Okerete is a border town in Saki West Local Government Area of Oyo State. The village shares boundary with Fesomu, another Yoruba community in Benin Republic.
Okerete to Saki, headquarters of Saki West Local Government, covers a distance of 99 kilometres and can only be easily accessed by motorcycles.
Saki, which is one of the five major towns in Oyo State, enjoys a good supply of fuel which is sold at the normal price of N145 per litre.
But after Saki, throughout the 99-kilometre distance to Okerete, there is no fuel station. Apparently, because the roads are not passable for cars apart from remodelled vehicles with their absorbers replaced with big springs, and their tyres replaced with those originally designed for SUV.
Even before the closure of the border, the people were buying petrol sold in bottles across counters for N250.00 per litre.
The villages are, however, suffering the consequences of the border closure in terms of a near collapse of business activities as smugglers, who used to converge there in numbers have deserted the communities.
According to the villagers, the border closure has also sent many farmers, especially those from Benin Republic and Togo, away from the villages.
One of the leaders of Okerete community, Jimoh Aremu, said economic hardship and insecurity has increased in the area since the border was closed.
“Even some of us who engage in legal trades across the border are not allowed to cross over. In fact, on the day the border closure was effected, many of our people who were coming from Kilibo, Tuyi and Afesomu in Benin Republic were just at the boundary there looking at their houses over here without being able to cross.
“Many others from neighbouring countries such as Togo and Benin Republic who had either crossed here to farm or trade, were also denied access to their villages for more than one week. But the challenge was that many of our people are married to their women there and vice versa. We had to appeal to authorities to, at least, allow us to visit our families across the border since we are not carrying any banned items such as rice, oil or frozen foods,” said Mr Aremu.
The situation is similar across other border communities of Bukuro, Budo Aiki, Kiyori, Gah Jimoh, among others, which are located in Baruten Local Government of Kwara State.
When PREMIUM TIMES visited the communities, the people could not hide their frustration and anger at the closure of the border. They complained that their markets that used be a beehive of commercial activities have become scanty.
Speaking with PREMIUM TIMES, one of the Immigration officers at the Okerete Border, who didn’t want name in print, expressed satisfaction with the cooperation of the people of the communities.
“As you can see, there is strict compliance of the order here and I can assure you that except for the kids whose schools are located around the border lines, we don’t even allow people near the boundary,” the officer said.
Meanwhile, in spite of the strictness of the security operatives in and around the border towns, one or two motorcyclists still ferry rice across the border.
According to a commercial motorcyclists, who begged not to be named, three bags of rice are poured into another big sack, and cyclists always carry each from Okerete to Saki at N5,000 per bag.
“A cyclist will carry two of these bags for N10,000 per trip. But that comes at a huge cost. If discovered, your motorcycle would surely be impounded. That is the risk,” he said.
He added that the development accounted for why a bag of foreign rice which sells for about N27,000 in Ibadan and Lagos, goes for less than N15,000 in communities around Saki such as Ago-Are, Tede, Iseyin, among others.
Meanwhile, a few villages close to the border in Baruten Local Government Area of Kwara State have some fuel stations, which according to the communities’ residents, have not sold fuel for a single day.
According to sources, these fuel stations were built by fuel merchants who were said to have used the location to apply for fuel, which is diverted to other locations.