With a total land border of 4,045 Km, and 853 Km of the maritime domain, statistics show that there are about 1,500 identified land border crossings into Nigeria, but only 84 (covering 4,000 sq km) have approved control posts.
The porosity of Nigeria’s land border has resulted in the prevalence of drug and human trafficking as well as smuggling.
In 2022, Nigeria’s Chief of Defense Staff, Maj. Gen. LE Iraboh said the vulnerability of the vast unmanned land areas has continued to be a key source of criminality and violent crimes in parts of the country.
Considering the global nature of border fragility which is not peculiar to Nigeria, the World Customs Organization (WCO), in collaboration with the Nigeria Customs Service organized in Abuja Nigeria, a Global Conference entitled “Enabling Customs in Fragile and Conflict-Affected Situations”.
Fragile borders are areas where state agencies, particularly Customs, are unable to operate properly owing to the insecurity created by non-state armed groups. Insecurity and disruption of the State’s administration affect the border economy and the livelihood of border communities.
The event, which took place from 31 January to 2 February 2023, brought together more than 100 representatives of Customs administrations from over 40 countries to discuss the role of their administrations in fragile and conflict-affected situations (FCS) and how the WCO can support its Members in shaping their strategies in response to these complex environments. They were joined by representatives from various United Nations agencies and the donor community.
The Conference highlighted the similarities that exist across several regions concerning fragile borders: the role of borders as symbolic and economic resources for communities, the embeddedness of smuggling in social activities, the connection between smuggling and mining activities, and the informal taxation levied by non-state armed groups, such as terrorists, criminal gangs or guerrillas, on traders and cross-border flows of commodities.
In his opening speech, WCO Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya reminded participants of the objective of this event, namely to transform the outcomes of the WCO field research initiated in 2016 in more than 14 countries into a practical action plan for all Members impacted by fragility and conflict. “We aim at refining our analysis and at fuelling an Action Plan on Fragile Borders that should guide the activities of the WCO over the coming years in this area”, he said.
Nigeria’s Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo pointed out that “fragile borders not only aggravate conflicts, they rob the states of crucial income that could address some of the social issues that contribute to conflict. It is obvious from the sheer number of fragile borders, and the convergence of fiscal and security issues at such borders, that governments must actively redefine the role of Customs to be properly integrated into the security architecture.”
Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Col. Hameed Ibrahim Ali (Rtd) welcomed delegates and explained that “fragile situations call for an analysis of the role of Customs in national security policies, the capacity and tools available to Customs as well as strategies in enabling Customs and the coordination between agencies of government in effectively managing fragile and conflict situations at borders”.
The Conference has provided an opportunity to cross-fertilize the policy debates on fragile borders from Customs, anti-terrorism, humanitarian and economic perspectives, and to extend both geographically and conceptually the notion of fragile borders that has been explored so far by the WCO.
Similarly, Nigeria Customs while presenting paperwork titled “Fragile Borders, Insecurity and Arms Smuggling; The Nexus” at the IALEIA training held in the United States of America, said Nigeria’s border faces a myriad of challenges owing to its Porosity.
Some of the challenges highlighted are Smuggling of Arms and Ammunition, Child and Human Trafficking, Transhumance, Illegal Immigration, Banditry and Terrorism, Drug Trafficking, Counterfeit Pharmaceutical Products, Money Laundering and Illicit Wildlife Trade.
These challenges were emphasized by Customs personnel who were present at the high-level professional training: Comptroller of Customs Babatunde Olomu, Chief Superintendent of Customs Tasiu Saulawa Sanusi, and Superintendent of Customs Misbau Murtala Sadiq.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC; 2020) Global Study on Firearms Trafficking noted that illicit Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) in Nigeria were about 70% of the 500 million estimated in the Sahel Region of West Africa (The Sun: Dec 7, 2022)
Experts equally agreed with the above assertion and estimated that over six million of these illicit SALWs are in circulation in the country and majorly in the hands of civilians.
The proliferation of SALWs aids non-state actors such as Boko Haram terrorists (BHT), Unknown Gunmen (UGM), Kidnappers, Farmers/Herders and Armed Bandits. These imminent threats spurred a systematic and regular review of strategies among security agencies saddled with the responsibility of safeguarding national boundaries.
