Trans-Border Movement and Trading. A case study of a borderland in southwestern Nigeria – A.A. Afolayan

Summary: Tradewise, the movement of people and goods are the two most important socioeconomic processes that occur across international borders. This movement is an integrative process that brings individuals from both sides of the border together, breaking down artificial boundaries and promoting connection. Transborder trade between southwestern Nigeria and its neighboring country, the People’s Republic of Benin, is relatively high. This cross-border commerce is linked to cross-border migration. Major places of sale within Nigeria, for food and fairly used cars are Idiroko, Lagos, and Sango- Otta; and the less important markets are Ibadan, Sagamu, and Benin. Cotonou is the most popular place of purchase, mainly for fairly used cars and automobile spare parts.

This report is a pilot study – a fuller picture will emerge after more data shall have been collected, analysed and explained. Borders are artificially constructed, geographic or astronomic lines that form the boundary of a nation. Within this delimited boundary, a nation exercises power and jurisdiction and carries out its activities. In accordance with the sovereignty of the State, the central government can curtail, restrict or totally ban the unauthorized movement of goods and people across such lines.

Borderlands are defined as extending beyond the delimited border, covering an area that marks a nation’s sphere of influence. Hanse (1981) describes it as ‘the sub-national areas whose economic and social life is directly and significantly affected by proximity to an international boundary’. Contiguous countries have closely linked borderlands separated by an international boundary.

The three operational terms used in the study are border, movement and trading. The last two are essential to our understanding of the processes that make a border – not an imaginary, artificial line that divides, but a link or a bridge spanning border areas of adjoining countries.

The operative terms

Concept of border

The two main socio-economic processes that take place across an international border are the movement of people and goods (for trade). This movement is an integrative process that links people on both sides of the border; it breaks down artificially imposed barriers, and generates interaction.

Although earlier studies have emphasized the concept of borders in isolation from the adjoining space, this study suggests a more integrative perception. Trans-border movement and trading are usually considered as socio-economic activities across artificial boundaries. In contrast, they are perceived here as activities or processes that take place in the area, on either one or both sides of the border. Consequently in this study, borders are seen as encompassing the borderland.

Trans-border movement

Trans-border movement is not a single process or a once-and-for- all activity, but a ‘form’ of migration in its own right, with distinct features. Movements across a border may comprise normal everyday movement and conventional migration – which could be regarded as being both internal and international. Some aspects of the uniqueness of this form of migration are its spontaneity, the complexity of its pattern and the categories of the movers. Its spontaneity is evident from its almost impulsive and repetitious manner of occurrence. The complexity of its pattern stems from the fact that the same socio-cultural group is found on both sides of the border.

The movement of people at a border occurs within the orbit of the same group of people. Their movement is considered as being within a nationality rather than between two geo-political entities. Such movement of people would not normally be regarded as migration, particularly as the movers often stay for a short time. Since the movement occurs over an international boundary, however, and is subject to legal restrictions and regulations, it also has to be regarded as international migration.

There are two categories of movers at the border, namely: transients and migrants. These categories include visitors, commuters, frontier workers and permanent migrants, all exhibiting variations in the duration of stay at their destination.

Trans-border trading

9Trans-border trading has its own distinct features. It is an economic activity that can be regarded as being both internal (within one nationality) and international. What is more, the classification of trading activities becomes complex when describing buying and selling at the border, where each can be regarded as a distinct activity. Trading thus involves everyday buying and selling, semi-formalized marketing activities and formal trading transactions. The transactions are, of course, subject to the conditions of supply and demand.

Aims and objectives of the study

10The central aim of this study is to present the two socio-economic activities – trans-border movement and trading – as integrative processes that link people at the border. The three specific objectives are:

  1. to examine the volume, direction and nature of transborder movement of people
  2. to present an account of the volume, direction and frequency of trans-border trading
  3. to analyse the categories of people and the various factors responsible for trans-border movement and trading.

In carrying out the first objective, the two types of people moving out of or into the border area were categorized as residents and transients. It also involved recognizing two categories of movement: lifetime and period migrations.

Development of Infrastructure and Economy

Compared to other border areas of the country, the southwestern border of Nigeria enjoys a relatively new road network, notably, the Lagos-Badagry-Porto Novo all-season road. There is also an expressway from Lagos to Sango-Otta that links Ajegunle and Idiroko and which continues to Igolo in Benin. The well-paved tarmac, however, stops abruptly at the Nigerian end of the expressway. In addition, there are seasonal cross-border roads, such as the Imeko-Ilara-Ketu and the Okeho-Ijio-Sabe roads. Apart from these, there are several non-metallic roads in the area.

The study area is not adequately equipped with modem amenities. Idiroko has only one health centre. For many years, the community depended on the health facilities in Igolo. Idiroko and Ajegunle have electricity supply, a limited pipe-borne water system, and primary and secondary schools; but there are no industries.

