W.Africa bloc meets to solve Nigeria's border closure conundrum

The Benin border has become a port of entry for tonnes of rice into Nigeria, which it has banned to boost local production (AFP Photo/Benson IBEABUCHI)

Ouagadougou (AFP) - West African ministers met on Saturday to search for solutions to regional powerhouse Nigeria's shock decision to close its borders last August to curb smuggling.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has been at loggerheads with Nigeria since Africa's largest economy shut its land frontiers with Niger and Benin to curb smuggling of rice and other commodities.

The move "strikes at the roots of our grouping -- the free circulation of people and goods", said Salou Djibo, Niger's army chief, from the conference in Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou.

"The unilateral closure of the borders goes against all the commercial and free movement treaties signed by Nigeria in the framework of ECOWAS," he said.

The decision drew the ire of Nigeria's neighbours, particularly Benin, which shares an economically vital land border and where many citizens thrive from exporting to Africa's largest market of 190 million people.

The border has become a port of entry for tonnes of rice into Nigeria, which it has banned to boost local production.

Nigeria has also accused Benin of benefiting from the illegal importation of subsidised oil, costing the government billions of dollars.

"Our grouping is living through difficult times," said Ivorian Jean-Claude Kassi Brou, ECOWAS Commission president.

"We are enfeebled by the closure of borders between Niger, Nigeria and Benin since six months and this has negatively impacted on trade volumes in the bloc in 2019 and 2020.

"This closure has had profound repercussions on trade, on economic operators without fprgetting consumers who today doubt our community."