Nigeria and the Danger of Porous Borders

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There is need for a concerted approach by the Nigerian government, the communities, and the people to end the pain caused by the infiltration of terrorists, bandits, and other illegal aliens from across the borders, writes Vincent Obia

There is little doubt that most Nigerians will be hurting when they realise that the terrorist atrocities they suffer are mainly the handiwork of foreigners. The pain is not only that these foreigners, most of whom come into the country illegally through the porous borders, are killing and maiming Nigerians, and destroying both private livelihoods and the national economy.

It is also that they have successfully infiltrated into institutions and communities that are supposed to deal with such illegal and violent activities. Stories about nationals of other African countries, especially Nigeria’s West African neighbours, who illegitimately assume Nigerian citizenship and enrol in critical national programmes abound. Nigeria is, without doubt, a country under attack from illegal aliens.

Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, said last week that 60 per cent of the Boko Haram members terrorising the North-east are foreigners. Buratai’s conclusions were based on intelligence reports and the confessions of captured and repentant insurgents, which were found to be mostly foreigners.

These terrorist activities, which have resulted in the killing of thousands of Nigerians since the outbreak of the insurgency in 2009, have occurred mainly in areas within the North-east states of Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe that share borders with Nigeria’s West African neighbours, such as Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. They have taken place particularly on the fringes of Sambisa forest and the Lake Chad Basin, which are the epicentre of the Boko Haram insurgency. This highlights the fact that most of the terror attacks Nigeria has witnessed are cross-border raids by guerrillas who hit targets and escape to bases outside the country.

Besides Boko Haram insurgency, Nigeria is also in the throes of bloody upheavals orchestrated by herdsmen, which the authorities equally say are mainly foreigners. President Muhammdu Buhari has stated that the killer herdsmen, who have wreaked havoc on many communities across the country, are not Nigeria but foreigners who came from Libya.

Buhari said in London in May that the late Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, had during his 43-year-regime given military training to many people from the Sahel, who were scattered abroad at the fall of his rule in October 2011 and now found themselves in various terrorist organisations in the continent, including killer bands parading as herdsmen, Al Qaeda, and Boko Haram.

The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, echoed a similar view in September in his Eid-el-Kabir message, when he said armed herdsmen perpetrating violence in the country were foreign terrorists. He said, “All those so-called Fulani herdsmen, moving with guns, causing violence, fighting with farmers are not Nigerians. These are foreigners coming into Nigeria to cause a breach of the peace of the nation. They are, therefore, terrorists and should be treated as such by the Nigerian security agencies.

“The Nigerian herdsmen are very peace-loving and law abiding.”
The Sultan said, however, that “bad eggs” had infiltrated the Nigerian Fulani herdsmen, and challenged the security agencies to fish them out for prosecution.
The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has also said that the killer herdsmen are not Nigerians.

Though many, including the Christian Association of Nigeria, have doubted the claim that the killer herders are not Fulani herdsmen based especially on the utterances and body language of officials of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, the umbrella union of cattle herders. Leaders of the cattle herders are accused of giving cautious support to the marauders who cause havoc in farming communities. The truth of the matter seems to be that the foreigners who terrorise Nigeria either as Boko Haram insurgents or killer herdsmen act on their own or as mercenaries procured to cause mayhem in targeted communities.

The porous borders are to blame for the infiltration of the extremists.
Nigeria has international land borders of about 4,470 kilometres (2,513 miles) with Chad, Cameroon, Benin, and Niger, and a coastline of 774 kilometres (480 miles), which are largely unmanned. Comptroller General of the Service, Mr. Martin Kure Abeshi, said at the 2016 Comptroller General Annual Conference and Stakeholders Interactive Forum on April 7 in Lafia that of about the 1, 500 identified land border crossings into Nigeria, only 114, covering about 4,000 square kilometres, had approved control posts manned by immigration officials and other security agencies. “There are over 1,400 illegal routes, which are not manned,” Abeshi said, stressing, “This has grave security implications for the country.”
He said NIS’s approximately 23, 000 staff strength was grossly inadequate for the task of policing Nigeria’s vast borders.

Nigeria needs to put more effort and energy into the policing of its borders to stop the dangerous cross border infiltrations that are blighting both national security and the economy. Besides the placement of more security personnel at the borders, there is an urgent need for aggressive investment in modern technology to secure the borders. There had been reports about a plan to install electronic surveillance systems round the country’s borders with assistance from the United States and China. Former Minister of Interior, Mr. Abba Moro, said in May 2013 that Nigeria needed $244 million to execute the project. But it remains unclear how far the federal government has gone with the electronic surveillance plan.

The country needs a comprehensive mapping of its borders with a view to identifying the levels of migration risks posed by the various sections. This would help in deciding the types of policing measures to adopt at the different areas. And where possible, portions of the borders can be walled.

The border communities also have a critical role to play in the effort to properly police the national boundaries. The communities and their traditional rulers always know those that belong to them and those that are infiltrators.

There is no doubt about it. So they are in a position to provide vital information to the authorities that would help to control the infiltration of dangerous elements.

Nigeria is located in a largely unstable region, with volatile socio-political situations in countries like Ivory Coast, Chad, Mali, etc., easy infiltration of terrorists from Libya and other North African countries, and poverty ravaging large sections of the countries’ populations, which makes them susceptible to terrorist pressures. This makes the need for proper border security in Nigeria very urgent.