Although farming is the main occupation of the majority of the working population in these settlements, the sustaining factor of the economy of Idiroko and Ajegunle is trans-border trade. The importance of trans-border trade will be better understood when the political economies of Benin and Nigeria, on which the settlements depend, are considered.

The disparities in the economies of the two countries (Benin and Nigeria) are essential elements affecting trans-border movement and trading. These are reflected in the unequal endowment of resources and the choice of often opposing economic policies, with respect to currency matters.

The People’s Republic of Benin is a smaller country compared to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, not only in area, but also as shown by their population sizes of 4.5 million and over 100 million respectively. Benin’s population is concentrated along the coast. Benin, therefore, has a very limited domestic market; the country is noted more for being a transit corridor for imported goods and local farm exports. It serves the land-locked Francophone countries in its vicinity and its eastern neighbour, Nigeria. It also served as a warehouse state for Nigeria, especially in the 1970s when the country experienced periods of port congestion, and during the economic crises of the 1980s and 1990s. In addition, Benin has pursued an economic infiltrations policy towards Nigeria, as a way of surviving economically. Its foreign policy has invariably been to safeguard its autonomy by cushioning it from the inevitable consequences of any economic malaise in Nigeria.

The sharp depreciation of the naira since 1986, and the growing attractiveness of the CFA franc for Nigerian traders are major factors that help to explain the regional dynamics of the two countries and the high level of officiai and undocumented trade between them. When the exchange rate of the naira plummeted between 1986 and 1992, Benin immediately became an intermediary for re-exporting three main products – rice, wheat flour and second-hand cars – from Europe into Nigeria. As a result, trade boomed in the port of Cotonou between 1990 and 1993. Also, the devaluation of the officiai rate of the naira encouraged the importation of farm inputs from Nigeria. Benin also serves as the main intermediary for other West African Francophone countries seeking to buy low-cost Nigerian manufactured goods. It benefits from its relative closeness to Nigeria and remains a major financial market where Nigerians can acquire the CFA franc they need for foreign trade.

Consequently, trade flourishes along the Lagos-Badagry- Cotonou corridor and along the Sango-Otta-Idiroko axis on the western boundary of Nigeria. The trade involves the movement and sale of imported finished goods. The similar cultural characteristics of the people on either side of this international boundary facilitate cross-border trading.

Trans-border Movement

The movement patterns of residents and transients are examined in this section. In the analysis of residents, the variables used were: place of birth contrasted with place of interview; last place of residence before moving to the study area; and place of abode within a defined period of one month prior to the time of interview. The first two variables would indicate lifetime migrations, while the last two variables are measures for period migrations. The variables used for border crossers were their point of departure and destination at the time of the interview. The same variables were used for period migrations. A review of the types of borderlands will ensure an understanding of the observed spatial movement patterns in the study area.

Types of borderlands

Three types of borderlands were identified in the literature, based on the level and pattern of movement and trading within each of them. They are:

  1. Closed, inert or zero borderlands
  2. Open, transit or minimal borderlands
  3. Porous, ‘nation-peripheral’ or maximal borderlands 

Zero Borderlands

In closed, inert or zero borderlands, no notable activity occurs across the border. This type of borderland is conterminous with the boundary. There is no borderland space and the boundary serves as an almost clear cut line of total separation. The two adjacent countries with such borderlands are not culturally, ideologically or ethnically connected. Even when they are, very little socio-economic or spatial interaction takes place between them. Examples of this type of borderland are the border areas in the Sahara and on the northern edges of Sahelo-Saharan countries.

Open, Transit or Minimal Borderlands

Open, transit or minimal borderlands are active border areas, with no major infrastructure or trading facilities. The residents on both sides of the border have very little cultural or ethnic affinity. The borderland space is also minimal. Examples of this type of borderland are border towns that thrive on periodic markets, warehouses and parallel foreign exchange markets. In this case, trade does not have a structured space and the border is a mere transit corridor for goods.

Maximal Borderland

This third type of borderland is characteristic of the thriving border areas of West Africa. The border peripheries are de facto free trade zones, operating independently from the nation-state and suggest an autonomous economic zone, which is attached to two or more nation-states and operates on the basis of marked geographic contrasts. Signs of the autonomy are.

  • use of several currencies at a rate determined by a parallel foreign exchange market
  • ineffective customs / immigration control
  • strong ethnic solidarity in communities split by the colonial division
  • a high volume of trade in farm and manufactured goods
  • high daily movement of people

Porous, ‘nation-peripheral’ or maximal borderlands serve as areas of contact for physical, economic or socio-cultural purposes. Residents on both sides of the border have ancestral, ethnic and linguistic affinities and links that span several centuries. ethnic groups that are found in this area have a sense of solidarity which ignores the division brought about by the imposition of the border. These factors often make the residents oblivious of the borderline, as they carry on their socio-economic activities.

