Recently, the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) celebrated its 60th anniversary and while its successes and interventions were brought up, one of the major challenges it is facing is the porosity of borders all over the country, which makes it difficult for criminal elements to be kept at bay, and particularly allowing criminals evading justice in Nigeria easy escape into neighbouring countries, Michael Olugbode reports
The borders that delineate Nigeria as presently constituted are attributed to the Berlin West Africa Conference of November 1884 – February 1885. This was the partition of Africa by colonial powers, which in all ways, a replica of the European model of nation states that are well defined and precise. These demarcations were obviously artificial and arbitrary with scant regards for the common culture, history, economy and geography of lands and societies that predate colonialism. According to a former Controller General of Immigration, David Shikfu Paradang, it is therefore evident that Nigeria’s borders as they exist are not recognised nor respected by local communities along borderlands. They view those artificial boundaries as disrespectful to our age-old position. He cited one of the traditional rulers, the Alaketu of Ketu in Western Nigeria stating that: “We regard the boundary as separating the British and French, but not Yoruba.” So in extent, some Yoruba along the border who are Nigerians may see their brothers across the border in Benin Republic as one with them even when they are supposed to be Beninois. This is not just the case with Yorubas, but applicable in all border towns.
Nigeria’s Land and Maritime borders have been described as Expansive, Extensive and Intimidating covering 4,047 kilometres (773 kilometres with Benin Republic on the West; 1,690 kilometres with Cameroon on the East, 87 kilometres with Chad Republic on the North East and 1,497 kilometres with Niger Republic on the Northern edge). The maritime borders span about 857 kilometres on the Atlantic and Gulf of Guinea; and in terms of vegetation, the Northern border is sandy and desert-like, while the eastern border is mountainous and forested. The western borders are mostly characterised by savannah and forest vegetation.
Paradang, in his paper titled: “Border Patrol, Internal Security & Fight against Transborder Crimes.” noted that some of the security challenges faced by the country stemmed from her porous border. He said: “Our security environment is awash with a number of security challenges ranging from terrorism, proliferation of Small and Light Weapons, drug trafficking, trafficking in persons, smuggling of migrants, banditry, kidnapping, farmer-herders clashes, cattle rustling, sea piracy, oil theft and cyber-crimes among legion of such crimes that have no respect for the sanctity of national borders. These challenges are myriad.”
The former CGI, while highlighting more on armed banditry, farmer herders conflicts, smuggling of goods and migrants, said: “Banditry is now a front burner internal security issue predominantly in the North-west and North-central geo-political zones of Nigeria. The states of Zamfara, Katsina, Sokoto, Kebbi and Niger among others have been in the eye of the storm. There are daily reports of attacks on villages killing and maiming citizens, kidnapping and hostage taking, carting of foodstuff, rustling of livestock etc. The implications of banditry to internal security are grave. People pay for protection to access their farmlands. The long-term consequences of these are best imagined. It has been established that the bandits are mostly foreigners doing their despicable and heinous crimes with the collusion of some Nigerians. They often used neighboring countries as their bases and hideout. The security and welfare of the region albeit Nigeria is threatened by the activities of these bandits. People are afraid to conduct their businesses and social activities because of this. Investing in this region has therefore been on the decline.
He said, “Farmer-herders clashes which are incessant is another internal security threat that has transborder links. It has been established that since the 13th century Fulani nomads from the Republic of Niger often cross into Nigeria seeking pasture and water resources for their livestock. This transhumance is becoming regular and pervasive.”
He noted that a study of this clash was exemplified by the 1994-1995 clashes in Guri LGA of Jigawa state. This clash led to the killing of 500 people, destruction of 16 villages when the Udawa Fulani arrived from Niger Republic to feed their livestock in the valley and river beds of Hadeija River. This is further complicated by the increasing practice of dry season farming as it is a sure set-up for clashes with local farmers. These herders mindlessly trample and eat up the produce of local farmers! Any reaction from farmers inevitably leads to clashes that are often bloody. The impact of these clashes on national food security and welfare is immense.
He added that Boko Haram has been a terrorist and internal security threat that has festered predominantly in the North-east zone. The massive cost to the lives, property of citizens has been widely reported grievously wounding the security and welfare of the nation.
