Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Policing Nigerian porous borders

“Since I assumed office, we have taken deliberate steps in conjunction with the National Boundaries Commission to identify our borders and the routes that lead to Nigeria from other countries, and in the process, we have been able to identify 84 regular borders and over 1,487 irregular routes to the country.”
–Abba Moro, Minister of Interior
When I read this information in the February 6, 2013 edition of The PUNCH, it dawned on me that Nigeria, my dear native land, is indeed in trouble. There is no doubt that the country is a huge land mass covering a total area of 923,768sq. km (land: 910,768 sq. km and water: 13,000 sq. km). Given this magnitude of irregular entry points, any wonder the country is faced with huge population of illegal aliens? It is true that there is ECOWAS Protocol on Free Movement of Persons and Goods. However, such persons have to be well-documented by the Immigration Service. The activities of illegal immigrants have constituted a great security risk to Nigeria. Some of those arrested recently in Lagos by men of the State Security Services, Police and Nigerian Army were caught with some arms and ammunition. In fact, some of these aliens are involved in banditry while there are insinuations that some of them have links with some international terrorist organisations.
Even when they are not involved in terrorism, some of these illegal immigrants constitute nuisance by taking to street begging. Most of them who beg are women and children and could be found in traffic and major urban street junctions using sign language to plead for alms since many of them are illiterate. They are a pest. I must add that not all of them are nonentities or parasites. Some of them actually engage in legitimate trade and also offer needful services. Some of them, known in northern Nigeria as ‘’buzus’’, are engaged as private security guards. They are believed to be armed with charms and amulets which make their territories a no-go area for armed robbers and other criminal elements. Some others sell groceries, while some engage in barbing, hair-plaiting, shoe-mending, retailing of water (mai-ruwa) and offer other sundry services for a fee.
On Tuesday, March 26, 2013, about 57 of such irregular aliens who are mainly from Niger Republic were deported by the officers of the Nigerian Immigration Service. One of them named Amadu was quoted as saying: “I am from the Republic of Niger. I came in through Kebbi State. I came on my own. I always pass through there because no one will stop you. I do not have the passport. I will still find my way back when they throw me out.” Recently in Kano, the Interior Minister, while emphasising the concern of the Federal Government over the porous nature of Nigeria’s borders, said over 20,000 of illegal aliens had been deported so far. The point being made here is that our spongy borders make it easy for these non-Nigerians to come in without proper authorisation and documentation. Sometimes, some of these illegal foreign nationals acquire Nigerian passports and perpetrate all manner of atrocities in the name of the country. These range from smuggling of narcotics to gun-running.
The other side of Nigeria’s porous borders is that they aid economic crimes. Here, I am not talking of crimes by illegal aliens. I am concerned about those perpetrated by my compatriots. We must call a spade by its proper name; some Nigerians take advantage of our porous borders to smuggle in cars, and other items like frozen chickens, turkey, rice, cars, narcotics, wines, clothing materials, shoes, and alcoholic drinks, among others. Some of these illegal imports are outright banned products while some attract high tariffs. In a bid to evade paying the correct duties, the smugglers use any of the over 1,000 irregular entry routes. In the process of carrying out their nefarious activities, these smugglers have maimed and killed officers and men of some of the security agencies such as the Nigerian Customs Service, Nigerian Immigration Service, that operate at the border posts.
We have been told several times that the reason why government must deregulate the downstream petroleum sector is to make the smuggling out of petroleum products unattractive to the perpetrators. Thousands of litres of premium motor spirit (petrol) and kerosene are said to be smuggled out of the country on a daily basis because government’s subsidy on the products has made them cheaper inside Nigeria than they are in neighbouring countries.
Even though the leaky borders contribute to smuggling, the illegal business also thrives due to the connivance of some unscrupulous government officials (particularly men of the security agencies that man the border posts) with the smugglers. One of what is considered as ‘juicy posting’ in the Nigerian Customs Service, Nigerian Immigration Service and others is to be on border duty post. This post affords the corrupt ones among the officials an opportunity to enrich themselves by negotiating bribes with smugglers and illegal aliens.
Now that the minister had discovered all the regular and irregular entry points into Nigeria, he needs to roll up his sleeves to mount the necessary surveillance and build the needed structures that will enable his ministry to monitor and control entries and exits in and out of the country. Moro said that plans were underway to use the Public Private Partnership model to demarcate further Nigeria’s border posts with her neighbouring countries to ensure better management. His words, “We are contemplating using the Public Private Partnership model to see how we can construct graders around our borders. As it is today, if you go to many of our land borders, you hardly can define when you are in Nigeria and when you are out of it, and that is because of the lack of physical structure that can separate Nigeria from the other countries.”
Moro must know that this is of utmost national importance and as such, his ministry needs to expedite action on this venture. While the PPP arrangement is being worked out, the minister must liaise with other ministries such as that of Defence and Police Affairs to deploy adequate armed and civil personnel to ensure effective border management. These personnel should work with border communities to gather intelligence and check activities of smugglers and other notorious groups. As the saying goes, eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.