The spatial limit and extent of a maximal borderland depend on the area occupied by residents on each side of the boundary: the larger the area, the more extensive the borderland and vice- versa. There is an enormous amount of co-operation between borderland residents, irrespective of the economic policies of the political sovereignties at the centre. Furthermore, porous borders are known for their spontaneous state of permeability and the inability of the states to regulate them effectively. They are characterized by a high rate of smuggling, the illegal movement of persons and clandestine migrations. Conditions that bring about these features include differentials in prices, wages and standards of living; less state-consciousness among the people; and weak, corrupt or ill-organized customs / immigration officials.

Lifetime migration

The lifetime migration patterns of residents of the selected settlements were studied, using their responses on place of birth and place ever lived in before moving to the place of interview. When any of the two places differed from the place of interview, it was assumed that a lifetime migration vector existed.

The proportional circles represent the volumes of people born elsewhere, but who were at the time of the interview living in the selected settlements. About two-thirds (66.2 %) of the residents were born in the place of interview. The other respondents were born in other places within or outside Nigeria. Those born in Ogun, Osun, Oyo, Ondo and Ekiti states, which are states in the immediate vicinity of the study area, formed 25.6 %. Other residents born within Nigeria were from the eastern (5.2 %) and northern (1.9 %) parts of the country. The percentages of those born outside Nigeria were minimal: Benin (0.8 %), Togo (0.2 %), Ghana (0.1°%) and Burkina Faso (0.1°%).

The majority of the respondents (83.9 %) had lived in other places prior to moving to the place of interview (fig. 6), leaving just a few non-movers (16.1 %). About one-third of the lifetime migrants (34.7 %) were from nearby locations within the same local government area as the study area. The other places, in descending order of closeness to the study area, were Osun, Ondo and Ekiti states (22.2 %), Ogun (16.4 %), Lagos (11.9 %); states in the former Eastern Nigeria (7.0 %) and those in the former Northern Nigeria (5.2 %). The remaining 2.6 % of the lifetime migrants were from outside the country, that is: Benin (1.4 %), Togo (0.2 %), Niger (0.5 %) and Ghana (0.5 %). In essence, lifetime migrants moved mainly from states in the immediate hinterland of the study area. These states are noted for their high population densities, high percentage of urban population and large markets.

The majority of the lifetime migrants had recently moved to the place of interview. Less than one-third of them (28.5 %) had moved to the place of interview more than 11 years ago, while 71.5 % of them had moved to the study area within the last 10 years.

The major reasons given for lifetime migration into the border settlements were economic, that is, trading (66.3 %), and employment (2.1 %). The other reasons were more or less social, for example, some of the respondents had returned to their places of origin to settle (16.9 %), while some were there for schooling (3.8 %).

Period migration

Three sets of data on movement across the border within specified time periods are considered. The first is the official data on arrivals and departures at control posts/immigration entry points within Ogun State for the years 1993 to 1996. This data set was used to depict the officially declared temporal flow pattern of border crossers. The second data set is from interviews with residents at the household level and the third is from border crossers interviewed at the Idiroko border post within one month prior to, and within the period of, the survey.

One salient feature of the line graphs in figs. 7a and 7b is that they depict a relatively low volume of trans-border flow, in spite of the fact that the estimate included all the control posts/ immigration entry points in Ogun State. This is contrary to what is known to be the case in the border areas. It is, therefore, inferred from these facts, that either there has been gross under- recording of movement across the border or that many border crossers evaded the officiai entry points.

The movement, however, was usually for a short time, the duration being 1 to 12 hours for 83.5 % of the movers. Others ranged from 13-24 hours to 72 hours in decreasing numbers. The more frequent movers stayed for shorter periods than the less frequent movers. About two-fifths of the less frequent movers (38 %) stayed for more than 48 hours, in contrast to 5 % for the more frequent movers.

Routes across the border

In terms of the route taken to cross the border, the officiai border post was only used by 26.1 % of the movers (table 2). At the individual level (not indicated in the table), more movers used the Idiroko (29.3 %) than the Ajegunle route (1.2 %). The majority of the border crossers (70.7 % for Idiroko and 98.8 % for Ajegunle) used unofficial routes.

There are many unofficial routes used by border crossers. For most of the movers from Idiroko, Eti Koto, on the edge of the valley separating the two countries, was the most popular route (24.9 %). The other routes, taken mainly by movers from Idiroko, were Festac II (19.6 %), the Bush (9.3 %), Kumayon (2.0 %), Bebe (1.3 %), Sharp Corner (1.0 %) and Back of the Wire (0.5 %). From Ajegunle, the most popular routes were Alapako (8.8 %) and Festac I (6.5 %) (see figure lb).

