By Babatunde Ayedoju
Reputed to be the most populous black nation on earth and with a population of more than 200 million people, Nigeria shares hundreds of borders with countries like Niger and Chad in the north, Cameroon in the east and Benin Republic in the west. These borders borders serve as entry and exit points for travelers and goods.
The unprecedented spate of insurgency that Nigeria has witnessed for over a decade, coupled with the smuggling of goods which has been going on for a long period, has attracted attention to our borders and the need to secure them.
Early this month, while speaking at an event in Lagos, the Chief of Defence Staff, CDS, General Lucky Irabor, revealed that there are 137 unprotected borders in the north, out of the 261 approved borders.
While admitting that those unprotected borders were giving security personnel sleepless nights, the CDS noted that the porous borders gave terrorists from neighbouring countries easy access to Nigeria.
In the words of the military chief, “Our borders are largely unmanned. The penetrability of our vast unmanned land areas – the north-east and north-west zones, particularly Borno, Yobe, Sokoto, Zamfara, and Katsina states – with neighbouring countries such as Niger Republic and Chad among others, has continued to be a key source of criminality and violent crimes in those parts of the country.”
Irabor added that there are about 364 approved international border points in Nigeria, with about 261 in the north-east and north-west regions. Out of this 261, only 124 are manned, leaving the remaining 137 unmanned by security agencies.
Buttressing his point, Irabor stated that based on intelligence reports, anti-state actors are using some of these normal border points to move freely from other countries to Nigeria, with the intention of causing mayhem.
He, however, expressed optimism that the use of technology would help to reverse the ugly trend, saying, “So I am looking ahead, when we bring technology to bear in the management of our borders, in addition of course, to physical structures that need to be established across the length of our borders. Then we can contribute to the overall security of our land.”
Obviously, the CDS was only reemphasising an already known sad trend. The issue of porous borders and the attendant effect on our security have been in public discourse for long.
In 2018, for example, President Muhammadu Buhari, during a meeting on April 11 with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said that gunmen trained and armed by former Libyan Head of State, Muammar Gaddafi, were able to infiltrate the country and were responsible for some of the terrorist attacks witnessed in the past few years. This he reaffirmed in 2019 during an interview on Arise TV.
Libya does not share any border with Nigeria, but it does with two countries – Chad to the South and Niger Republic to the South-West, both of which share an enormous land border with Nigeria.
The northern part of Nigeria borders Niger Republic by about 1,497km; the North-East borders Chad by about 87km. Similarly, the eastern part of Nigeria shares a border of about 1,600km with Cameroon, and the western part borders the Republic of Benin by about 773km.
As far back as 2014, the then Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Immigration Service, Mr David Parradang, revealed that Nigeria had over 1,400 illegal border routes across 4,000 square kilometre coverage, adding that the most populous black nation had only 84 approved land border control posts.
These available information show that if our borders are not well manned, terrorists can come from even faraway countries and will still gain access to Nigeria. In other words, there is no limit to the insecurity we can subject ourselves to if our land borders are not well protected.
Also, once terrorists infiltrate Nigeria from anywhere, there is no part of the country they cannot reach. They just need to gain entrance somewhere and they will spread like cancer. That means, a loophole in one part of Nigeria is not something another part of the country should overlook. Moreso, security has been identified as everybody’s business.
Speaking to The Hope, Professor Simon Ehiabhi from the Department of History and International Relations, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko noted that boundaries in Africa did not have any kind of defined demarcation before colonial rule. Instead, they were marked by land, seas, mountains and rivers.
According to the social commentator, while colonial rulers demarcated our boundaries with typographical markings, people interacted across boundaries even before the advent of those colonial rulers.
Talking about the porous nature of the borders currently, Ehiabhi opined that the government had not been deliberate about securing our territory, saying, “That is why we we have illegal immigrants all over the country.”
He added that the implications are insecurity and transborder smuggling “which will have impact on the economy, because local manufacturers will have to spend so much money producing, then people will go and import cheaper goods, thereby making internally generated revenue to suffer.”
He said, “The way out is the seriousness of the government to identify the porous borders and man them. If we don’t have enough security personnel, the government should partner with private security organisations.”
Dr Kunle Akinola of the Department of Political Science, Adekunle Ajasin University, in his comment, said that porous borders are not just in the north but all over Nigeria, as “we also have porous borders between Nigeria and countries like Benin and Cameroon, alongside Niger and Chad.”
Akinola traced the relationship between Nigerians and their neighbours to the pre-colonial era, adding that Nigeria was created by the British for administrative convenience, not to have a strong Nigerian state.
More worrisome to the political science scholar is the fact that after independence, the new set of leaders who should have worked on the Nigerian project were distracted by ethnic politics.
In his words, “That’s why people from northern Nigeria relate better with Malians, Chadians and Nigeriens than they relate with their fellow Nigerians, while people from the Idi-Iroko axis see those who are from Cotonou as more of their brothers than people from up north.”
In the opinion of Dr Akinola, subsequent governments have been paying lip service to the Nigerian project. While identifying insecurity as the major fallout of having so many unmanned borders in Nigeria, the university don pointed out that the best way to curb insecurity is through proper border management.
“There are different technologies to manage our borders effectively. Instead, what we have done is to buy arms and ammunition and embezzle money meant to put infrastructure in place,” he said.
He, however, recommended that the government should be firm about proffering a solution to the problem.
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Customs Service, last week, said it was putting measures in place to deploy aerial surveillance technology across all borders in the country, between the last quarter of 2022 and June 2023, to monitor events around the borders in real-time and checkmate criminal elements.
The spokesperson for the Service, Mr Timi Bomodi, in an interview said it had kick-started a modernisation project to deploy drones and satellite images across Nigeria’s borders by mid-2023, adding that it had also adopted the use of non-intrusive pieces of equipment, such as microscopes and others in some designated borders.