Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Nigerians in Diaspora hail Jonathan’s victory

Those that emerged victorious, having been duly elected in arguably the freest and fairest polls ever conducted in Nigeria apart, there are others that are happy this year’s voting season are finally over. In fact, it is doubtful that any group in the latter category are as joyful as trans-border traders; whose businesses were forced into a dip several times in the last four weeks.

Every time an election day approached, the country’s land borders had been closed; which meant that high calibre importers and exporters as well as petty traders went on forced holidays. As could be easily imagined, these compulsory vacations without pay can’t have been very enjoyable ones. Therefore, very few people are now as relieved as those involved in cross-border trading that the 2011 general elections are over.

To make matters worse for cross-frontier merchants and entrepreneurs, Nigeria’s election season came barely weeks after Benin Republic’s presidential election, when the border was also shut by the authorities on the other side compelling suspension of movement from Benin into Togo, Burkina Faso, Niger Republic and Nigeria and vice versa. Finally, this year’s presidential election; which had been postponed twice, in neighbouring Benin held on Sunday, 13 March; and, that country’s border was closed from 12am on 12 March until midnight of 13 March. And, so it was that thousands of businesses had to close on both sides of the Nigerian/Benin border on 13 March.

When “Travels” visited Seme on that day, the normally hyper-busy environment could have passed for a ghost-town but for the plenitude of stranded commuters, whose progress had been barred by the border closure. Hear Mama Zinsou, a Gun-born itinerant trader, who spoke in Yoruba with “Travels” at Krake Plage (Krake Beach) just outside Nigerian territory on 14 March: “Olorun se o, ti ki se l’odo-dun la nd’ibo n’ile o; eebi ko ba pa enian kupo ku” (Thank God, election in Benin Republic is not an annual affair, otherwise countless people would starve to death).

Like Mama Zinsou, a Nigerian, who gave his name as Okemadu Ndubuisi, also rued the impact of the border closure on his business the previous day: “Akam-eru Azingame by now”, the trader remarked in “Engili-Igbo”, when we sought his view on the border closure. Apparently, the man’s progress toward Azingame Market in Lome, Togo; had run into a hitch because of the border closure.

However, these classes of people would soon be encumbered again; when Nigeria’s month-long presidential, governorship and legislative elections season flagged off a few weeks after. Believe it or not, countless non-Nigerians were also very disappointed that the 2 April election was cancelled midway into voting. They knew that the cancellation would mean the loss of another weekend as far as their cross-border movements and trading were concerned. And, so it was that the Nigerian border was again shut, days before the 9 April date, when the earlier botched National Assembly elections; were finally held.

Interestingly, on Thursday, 14 April; two days preceding the 16 April presidential election; the Nigerian border had been closed, the third time in three consecutive weeks. Countless commuters, who had assumed the closure would come into effect on Friday, 15 April; were completely taken unawares and arrived at various frontier posts only to meet stern-looking and heavily armed security personnel barring access.

Many a desperado, who wanted to cross at all costs lost their valuables to touts, who lured them into bushpaths with promises to get such travellers to the other side; only to turn round and rob such commuters. When news filtered in about the predicament of such Nigerians, one security operative was overheard, saying; “Na im good for dem; sebi, them no dey hear word” (Serves them right, deserving reward for their obduracy).

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