The major reasons given by those who made frequent crossings were economic (93.3 %). The rest (6.7 %), crossed the border for sight-seeing or visits (table 3).

Cotonou was the most popular destination of residents (55.3 %) of both Idiroko and Ajegunle (see table 4 and fig. 10). The level was higher for movers from Ajegunle (93.9 %) compared to Idiroko (55.3 %). The other places to which people from Idiroko and Ajegunle moved to were, in order of importance, Igolo (35.7 %; 3.7 %), Porto Novo (4.8 %; 0.0 %) and Ifonyin (4.1 %; 2.4 %).

The variations in the frequency of movement to the locations across the border are shown in table 4. Almost 80 % (79.3 %) of the cross border movers from both settlements went to Igolo at least once a week, while 66.6 % went to Ifonyin. The other locations were visited less frequently and varied from once a week to once a month.

The main explanation for the frequency of movement was proximity. Igolo and Ifonyift are just next door to Idiroko. They are between 1 to 10 kilometres across the border. Porto Novo (43 km) and Cotonou (90 km) – the major markets in Benin – are farther away. The marketing attractiveness of Porto Novo and Cotonou, however, and their large populations explain the greater pull over that of physical distance.

The available data sets and results identify the study area as a maximal borderland. Movement within the study area was found to be high, with little restraint and was regarded almost as a normal part of life.

79The nature of movement at the border is complex and involves both internal and international migrations. The movements also demonstrate recurrent movement and migration. As can be expected, the location closest to the border, in this case Idiroko, records the highest volume and frequency of movement. Cotonou, a major commercial centre, is the main port of call, followed by Igolo, which is the closest settlement to Idiroko en route to Cotonou.

Interpersonal links in cross-border movement

Interpersonal links between movers and the people they interact with across the border facilitate trans-border movement. They are the socio-cultural reasons for trans-border movement. These historical, cultural and economic ties that link the people on both sides of a border are examined in terms of the person or institution that accommodated movers, their ethnicity and nationality and the form of assistance rendered.

About 43°% of the movers spent less than one day across the border and therefore did not require any hosting. For those who stayed longer, relatives were the major hosts, accommodating 45.3 % of them. The other hosts were friends (31.3 %), while the rest stayed in hotels or with trading partners.

The major ethnic group which accommodated the movers were the Egun (46.5 %), followed by the Anago (18.6 %). the Yoruba (18.0 %), the Edo/Urhobo (5.8 %), the Igbo (5.1 %), people from the Water region of Togo (5.1 %), and the Hausa (0.6 %). The Egun are the major ethnic group in Benin, while the Anago are part of the Yoruba speaking people who live in the Republic of Benin.

The Igbo and the deltaic people (Edo/Urhobo) of Edo State serve as ‘chain-migrants’ assisting more migrants to move into the host country. Their presence in Benin became prominent in the latter part of the 1960s, in the aftermath of the Civil War in Nigeria, which made them move out in large numbers.

Apart from ethnicity, the movers and those who hosted them shared the same nationality, which explains the similarity of their interpersonal relationships. Most of the hosts were from Benin (60.5 %) and Niger (34.6 %), and a few from Togo (4.3 %) and Ghana (0.6 %).

Assistance offered to the movers was mainly economic in nature. This was in terms of cash and gifts (20.6 %), favourable negotiations/granting of credit (15.2 %) and currency exchange facilities (7.6 %). Hospitality came next with movers being offered accommodation free of charge.

These findings show that trans-border movement is an integrative process which links borderlands of contiguous countries. The volume, frequency and pattern of movement are in line with what obtains in maximal borderlands. The high frequency and short duration of the migrations indicate that movement, as far as the movers are concerned takes place within and between borderlands and not across borders, as seen officially, since a border connotes restriction.

Trans-border Trading

Economic transactions that take place across borderlands are major reasons for trans-border movement. This section deals with the main items purchased or sold, the volume of transactions, the places in the host country where the items were purchased and those in Nigeria where they were sold. It also deals with the frequency of trans-border trading, the relationship between the people and the traders and the forms of assistance the traders received. The perceptions of the people as to which side of the border offered more favourable trading conditions were also investigated. In order to examine these aspects of trans-border trading, the discussion is placed within the context of borderlands, which examines cross-border trading as a link or ‘bridge’ between two contiguous countries.

The main items of trade

Foodstuffs such as polished rice, frozen chicken/turkey and tinned foods were the main items of trade (34.6 %) among traders resident in the study area (table 5). Other items included tyres/ motor spare parts (21.7 %); fairly used cars, popularly called “okunbo’ (13.2 %); second-hand clothes (10.4 %); spirits/beer/cigarettes (9.1 %); and material and ready-made clothes (8.2 %). The remaining 1.9 % of the traders bought electrical goods/batteries and jewellery. The items of trade were mainly consumer goods, which were said to be easily available and cheaper in the host country (Benin).

