in Savannah Uquo Gas and Accugas, [Nigeria is] invested in an integrated gas midstream business.

Accugas has 260km of pipeline network and a gas processing facility, critical to realizing ambitions of being Nigeria’s gas supplier of choice. Accugas is currently responsible for supplying gas to around 10% of the country’s power generating capacity. Assisting this process are shifts in policy which are helping direct gas production towards domestic demand.

Given that most of Nigeria’s power demand today is fulfilled through diesel based self-generation, significant opportunity also lies in solutions which help the switch from high-carbon, high-cost generating capacity to low-carbon, low-cost alternatives.

[Nigeria has] also invested in Starsight Power, a rooftop solar company which has become one of the leading commercial and industrial solar power providers in Africa. It has a portfolio of over 35MW of generation assets installed in Nigeria and Ghana. This model encapsulates Nigeria’s future energy and economic ambitions, harnessing the vast potential of our solar resources, while reducing reliance on the nation’s primary commodity.

Increasing utilisation of lower carbon emitting fuels and energy sources speaks to a future which considers sustainable growth and the lives of generations to come. A warmer climate and less predictable rainfall are having deleterious effects on many communities, especially those whose livelihoods rely on rain-fed agriculture. Climate change is driving displacement across these communities, impacting millions and compounding issues food security issues.

Solar Power

Achieving inclusive and sustainable growth will mean fully embracing alternative, cleaner energy sources. In a country where 43% of people are living off-grid, options like solar mini-grids bypass the need for installation of transmission infrastructure, bringing down costs and delivering power at affordable rates. Technology developments also mean such options are widely deployable and rapidly scalable.

Despite modest uptake, there is growing momentum towards commitment to a more sustainable future. In August, the government released eight tenders for solar power projects, which will be followed by a US$200m mini-grid development initiative from the African Development Bank. The World Bank has also pledged its support for the second phase of Africa’s largest off-grid hybrid solar project, the Energizing Education Programme.


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There are no defensive postures here. Undaunted by the potential for pandemic induced collapse in demand for commodities like sugar and cement, Nigerian billionaire Abdul Samad Rabiu sees only possibility – especially in agriculture, especially in Nigeria.

Not only is agribusiness relatively simple in terms of its business model, but it is urgent to save needed foreign exchange and to boost employment, he explains. Rabiu’s major focus is on promoting more production and processing to meet national demand and make more profits for his conglomerate BUA Group. BUA listed its subsidiary BUA Cement in January to raise capital for industrial projects in the glass, steel and oil sectors, citing the rigour and “scrutiny” of the process as a way of “de-risking” Nigerian opportunity for investors domestic and foreign.

“The opportunities are here,” enthuses the group chairman and chief executive during our videoconference, a portrait of South Africa’s former president Nelson Mandela beaming over his shoulder. That has not really been the case for the man on the Lagos Danfo, to twist a phrase – the city buses were restricted due to measures against transmission of COVID-19.

Most Nigerians are still reeling from the economic impact of the pandemic. Traders have ceased operation, farmers have thrown away produce due to the lack of transport, and businesses have mothballed investment projects. Most of BUA Group’s expansion programme remains undisturbed. Chief executive Rabiu unveiled plans for 3 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) in cement capacity and 50MW of power in Adamawa State in July.

However, he put off the announcement of a glass project that was slated for the postponed June France-Africa summit. While COVID-19 disrupted most firms, greater automation in BUA Group’s agribusiness and cement plants allows them to operate at about 40-50% of their normal capacity. “We are lucky for the fact we are even at 50%. Many others have not been able to work at all,” says Rabiu.

The ban on travel between Nigeria’s states was the greater challenge, “and that is lifting now”. He argues that “the impact [of the coronavirus] is going to be with us for quite some time” and that “entire industry business models are going to have to change.”

Better than 2019

Learning from operating his family business as a young man, Rabiu has built up his empire slowly but surely. BUA Group has moved from a trading company importing commodities to a manufacturing powerhouse in agribusiness and construction materials. From edible oils, through sugar and cement projects, the group also operates a shipping terminal in the oil town of Port Harcourt and owns a real-estate portfolio.

Cement is the industrial star. BUA Cement had a solid first quarter in 2020, banking nearly $60m in profit. This means, according to Rabiu, that it can absorb the slowdown from April to June, and have year-end results that may be “better than 2019”. That is not something many other Nigerian companies are predicting. It is bullish given the record year the company had in 2019; a 47.5% increase in turnover, with profit jumping nearly 70%.

He attributes the leap to the launch of a second line at the Obu plant in March 2019, adding 3mtpa to BUA’s output, and the first full year of the Kalambaina plant’s second line operations. The cement expansion does not stop; while BUA Cement currently has capacity for 8mtpa, Rabiu is targeting 14mtpa over the next few years.

Analysts do not share Rabiu’s optimism about the sector in the short term. “We expect the deterioration in the macroeconomic conditions – caused by the outbreak of COVID-19, which triggered a sharp decline in oil prices – to constrain activities in the construction industry as fiscal spending on capital projects weakens,” wrote Nigeria’s CSL Stockbrokers.

The scars will remain for some time for the Nigerian economy at large, Rabiu says, with the damage hitting the poorest first. “The price of goods has gone up, especially food items,” he says, partly as a result of the devaluation of the naira but also because the virus has hurt port logistics, making the clearance of imports difficult. That could be seen as an opportunity to intensify Nigeria’s great push to support food production, something that the government of President Muhammadu Buhari has supported for rice in particular.

As part of Nigeria’s CACOVID (Coalition Against Covid-19), an organisation of private-sector operators pooling funds to help relief efforts, BUA has put money into feeding programmes in Lagos and other cities, to cushion the blow of the pandemic. Fundamentally, Rabiu is unhappy about the high level of food imports. “It should not be happening at all, not only here in Nigeria, but generally in Africa. We have 60% of the world’s arable land. We have the people [to farm]. We have the climate. We have everything it takes.”

He is keen for that opportunity to go beyond food crops to cash crops, and again focus on keeping value in Africa. “The US, Germany, Switzerland and Belgium produce 75% of the entire chocolate production worldwide. And if we look at the cocoa industry worldwide, what are we talking about, $150bn-$160bn? And Africa gets maybe $10bn-$15bn of that?”

Sugar for resilience

He expects agriculture to provide the resilience that Nigeria needs in the post-COVID-19 era. Next year, for example, will see the ramping up or opening of operations at three major sugar plantations, including BUA’s own in Kwara State, as well as projects for Dangote Sugar and Golden Sugar.

BUA is Nigeria’s second-largest sugar producer after Dangote Sugar. “With that plantation, we will be able to produce 150,000tn of white sugar with millions of litres of ethanol, employing over 10,000 people in direct jobs,” says Rabiu.

He was inspired by a visit to Uganda’s Kakira sugar estate, run by the Madhvani family: “It was the most impressive sugar plantation I had ever seen.” And Mayur Madhvani told Rabiu that while he could get yields of 9tn per hectare in Uganda, the soils and potential in Nigeria were far greater.


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