Cross-border in-migration usually enables importations of some sort; the good, the bad and the ugly. They range from desirable new cultures to humans and illegally smuggled-in weapons of mass destruction. Thus, depending on the level of patriotism and attention to detail of government agencies responsible for deterring the smuggling and importation of unwanted items, the country becomes unnecessarily vulnerable to insecurity. But this also includes things that directly orchestrate large-scale physical harm and disaster, and those items that subtly damage our socioeconomic lives. For instance, unchecked imports of items with substitutes massively produced locally, make the domestic produce uncompetitive. Millions of employment opportunities vanish.
There are at least seven ways through which these occur. The first is the porous and poorly manned Nigerian borders. Other sources depend on it. They include religious extremists, migrant Fulani herders, wanted persons and criminals fleeing conflicts in neighbouring countries, and climate change-induced migration of many young and unemployed people desperate to survive under any condition. There is also human trafficking and the smuggling of small arms and weapons of warfare. While these transnational threats can overwhelm given the country’s resource availability, much of their persistence and growth of insecurity across the border is easily ascribable to Nigerian agencies’ unpatriotic activities and apparent lack of the will to nip the challenge in the bud.
The porosity of Nigeria’s borders makes it very convenient for unwanted elements to enter the country unchallenged. We have 4070 km of land border and approximately 1400 illegal routes into the country. The boundaries between Nigeria and Benin, Chad, Niger, and Cameroon, are 773km, 87km, 1497km, and 1690km. There are about 1571 illegal and unmanned footpaths from Nigeria to the Maghreb [North Africa] region in the north-eastern border. The Nigerian border with the Niger Republic covers at least four states: Sokoto, Zamfara, Katsina, Jigawa and Yobe. The land border with Chad surrounds Borno State. Adamawa, Taraba, and Cross-River share a land border with Cameroon. On the Benin land border, particularly along the Cotonou-Badagry road, there is a recurring multiplicity of banditry incidences, human trafficking, and arms smuggling.
Around most of these officially designated land borders are several unmanned illegal routes through which unwanted persons and contraband goods enter the country. Undoubtedly, the diversity of these illegal land routes should overwhelm the government’s current insecurity manning capacity. Second, even the supposedly operated border-points are substantially permeable. Worse still, in most of them, the government officials facilitate easy passage of contraband items, some of which also contain small arms and other weapons. Again, many people living in border communities consider the facilitation of smuggling as employment. Because of the existing relationship between border communities, it becomes difficult to determine which country members genuinely belong. The fluidity of communal relationships makes it easy to smuggle in people and items that are undesirable.
Besides, the above is the influx of religious extremists. The global jihadist movement targeting Africa was well underway through Iranian support as early as the 1970s. At the turn of the millennium, there was already a highly active, comprehensive network of jihadists all over Africa. However, this network and consequent radicalization of Islam got a boost by the motivations and support of Osama bin Laden in 2001. In this process, the earliest epiphany were religious conflicts between Muslims and Christians in several northern states of Nigeria. It was also visible in the disputes between the Muslim Fulani nomadic cattle herders and the predominantly Christian and non-Muslim farmers. In 2001, Boko Haram came into existence when a group of young extremists’ thugs swore allegiance to Ustaz Mohammed Yusuf, a religious teacher from Yobe State. The group declared an all-out war against the government and Christians. By 2010, they and several other hard-line jihadist groups had established links with international jihadist movements.
Nigeria remains strategic for global jihadist operations because of its crucial position in West Africa. Government’s efforts between 2008 and 2009 to suppress the insurrection could not succeed because of our land borders’ perviousness. Uncaptured leaders of the groups found their way to Chad and Niger. They developed stronger links with AQIM Shura outside of Nigeria and received more robust training in Sudan, Mauritania, Somalia, Algeria, and the Middle East. With a well-established presence in the Sahel and particularly in Chad and Niger, Boko Haram took advantage of our porous borders to bring jihadists from those countries into the country. It is an unofficial, albeit well-considered position that some Gaddafi loyalists in Libya might have turned themselves in as mercenaries and worked for Islamist groups.