The trans-border trading was almost unidirectional, as purchases were mostly made from locations across the border. Plastic wares and petrol were the main items of trade bought from Nigeria. Trade in petrol was lucrative and involved many retallers, who supplied the petrol on motorcycles rather than in big petrol tankers.

Petty trading also featured in the trans-border trading activities of the residents. This was carried out by women traders from Idiroko, who hawked products such as groundnuts and pepper almost on a daily basis, just across the border in Igolo.

The main items of trade for border crossers were textiles (28.1 %). This was followed by foodstuffs (24.5 %), jewellery (16.6 %), tyres/motor spare parts (11.6 %), batteries/electronics (6.2 %), fairly used cars (4.3 %), and plastics/detergents (3.3 %).

In essence, trans-border trading involved mainly consumer goods and some heavy-duty goods – consisting mostly of automobiles and their spare parts.

Places of purchase in host country

Most of the goods purchased across the border were from Cotonou (see table 5 and fig. 11). Almost two-thirds of the traders (64.3 %) got their goods from Cotonou. Cotonou is the capital of Benin, and has a thriving port that facilitates the importation of goods. It was the major purchasing centre for all the items, except foodstuffs. All the fairly used cars and jewellery were bought there. Other items purchased from Cotonou were as follows: material/ready made dresses (96.7 %); tyres/motor spare parts (86.1 %); second-hand clothes (84.2 %); spirits/beer/cigarettes (78.8 %) and electrical goods (50 %). The least purchased items were foodstuffs (23 %)

Igolo, the twin seulement of Idiroko on the Benin side, came second, with 30.5 % of the traders patronizing the market there. It is noted for foodstuffs (72.2 %); spirits/beer/cigarettes (18.2 %); tyres/motor spare parts (6.3 %); and second-hand clothes (5.3 %). Ifonyin and Porto Novo were next and were patronized by only 3.3 % and 1.9 % of the traders respectively. These two places are known for the purchase of foodstuffs, tyres/motor spare parts and second-hand clothing.

Places of sale within Nigeria

In Nigeria, Idiroko was the most prominent place of sale, especially for foodstuffs; 26.0 % of the traders sold their goods there. This was followed by Lagos (20.9 %); Sango-Otta (13.4 %); Ibadan (11.1 %); Ikorodu (9.2 %); and Owode-Yewa (7.3 %). Other places included Abeokuta, Benin City, Epe, Osogbo, Ijebu Ode and Ifo (see fig. 12). In short, the places of sale spread far and wide in the southwestern part of the country, with the commercial heart, Lagos and its environs, and Sango-Otta, predominating. Kano, Kaduna and Ilorin in the north, were secondary places of sale.

Idiroko is noted for foodstuffs (50.4 %); followed by Sango- Otta (20.9 %), Lagos (12.4 %), and Owode-Yewa (10.9 %). Lagos was the number one place for the sale of almost all the other items, which included: ready-made clothing (43.3 %), spirits/beer/cigarettes (40.6 %), tyres/motor spare parts (27.5 %) and second-hand clothing (28.6 %). Idiroko (28.1 %) and Sango- Otta (15.6 %) were the most popular places of sale for traders dealing in spirits/beer/cigarettes, while Ibadan came second to Lagos in the sale of tyres/motor spare parts and second-hand clothes/shoes (25 % and 28.6 % respectively). For fairly used cars, Ikorodu was the most popular place of sale (66 %), followed by Ibadan and Benin City (each with 12.8 %).

Frequency of purchase of goods

Since most of the goods traded across the border were perishable, that is, mainly frozen foods, the frequency of purchase was high. About two-thirds of the traders (68.2 %) crossed the border to purchase goods either on a daily basis (17.9 %) or at least once a week (50.3 %). As can be expected, higher order or costlier goods were purchased less frequently. Table 6 indicates that 93.9 % of those who purchased fairly used cars travelled to buy them just once a month.

Relationship with customers

Informal trading links characterized the relationship between traders and their customers both across the border and within the border areas. Of the traders, 97.3 % purchased, while 93.6 % sold goods to customers without any written agreement. Only a small percentage of the traders (2.7 % for goods purchased and 6.4 % for goods sold) had formal links.

The informal links for purchases included friends (20.1 %) and relatives (5.3 %), but most purchases were made from people previously unknown (71.9 %). The links for sales were similar; friends (18.5°%), relatives (6.1 %), while the majority were people previously unknown (69.0 %). Those who traded with their relatives across the border were mainly traders who patronized the market at Igolo.