According to him, smuggling is also another transborder crime that has continued to threaten the nation’s internal security. He noted: “It is most often at the western flank of Nigerian borders. The smuggling of petroleum products, cars and goods reduce expected revenue from import taxes and levies accruable to Nigeria that would have aided in enhancing the welfare of our citizens.
“Another dangerous aspect of smuggling is the ever increasing smuggling of small arms, light weapons and illicit drugs across our borders. The arms have been used to fuel internal security threats of armed robbery, ethnic and religious conflicts.
“Smuggling of drugs is gradually destroying our most potent and valuable resource; the youths of Nigeria. The long-term effects of smuggling to the nation are catastrophic, ”he said.
He also lamented that irregular migration is another threat where millions of people are compelled to flee their homes annually with the resultant displacements igniting not only logistical and humanitarian quagmires, but threatens national and international security, subjecting the lives of displaced people to heavy risk, insisting that irregular migration in its various hues often induce conflicts.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that in 2022 over 110 million people were forced to flee from persecution, violence, human rights violations and other security challenges in their home countries. These massive displacements and irregular movements ignite security challenges on both sides of the borders to which these displaced persons inexorably flee. “We are aware of the massive loss of our vibrant youths on the western Mediterranean routes over land across the Sahara desert to Morocco and Algeria then to the Spanish territories of Ceuta and Melilla. These migrations can indeed fuel increased tensions and conflicts over international border frontiers,” he stated.
On her part, Funke Adeuyi, a former Deputy Controller General (DCG) Immigration while presenting a paper: “Providing Quality Services to Nigerians by NIS: The Way Forward,” said Nigeria Immigration Service is a critical paramilitary Government Agency that is responsible for border management, migration management, issuance of travel documents, and performance of paramilitary duties (Immigration Act, 2015 section 2 a-f). He insisted that, “In view of the critical nature of its mandate, it is imperative for the Service to constantly examine the measure of quality services it renders to its stakeholders.
“To identify gaps while proffering enduring solutions for better performance; to improve service quality; satisfy stakeholders expectations and enhance national security.”
In order for the borders not to open doors for insecurity, Paradang recommended that the capacity of the NIS need to be improved in order to maximise contribution to National Security, which requires the implementation of measures that are practical and policy based. He noted that there is a need to review and revise age-old policies that drive the management of borders. He said borders should not be viewed as walls and bulwarks for the exclusion of neighbors but be seen as areas of peaceful and mutually beneficial interchanges.
He also advised: “Practically buffer zones should be created along our border with citizens settled a minimum of 2 kilometres from recognised borderlines. There is need for increased budgetary allocations to NIS for procurement of border equipment and infrastructure. This should include Special Intervention Funds to purchase modern patrol aircraft, boats, vehicles, communication and surveillance gadgets such as radars, sensors and drones.
“Recruit more personnel for NIS and ensure regular training and capacity building for such enforcement personnel.
Introduce welfare schemes such as Special hazard allowance, life insurance, health insurance and befitting accommodation and schools for border officials and their families, stressing that: “Let us learn from the Chinese who built an impregnable wall against invaders only for their border guards to be bribed to fling the gates open, ”he said.
Paradang also called for the funding of the National Boundary Commission to upgrade infrastructure of border communities, asking for intensifying and sustenance of bilateral and multilateral frameworks to improve cooperation amongst countries sharing borders with Nigeria, increase frequency of public sensitization and education of the mutually beneficial rewards of support border personnel to ensure security and peace of neighboring countries.
Besides, the former CGI also called for funding of joint operations of security agencies of Nigeria and each of its neighbors; and for the promulgated and integrated border management policy that clearly defines the operations and limits of each security agency that works at our borders, NIS, NCS, NPF and Military Forces.
Paradang, while noting that border control and management is a very important factor in mitigating internal security challenges as well as preventing transborder crimes, said: “It is evident that internal security is as vital to political stability, socio-economic development as blood and air is to human health.”
It is instructive that something has to be urgently done to put a stop to Nigeria’s porous borders so that the nation could subsequently control her security, development and her destiny. Without this, Nigeria and Nigerians would continue to be at the mercy of aliens coming through her borders.