The Nigeria Customs Service also partners with other security agencies in securing the borders such as the Joint Border Patrol Team (JBPT).
The JBPT Operation is a coalition under the umbrella of the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA). It’s made up of components from the military, paramilitary, and intelligence agencies inclusive of Customs, Immigration, the Police Force, State Security, and the National Intelligence Services, which all combined operate under the lead role of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS).
Challenges of Border Management
Despite the synergy between security agencies and local and international collaboration, border management faces Minimal Trans-Border Control, Conflict in the Sahel Region, Inadequate or near Absence of IT infrastructure, Interagency Rivalry, Leak of Armouries, Political Desperation, and Increased Number of Local Arm Producers, and Smuggling.
“Smuggling still takes place through complete avoidance of controlled/official border posts, use of unapproved and sometimes approved routes, false declaration, use of animals, motorbikes, trucks, and concealment on the body, vehicle or any form,” the Customs Team noted.
NCS Modernization Project
As part of the effort to cushion the effects of the country’s porous border, the Nigeria Customs Service has embarked on Improved IT Infrastructure, Improved Business and Security Features, Memory Based Reasoning System, Improved Intelligence and Risk Management Tool and Improved Features for Monitoring, Tracking & Decision Making.
Projects undertaken by the Service to facilitate trade and fight smuggling are as follows:
1. Nigeria Integrated Customs Informations System II (NICIS II)
This is a platform where Traders or Agents submit all information required for clearance to the Customs Single Window service.
Responses from the various authorities and financial institutions are returned to the Trader or Agent. An all-positive final response denotes cargo clearance.
It is a single window customer service where one selects, sorts, filters information, routes it to targeted recipients (agencies, banks, etc.) in the proper sequence or flow and returns responses to Users.
It has a simplified Customs clearance procedure divided into two segments- Trader zone and Customs zone. It allows the physical exit of goods once payment is registered.
2. Non-Intrusive Inspection Technology (NIIT)
The Federal Government recently acquired 3 scanners with a dual-energy of 6/3 MEV to detect both organic and inorganic materials. The scanners also have radioactive detector software used to detect images from a container that carries radioactive materials. They were installed and put into use at Apapa, Tincan Island Port and Onne Area Commands of the Nigeria Customs Service.
3. NCS Efforts on Border Patrol
In addition to the procurement of 515 units of operational vehicles meant for border patrol, the service has over the years invested in its ICT infrastructure through the introduction of a Geospatial Unit to enable the use of remote sensing and Geography Information System (GIS) for a digital cartographic analysis of the border crossings across different geographical zones in Nigeria.
4. NCS Effort On Maritime Domain
To add to existing seagoing vessels, the CGC recently commissioned 18 additional patrol boats to stem the tide of smuggling in the waterways.
5. NCS Efforts on Air Patrol
In April 2023, the Federal Government of Nigeria approved the sum of N3.47BN ($7.4M) for the purchase of additional aircraft to add to the existing fleet in the service to enhance its air surveillance capability.
6. Nigeria Customs Trade Modernization Project
The Federal Government of Nigeria awarded a contract totalling the sum of N142.24BN ($307.698 Million) in April 2023 for the full implementation of the Customs Modernization Project. This project aims to eliminate human interference to ensure seamless trade facilitation.
The Trade Modernization Project has been projected to be a bedrock of Customs Modernization while adhering to relevant laws, guidelines and agreements as elucidated in the WTO TFA, WCO Conventions, standards and programmes, and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTFA).
The project is a global concept and Customs Administrations in developed countries are taking full advantage of the electronic developments to simplify Customs processes and procedures. The project aims to provide an end-to-end ICT Platform to digitalize customs business processes and procedures, upgrade NCS ICT infrastructure to world-class and address critical operational challenges and loopholes, using new technologies like Big Data Analytics, Artificial Intelligence, etc. It is an integration of applications, platforms and hardware involving an all-in-one nationwide import & export management system.
Additionally, the solution also provides facilities for excise processes, security/anti-smuggling activities, manifest processing, licensing, revenue collection and information sharing amongst others.