Most of the traders were Anago or Egun, ethnic groups found on both sides of the border. The Anago formed 55.7 % while the Egun constituted 24.2 % of the trading partners; these were followed by people from the Water Region of Togo (7.5 %). The other trading partners were from ethnic groups within Nigeria. They included Igbo (5.0 %), Yoruba (3.3 %), Edo/Urhobo (2.5 %) and Ijaw (1.1 %). The Hausa, who are spread across the Sahelian region of West Africa, formed the remaining 0.6 %.

The majority of the people in the area speak Yoruba, which facilitates the various border transactions. A small minority of the traders (1.0 %) felt that similarity in language helped. Traders assisted their clients across the border in various ways namely by hospitality (51.3 %); help with currency exchange (27.9 %); and the offer of credit facilities (15.1 %). Other forms of assistance included gifts (1.6 %) and help with negotiations to strike a good bargain (1.4 %).

Amount of goods purchased within month of survey

There were wide variations in the amounts of goods purchased by the traders during the month of the survey. The amounts varied from as little as N200 to N2.5 million. The mean value of the goods purchased for ail traders resident in the study area was higher than for traders among the border crossers (see tables 7 & 8). Also, the amount spent by traders from Ajegunle was more than that spent by traders from Idiroko. The mean values were N 169,371 for Idiroko and N353,839 for Ajegunle.

Amount of goods sold in Nigeria

The traders that bought goods from Benin sold their goods in Nigeria and made a healthy profit. This is reflected in the high turnover of sales made by the traders from the study area (see table 9). The mean value of sales made for all the traders from the study area was N245,361. The value for Ajegunle was, however, more than double that of Idiroko.

Declared profit

Some expenses had to be taken into consideration before profit was declared. These included costs such as transportation and customs duties. From what is known, the cost of transport from Idiroko to Cotonou – the most frequented and most distant place of purchase in Benin – varied from N50 to N400. The transport cost (which included border levies) was, however, much higher on the return trip, especially for traders who sold rice, motor spare parts and fairly used cars. This depended on the customs duties imposed on the goods, whether or not they were prohibited goods, and the bargaining power of traders when dealing with the customs officers. The officiai duties could sometimes be lower than the charges levied, yet traders often chose to pay the arbitrary levy in order to avoid delay and confiscation of goods. The amounts paid were difficult to substantiate, hence the data on transportation costs were not used in arriving at the profit. Instead, the figures given by the traders themselves were used.

A major reason for the relatively high profit margin in trans-border trading is the wide disparity in the exchange rates of the naira and the CFA franc. Goods originating from Nigeria are sold in exchange for the convertible currency, the CFA franc. Petrol, in particular is sold at a price higher than the pump price, which makes it profitable and attractive to Nigerians seeking foreign exchange. Government policy with respect to the importation of goods is more liberal in Benin than Nigeria. The tax on imported cars (new and used) is much higher in Nigeria; hence, Nigerians prefer to cross the border and buy their cars. Certain food items which have been banned in Nigeria and which are available in Benin, are similarly imported through the back door. In addition, since the oil boom era, Nigerians have developed a taste for imported goods. There is, therefore, a ready market for such goods in Nigeria. Added to this is the fact that the goods are either cheaper, relative to Nigerian-made goods, or are considered to be of better quality.

Traders perceptions of trans-border trading

Traders considered trans-border trading lucrative, and about two- thirds of them mentioned certain points in its favour. These were: easy access to customers (18.3 %); availability of cheap items (11.0 %); travelling documents made easy by ECOWAS protocol (10.3 %); little hassle at the border (9.8 %); traders from the immediate locality who were known to border officials found it easier to cross than others (6.1 %); the trade was profitable (4.8 %); interaction with people across the border was easy (3.6 %); the transport fare was reasonable (1.7 %); and the exchange rate was fair (1.5 %).

The remaining one-third of the traders, however, had some criticisms. Sixteen per cent of the traders resented the presence of a large number of customs/immigration officers at the border and their exploitative behaviour. Another 4.9 % of them complained of experiencing a great deal of hassle at the checkpoint, which made crossing tedious. The difficulty in obtaining travelling documents and the fluctuating exchange rate were also problems of trans-border trading as stated by 6.5 % of the traders. The remaining proportion of the traders, 5.4 %, mentioned other points, including language barrier.

The traders made some suggestions for improving trans-border trading. The main ones were a need for:

  • improved calibre and reduction in the number of customs/immigration officers (32.6 %)
  • assistance to ease crossing of the border (23.6 %)
  • a more friendly attitude by security men (11.9 %)
  • an easier system for obtaining travel documents (10.3 %)
  • normalization of currency exchange (7.3 %)
  • reduction in the number of checkpoints (1.3 %)
  • introduction of French as a second officiai language in Nigeria (1.3 %)
  • a cordial working relationship between Nigeria and Benin (1.2 %) and
  • an increase in the importation of goods allowed.

