Bishops in Benin Call on Nigeria to Reconsider Opening Borders

Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Benin (CEB) at their first ordinary session for the pastoral year 2019-2020 in the Archdiocese of Parakou, Benin

Three months after a majority of African countries ratified an agreement allowing the creation of a regional free-trade zone, which was seen as a major boost to intra-regional trade, Bishops in the West African country of Benin have raised concerns over the continued move by Africa’s largest economy to close borders shared by the two countries, thereby limiting trade and free movement of goods.

“The Bishops of Benin are concerned about the negative impacts of the closure of the borders with Nigeria on the Beninese population and especially on the poorest,” reads part of a communique issued at the end of the first ordinary session for the pastoral year 2019-2020.

On August 20, Nigeria unilaterally closed the western border with Benin in an attempt to stop the importation of illegal goods across the border, a move that has affected Benin farmers negatively as the former French colony is among the main exporters of farm produce to Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria.

Following the move, Catholic Bishops in Benin have raised concerns over the negative impact of the closure on the population, whose 31.1% land area is under agriculture.

Consequently, the Bishops have called on the relevant authorities to work towards normalizing the situation, which has attracted a backlash from traders in neighboring countries.

“They (Bishops) urge the competent authorities of Benin to do their utmost to restore the situation as soon as possible,” the Bishops add in the communique seen by ACI Africa.

The October 20-23 event officially began with Holy Mass to mark the Extraordinary Mission Month of October 2019 (EMMOCT2019), which was celebrated by the Apostolic Nuncio in Benin and Togo, Archbishop Brian Udaigwe at the Marian Shrine of Our Lady of Komiguea, Queen of Families in Parakou.

While announcing the closure, Nigerian President Muhammad Buhari has been quoted as saying, “We cannot allow smuggling of the product at such alarming proportions to continue.” President Buhari was making reference to rice, one of the commodities said to be smuggled in large quantities across the border with Benin.

According to the World Bank, about 20 percent of Benin’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) comes from the informal exportation and re-exportation of products to Nigeria.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Prelates in Benin hailed the recent political dialogue convened by the head of state, as well as the forums organized by opposition parties in the country, terming the initiatives “significant step(s) towards an inclusive national dialogue, towards genuine reconciliation among all the sons and daughters of Benin.”

“The Bishops' Conference of Benin followed with great attention the concomitant holding of the political dialogue convened by the Head of State at the Convention Centre in Cotonou from 10 to 12 October 2019 and the pocket of resistance organized by opposition political parties in Cotonou,” the Bishops stated at the end of the session held in the Archdiocese of Parakou.

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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
[email protected]