Similarly, the nomadic Fulani pastoralists’ killer brand spread out across West Africa, and Central Africa is another concern. There are claims that about the fifteenth century, several Fulani nomads started settling in Kano. Nevertheless, the successful jihad executed by Uthman Dan Fodio finally helped in their settlement as some worked for the new King. Having lived for a long time with the Hausas, Hausa-Fulani is often jointly linked. Over the years, the Fulani pastoralists have had severe clashes with farmers in communities where they found themselves. The culprits are the scarce resources of water and pasture for cattle. The combination of efforts to provide life to their cattle and protect them from rustling bandits forced the average Fulani herdsman to move about armed. Farmers claim that their cattle destroyed their crops. These have often spiked off clashes that have claimed hundreds of lives. It has also earned Fulani herdsmen a fourth position in the global terrorism index as of 2015.
Many scholars have argued that the Nigerian Fulani herdsmen are not terrorists, as they have lived with farmers of different ethnic groups in the country with minor problems. The argument claims that the migrant Fulani pastoralists from other parts of West and Central Africa are the killer herdsmen. These pastoralists make up the rustling category of herders and the aggressive and hostile band of nomads. They quickly find their way into the country through our leaky borders on the back of shepherding their flock. Since they look and garb themselves very much like the Nigerian Fulani nomads, they easily find their way into the country’s forests and bushes. It has also provided a substantial gateway for terrorists and arms dealers importing insecurity into the country.
Almost all the countries that share a border with Niger are in conflict and other forms of crisis. According to the United Nations population fund, the Republic of Chad faces several turmoils, wars and cyclical natural disasters. It faces severe conflicts in the Lake Chad basin and neighbouring countries which have facilitated lots of displacement. Most of the displaced people find their way into Nigeria. Much the same way, Niger faces dangerous conflicts all around its neighbours. There are threats of war in Libya, Al-Qaida around the Algerian desert lands, criminal gangs, and Islamic insurgents on its border with Nigeria. Islamic insurgencies in central and northern Mali have spilt into Burkina Faso. Again, many of the stakeholders in these conflicts find their way to work with insurgents and bandits in Nigeria. Cameroon also faces two areas of conflict. On the one hand, there is the increasing threats of Boko Haram in the northern parts of the country and the political conflicts and struggle for the independent Republic of Ambazonia. The intensifying armed crisis between the Anglophone and Francophone areas of Cameroon has led to several refugees flocking to Nigeria. Of course, as expected, several bandits and security threats usually ride on the back of such an influx of people supposedly fleeing the conflicts.
The adverse economic consequences of climate change in several parts of West Africa have facilitated several families’ migration to city centres and other countries. Famine and drought, the drying up of lakes and streams that hitherto supported several farming communities’ economic lives have resulted in unplanned migration. Within the West African region, Nigeria stands out as the big brother where there are some hidden opportunities for survival. These migrants easily find their way into the country through our porous borders. Many young ones with no other skill set easily team up with bandits and other criminals. There is a continuous surge of displaced people and migrants looking for greener pastures into the country. Unfortunately, there is no record of 95% of these categories of migrants.
According to the 2013 report by the West African network for peacebuilding, Nigeria has over 70% of all illegally smuggled in small arms in the West African subregion. Virtually all trucks entering the country carry small arms and other weapons. Of course, many of the hundreds of illegal and unmanned footpaths leading into the country are well-established channels for trafficking in arms and weapons.
Unarguably, at least 70% of the country’s insecurity situations are unconsciously imported or allowed passage to the country because of our porous borders. The porosity of the borders worsens because of security agencies’ unpatriotic activities responsible for the poor border control and management. The federal government’s recent land border closure supposedly yielded tremendous fiduciary benefits to the government as economic sabotage minimized. But the land borders cannot be closed forever. Even while those formerly designated borders remain closed, the thousands of illegal footpaths linking Nigeria with its neighbours remain very much in operation. For the enormity of insecurity importation through our loosely guarded borders, and inadequate workforce availability, a true interagency collaboration among the immigration services, customs services, the Nigerian police, and the Nigerian military needs to be in place. The joint force will patrol and monitor several footpaths through which illegal entries into the country occur.
Again, current efforts at ensuring that all Nigerians are duly registered and possess an identification number will go a long way in identifying and monitoring undocumented migrants into the country. What will also be helpful in tracking is its financial flows among bandits and terrorists within the country. We expect that the federal government will have the will and strength to fish out non-Nigerians illegally living in the country and repatriate them to their countries of origin. The implication is that the identity registration process must be thorough and free of illegalities that may allow persons with questionable credentials to register as Nigerians. Finally, there have been several concerns regarding the absence of gun/metal/weapon detection technologies at our land borders. If available, security agencies manning the borders should easily leverage these technologies to identify hidden arms and weapons even before they arrive at the post. END