Extrapolation of findings

110The trans-border characteristics – in terms of volume of trade, pattern of movement and socio-economic characteristics – were those of a maximal borderland of high porosity and relaxed border security. Trans-border trading has been a long-standing form of informal economic integration. It has been influenced by decisions at the centre, particularly those that are regional in nature; for example, the exchange rate of the currencies. The ECOWAS Protocol on Free Mobility of Persons, Goods and Services has, however, encouraged cross-border trading activities and the Idiroko borderland epitomizes a bridge linking the two countries, rather than a border post that divides.

To explain these findings in relation to the correlation between trans-border trading and trans-border movement some of the principles of borderlands fisted by Strassoldo (1989) are considered relevant.

Borderlands are usually different from core areas and have some common characteristics with sister borderlands across the boundary for example:

  1. boundaries cut across homogeneous cultural areas
  2. they are often distant from the core areas
  3. the dependency nature of their economy is determined by decisions made at the centre
  4. they have similar functions (e.g., economic or military)
  5. occurrence of economic integration (e.g., cross-border commerce, industrial plants, etc.)
  6. they are physically contiguous (need for joint infrastructure planning, environmental management, etc.)

The findings in this study confirm some of these characteristics in that the communality of interests is borne out by the movement of people and goods across the border. Due to the fact that the major commercial/administrative centres of the two countries (Cotonou and Lagos) are not contiguous with the border, however, both featured prominently in trans-border movement and trading transactions. Asiwaju and Igue (1994) have also noted that there is much more business at the border with Benin as a result of the regional pressures exerted by Nigeria and the combined force of Benin and other contiguous ECOWAS member states. The dynamic nature of the border is also based on the fact that there are relatively many more cross- border road networks than at any of the other Nigerian borders.

Spatial justice requires that borderlands are not handicapped in their daily activities; hence, governments (subtly) grant border regions a number of concessions and a special status.This is exemplified by the attitude of customs/immigration officers at the border, who turn a blind eye to the movement of commuters and the trading activities of people from the locality.

The daily lives of local communities in border areas often require interaction and co-operation with people across the border. Relations between people should therefore be managed so as to maintain friendliness and a sense of common humanity, because borderlands are one of the potential or actual ‘foyers’ of trans-national integration.

It is therefore necessary for the adjacent states to co-operate to find solutions to problems such as bribery, and the smuggling of petrol and other products across the border. There is also the need to reconcile the contradictions between the sovereignty of the country and the desire of the border people for socio- economic interaction across the border.


This section reveals that there is a relatively high level of transborder trading between southwestern Nigeria and its neighbouring country, the People’s Republic of Benin. This trans-border trading is correlated with trans-border movement. The frequency is very high, as reflected by the almost daily transactions in foodstuffs across the border. Trans-border trading is weighed in favour of the purchase of goods from across the border into Nigeria. Imported items were mainly consumer goods, while the main exports from Nigeria were plastics and petrol. Cotonou is the most popular place of purchase, mainly for fairly used cars and for tyres/spare parts. Purchases of frozen foodstuffs are made almost daily from Igolo,. Major places of sale within Nigeria, for foodstuffs and for fairly used cars are Idiroko, Lagos and Sango- Otta; and the less important markets are Ibadan, Sagamu and Benin.

The high frequency of trans-border trading establishes the area as a maximal borderland. Interpersonal informal links with relations or people of close ethnic affinity foster this activity. Other marketing arrangement – such as credit facilities and currency exchange – facilitate transactions.

The high difference between the cost of purchase and the value of sales made, results in high levels of profit by the traders. A major explanatory factor for this difference is the high disparity in the exchange rates of the two currencies.


The findings from this study highlight the necessity to rethink the concept of borders. A number of significant recommendations are made.

To start with, a border as a line (real or imaginary), legally separating two countries, is virtually incompatible with the activities of movement and trading. A border officially restricts human movement and accompanying activities, such as, trading. This study, which has examined the processes of movement and trading, suggests the modification of the concept of ‘border’. If the concept is not modified the exercise would be about the ways and means by which people carry out illegitimate trading activities at the border. Since this study is concerned with legitimate processes and transactions across the border, it follows that the concept of ‘border’ has significantly changed.

In this regard, ‘border’ has been replaced with ‘borderland’. This replacement has provided the key to the understanding of how trans-border trading and movement take place within a geographic space.

Movement and trading are interactive processes, having the natural tendency to lead to the gradual assimilation, into each other, of the diverse features of the two sides of the border. The consequence is the obliteration of the border and the integration of the two erstwhile sides into a new entity.

