* Inflation hits 17-month high of 11.61%
* Nigeria closed borders to fight smuggling
* Shoppers told high prices caused by border closures
* Central bank to set main interest rate next week (Alters headline, adds quotes, analysts, bullet points)
By Alexis Akwagyiram
LAGOS, Nov 18 (Reuters) – Higher food prices pushed up annual inflation in Nigeria last month after borders with neighbouring countries were closed in a crackdown on smuggling.
Nigeria closed parts of its borders in August to fight smuggling of rice and other goods. The head of customs confirmed last month that all trade in goods via land borders had been halted indefinitely.
Annual inflation was 11.61% in October, up from 11.24% in September, the National Bureau of Statistics said on Monday — the highest rate since May 2018. Consumer inflation had dropped to it lowest in almost four years in August.
A separate food price index showed inflation at 14.09% in October, compared with 13.51% a month earlier.
“This rise in the food index was caused by increases in prices of meat, oils and fats, bread and cereals, potatoes, ham and other tubers, fish and vegetables,” the statistics office said in its report. “The rise in food inflation does suggest that border closures may have played a part in temporarily pressuring prices higher,” said Razia Khan, chief economist for Africa and the Middle East at Standard Chartered.
Shoppers at a market in the capital, Abuja, told Reuters the price of many food items, particularly rice, had risen in the last few weeks.
“Food items are very expensive in the market. When you go to a store they will tell you that is because the border is closed,” said housewife Naomi Nguher, who said she was given this reason for high rice prices at four different shops.
Sherifat Ajala, a rice wholesaler in the commercial capital Lagos, said Nigeria’s bad roads were delaying the transportation of the grain, further preventing the supply from meeting high demand.
“Trucks will spend almost two or three weeks on the road before they bring the rice,” he said.
Last week the West African country, along with neighbouring Benin and Niger, agreed to set up a joint border patrol force to tackle smuggling between the nations after a meeting between their foreign ministers.
The central bank is due to set its benchmark interest rate next Tuesday. The bank, which has targeted single-digit inflation, held its main interest rate at 13.5% at its last meeting, in September.
“Given the increase in inflation, we now expect that policymakers will leave their key rate on hold,” John Ashbourne, senior emerging markets economist at London-based Capital Economics, said in a note on Monday. (Reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram; additional reporting by Angela Ukomadu and Abraham Achirga; editing by Larry King)