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Nigeria Closes Land Border With Benin - 2003-08-10

The Nigerian government says it has closed its land border with Benin, effective immediately. The closure comes amid claims by the Nigerian government of a rise in cross-border crime, but there are other suggestions that Nigeria's motives are economic.

Human trafficking and smuggling are on the rise, says the government of Nigeria, which has closed its border with Benin as a result.

The leaders of Nigeria and Benin met one month ago to discuss tackling cross-border crime, but Nigeria's announcement said no progress has been made.

The Nigerian government has said it will reopen the border when it is satisfied that Benin has taken adequate measures to stop cross-border crime. Nigeria says weapons are being smuggled into the country across its border with Benin and that young women are smuggled out to work as prostitutes in Europe.

Although the government states that curbing crime is the motivation for closing the border, other African experts suspect that the motivating factors may be economic.

After a period of economic deregulation, the Nigerian government has introduced some protectionist measures of late, including the banning of some imported products. Traders reportedly are using Benin's port at Cotonou to defy the bans on goods that include imported beer, sugar and school exercise books.

Cotonou is just over the border from Nigeria and its sprawling commercial center of Lagos.

But the smuggling is not one-way. Oil-rich Nigeria has the cheapest gasoline in the region, and there is a thriving trade in smuggling fuel out of the country into the rest of West Africa through the border with Benin.

Nigeria is a member of regional body ECOWAS. Fundamental to the ECOWAS principles is that of free trade between member states.