What is more, the nature of the two processes or activities has changed over time. This is because the two of them, as integrative processes, have tended to lose their differences and the area over which they occur has acquired common or similar features.

The inescapable result is the modification of the concepts of movement and trading. Movement, as has been earlier argued, has become migration in its own right across the border. Similarly, the more formalized trading process, became in turn the less formalized marketing process, and has become, in turn, the everyday processes of buying and selling. Such transformations of the processes have been the result of the high volume and frequency of cross-border trading.

From what has been said so far, attention has been drawn to two overall applications of this study. One is on the theoretical foundation for regional integrative policies of international cooperation, and the other is towards further validation and application of the results of the study.

The study has suggested that regional integrative activities reflecting international co-operation are a natural development resulting from the necessity for people from different nations to interact for mutual benefit. In this respect, the study draws out the ambiguity in the concept of nation. International co-operation is spontaneous and inescapable when a nation is regarded as a socio- cultural entity. In that case, the border is a marginal wall, that has no physical limitation and the two sides of the so-called border constitute a new emergent link, merging two erstwhile different geo-political nations into a truly indivisible, intervening socio- cultural nation.

In effect, the case study of the inevitable co-operation within the socio-cultural unit, which was forcibly divided into two artificial geo-political units, draws attention to what can be accordingly promoted through concerted efforts within geo- political units (nations). That also justifies why trans-border co- operation has been described as ‘any concerted action that is designed to reinforce and foster neighbouring relations between territorial communities or authorities within the jurisdiction of two or more contracting parties. ‘ This has been adopted as a regional approach to planning and development by the European Union (EU). The adoption of the concept of a new ‘Europe of the regions’ in contrast to that of the old Europe of the nation-state aided its cause. The starting point was motivated by the need to see frontiers or borders as permeable areas, to be developed for the common good of contiguous states. Over the years, the trans- frontier co-operation models have emphasized specialized functions like environmental issues, harmonization in the development of resources, the creation of a Euro-region of the cities of the Chambers of Commerce, co-operation agreements between vice chancellors of universities and linking up of higher educational and applied research. The European Community is also gaining more recognition, lobbying power and political influence, for example through the Single European Act which establishes the regions as the primary planning and development units in the Community. In addition, the border regions are provided for in the European region Development Fund.

It is natural to advocate the adoption of this trend for the development of African borderlands.This is indeed a veritable application of this case study of the southwestern borderlands of Nigeria and People’s Republic of Benin towards the establishment of new regional units of co-operation. Already the effects of changes in the political economy of the two sovereign nations are reflected in observations, such as, ‘when Nigeria sneezes, the People’s Republic of Benin catches the cold’.

The level of co-operation between the people at the border is an asset that can be exploited in developing trans-frontier regionalization or co-operation. As mentioned, this entails finding areas of collaboration of efforts at the grassroots level among the people. These would cut across the international barrier created by the sovereignty of individual countries and their boundaries. These could be in the form of non-governmental bodies that deal with the marketing of various goods, such that the seaports of the two countries could be utilized maximally in distributing the goods into the hinterlands of their countries and of other neighbouring countries. For example, with the improvement of the land transportation in the direction of Cotonou-Parakou-Saki and/or that of Badagry (if and when developed)-AdoOdo-Ilaro- Idiroko-Sabe-Saki-Parakou, the south-north trading networks would be revived. An alternative network of road transportation to the existing one would also be developed. In addition, other lateral transportation networks could be developed to aid trading across the borderland.

Other areas of collaboration between the two countries could be in the area of joint exploration and utilization of resources, such as, petroleum and limestone, which can be found in both countries, and the environmental management of their borderland, for example. This co-operation is necessary, in order to avoid crises of the dimension of that-in the Bakassi Peninsula in the southeastern border of Nigeria.

Similarly, its wider application can be seen in efforts at transborder co-operation, motivating the effective implementation of the aims and objectives of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). 14The predominance of the recurrent, impermanent types of migration (movement), reflected in this study, points to issues to be given further consideration in the successful implementation of the three stages of the Protocol on Free Mobility of Goods, People and Capital of ECOWAS.

Finally, there is the second overall application of this study. This is in respect of its applicability. Mention has just been made of the extension of the application of the results to the ECOWAS member states. This will depend on how applicable the recommendations are. In this regard, success depends on large-scale studies of the international borders and the development of the borderlands of the member states of the ECOWAS. It is hoped that the recommendations in this pilot study will be considered and further studies undertaken.


• North-South trade networks will be revived through improvements inland transport in the direction of Cotonou Para Kosaki and Badaguri. There’s also a need to provide alternative means of transport networks to support cross-border trade.
• Other areas of collaboration between the two countries could be in the area of joint exploration and utilization of resources like petroleum and limestone, which can be found in both countries.

Source: Open Edition Books

Keywords: Border, Movement, Trading

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