Official statistics says that Nigeria has 84 approved entry points and more than 1,400 illegal borders. These are spread across over 4,000 square kilometres coverage. The number of illegal routes is 100 times more than the number of approved routes. In Adamawa State for instance, we have about five control posts, but we have 80 illegal routes in the state through which people come into the country. In Ogun State, we have 83 illegal routes and this goes round the country.
These have grave security implications for Nigeria.
Niger Republic and Chad borders Nigeria in the North. Benin Republic borders Nigeria in the West. It is about 773 kilometres. Cameroon borders Nigeria in the East. It is about1,690 kilometres. The Gulf of Guinea and Atlantic Ocean borders Nigeria in the south.
Recently, one of our correspondents that smuggling thrives along Seme border. Our correspondent observed that the border procedures were too relaxed and he was only asked to pay N100 to cross over to Benin Republic and back, same as everyone transporting cargoes across the border.
Also a lot of petty smuggling activities were going on across the border involving bags of rice, vegetable oil and other contraband that were being crossed in bits and pieces with the connivance of the Nigeria Customs Service personnel and their Benin Republic counterparts.
For instance, a bag of rice across the border in Benin Republic costs just N10, 000 while in Lagos it is sold for N15, 000. She also confirmed that a gallon of vegetable oil was sold for N9, 000 while palm oil is sold for N11, 500. The bikers cross a keg of oil for N150 paid to Customs.
What obtains at Seme border is typical of other land borders into Nigeria. The only difference may be the object of trade; it may be food items, vehicles, currency, and probably pieces of ammunitions and arms.
Even though, there is a treaty by the Economic Community of West African Countries’ (ECOWAS) that permits every member country’ citizens to engage in trade and other legal activities within the sub-region, it must also be understood that it does not stop any citizen of member-countries that engages in acts that is inimical to the peace and constitute security threat of any member country not to be restrained.
However, with the proliferation and importation of lethal weapons, which to some extent has re-enforced the irradiancy of terrorist group using such weapons to attack the citizens, it is only human that the government of member countries, (Nigeria inclusive) to stop such illegal activities by fortifying its borders that could collapse the peace among sub-regional governments.
Importers of arms and ammunitions may not find the borders attractive, they have descended on the seaports and this year alone there have been four interceptions by the Nigeria Customs Service at Lagos port of Tin Can.
We recall that, in 2010, the Department of State Services (DSS) intercepted 13 containers of weapons from Iran. Enclosed in the consignments which were disguise as “building materials” were rocket launchers, hand grenades and other explosives.
In 2013, security operatives uncovered a cache of weapons linked to a Lebanese Hezbollah terror cell in Kano State. It contained 17 AK-47 rifles, 44 magazines, four land mines, 12 RPG bombs, 11 66mm anti-tank weapons, one SMG, one pistol and magazine, 76 hand grenades, rocket propelled guns, 122 caliber artillery and 433 rounds of 7.26mm special.
Expectedly, the House of Representatives has invited the Nigeria Customs Service and the Department of State Security (DSS) to brief it on the influx of small arms and light weapons into the country.
This was sequel to a motion under Matters of Public Importance by Obinna Chidoka (Anambra-PDP) to ascertain the cause(s) of the influx and how to stop it.
He said: “The recent firearms seizure, which is the second this month and fourth in 2017 would appear to suggest that the syndicate behind the firearms has stepped up its nefarious trade.
“This has far-reaching consequences for our dear nation, as firearms and light weapons are the lifeblood of organised crimes and criminality”.“The influx has confirmed the recent report by the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa, which identified Nigeria as a destination of choice for smugglers of small arms and light weapons,’’ he said.
The porosity of our borders can be attributed inadequate personnel, patrol vehicles, surveillance helicopters and other equipment. Of course, our security agents are guilty of corruption.
To eliminate influx arms, ammunitions as well as unwanted cargoes and persons, there is need for a seamless border security. Nigeria must eliminate all illegal routes that makes it easier for intruders to penetrate easily; restructure the security architecture; engage the use of innovative technology – radar and alarm systems; ensures there is discipline among patrol teams by taking punitive measures against officers found engaging in corruption.
We support the lawmakers’ commendation of the Nigeria Customs Service for intercepting those lethal imports and ensuring that they did not find their ways into our system.
We also commend the Federal Government for constituting a Presidential Committee on improvement of Security Operations at Nigeria’s Ports, headed by Minister of Interior; Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau.
The work of the committee includes assessing the present deployment of personnel from different agencies working in the airports, seaports and land borders with a view to reducing their size to what are absolutely necessary”. The committee is to also identify the most vital agencies and desks needed for efficient operations and their appropriate locations within the ports. Other terms of reference are “to recommend measures to promote ease of doing business at Nigeria’s sports, while ensuring maximum security according to global best practices; to sensitize all personnel working at Nigeria’s Ports and the general public on the new policy and practice of doing business at all Nigeria’s ports and borders in strict compliance with international best practices.
Sadly, the committee was given eight weeks to submit its report, it is yet to do that, or maybe it has done so behind camera.The sooner the report is made public and acted upon the better for the nation.