The current action of the Federal Government by closing Nigeria’s land borders is not the first of such, except that this is the first time that all land borders are being closed at the same time all over the country.
Apart from elections-induced closure, this is the first this action is taking place in this country and as expected the impact is humongous.
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 border 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 ho was at the Seme border confirmed that smuggling thrives along the ever-busy 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 less than N10, 000 while in Lagos it is sold for N16, 000. He 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.
The porosity of our land borders can be attributed to inadequate personnel, patrol vehicles, surveillance helicopters and other equipment, and complicity on the part of our security agencies.
Of course, to eliminate the influx of arms, ammunitions as well as smuggling of 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.
Some of the borders where prohibited items come in are: Jibia border, which is between Nigeria and Niger Republic, Babana, a border between Nigeria and Benin Republic, Shaki border between Oyo State(Nigeria) and Benin Republic, Badagry-Seme border in Lagos, Idiroko border in Ogun State,
An official of Government once disclosed that: “the volume of trade, largely unrecorded (with Chad), is about 80 per cent in favour of Nigeria. Most of the goods and services coming into Chad, 80 per cent come from Nigeria with less than 20 per cent coming from Cameroon
The number one cheap commodity that comes through these borders is cars. Others are rice, clothes and other generally banned items. Sometimes , arms and ammunitions too.
We quite understand the helplessness on the part of the Nigerian Government, seeing how previous policies, such as the ban on importation of used vehicles and rice through land borders have failed. The Government had also fought to ensure that arms and ammunitions no longer enter into the country illegally through the land borders.
Back to the current closure of the land borders, to which many have reacted differently, depending on which side of the divide one belongs to.
We note the arguments of some stakeholders concerning the pains associated with the closure; we also note the warnings that have been raised on the effect on the nation’s economy.
While we empathise with those whose businesses have suffered as a result of the closure, our position is that, it is only an irresponsible government that will close its ears and eyes on the economic and security threat that activities at the various land borders have become.
Apart from the economic sabotage that the borders in the southern part of the country encourage, land borders in the north western part of the country are avenues for illegal arms and ammunition importation.
Finally, while we support the Federal Government in this current efforts, we however advise that, rather than close the border as a reaction to the obvious economic and security breaches, government should rejig its apparatuses and ensure that only officers who are above board are posted to the various borders.
We acknowledge that it may be practically impossible to man all the entry points, but the legal entrances must be made impregnable to smugglers and importers of small arms and ammunitions.