REPORTS continually surface (in the media) regarding “Fulani herdsmen” and the violence they are perpetrating across the country. Well, the Inspector General of Police clarified that some of the groups we refer to as Fulani herdsmen are actually not Fulani … In fact they are not Nigerians at all. Most of these individuals, he stated, are Malians or Chadians who had gained entrance into the country through its porous borders.
In a separate event, the Lagos State governor recently condemned the increase in number of immigrants from neighboring countries flooding the state as the inability to trace or track the movement of the immigrants pose a major security threat.
Recently, there were reports of roughly 1,500 Niger Delta militants laying down their arms. The real question here is how such a large number of militants got their hands on weapons to begin with. Most security experts and government officials will agree that a large number of these weapons were acquired through illicit arms trafficking through the porous borders. Challenging times loom ahead and this issue of porous borders continues to pose a security threat, one which threatens to get bigger. So what is being done about it?
The Minister of Interior gave a glimpse into the plans of the Nigerian government to tackle border insecurity, stating that the government intended to monitor the extensive 5,000km border by deploying border control technology. Today, several countries use drone technology to monitor borders and other illicit trafficking activities. Countries such as the U.S have been using drone technology for almost 10 years.
But just as Nigeria is yet to catch up on to the use of aerial surveillance to monitor cross-border smuggling activities, criminals have already caught up with the technology. On two occasions last year, criminals in Latin America attempted to smuggle narcotics using drones. As a result, security operatives are now looking deeper into “anti-drone” technologies, capable of bringing down aerial vehicles being used for illegal activities.
The Nigerian government needs to be quick in its border security technology acquisition because illegal smugglers always attempt to stay one step ahead of law enforcement.
Legal points of entry
Right now, human trafficking, illicit arms and other materials are being smuggled across the legal points of entry. Recently there were reports about an importer who attempted to smuggle almost 1000 rounds of ammunition inside a shipping container, into Nigeria. But tightening the border controls along the legal points of entry will simply lead to criminals developing more imaginative and innovative means of smuggling their illicit goods and outwitting the security.
For example, a country like Israel which operates tight border security recently foiled a plan to smuggle dozens of spy drones which were cleverly hidden inside boxes of toys heading to Gaza from Israel. One of the ways by which they were able to successfully intercept this shipment was through effective intelligence gathering.
Intelligence support in border security
Intelligence agencies in Nigeria need to play a more active role in border security especially in the areas of gathering relevant information such as the points and exact number of illegal crossing. But most importantly, the intelligence agencies need to make sure they share vital border information with immigration and other relevant security agencies.
Securing Nigeria’s porous borders is not going to get any easier. As the country begins to develop, there will be increased movement of goods and people via land, air and sea. This will add even more pressure to an already stretched border security.
Smugglers adapt quickly
Criminals will attempt to circumvent tight border controls along legal crossing points, by increasing their use of illegal border crossings. We are already experiencing this with the Boko Haram insurgency situation in the North-East. The government needs to stay one step ahead and implement border control measures along these illegal points and various technologies exist for this as well. Surveillance technology that uses unmanned solar powered ground sensors and night vision telescopes exist.
Now assuming the government is successful in tightening security along both legal and illegal crossing points, there remains one other means illicit smugglers can get their goods and persons across the border and that is through corruption.
Border crossing corruption
Today, smugglers and human traffickers are able to go past border security by simply paying the officers. The illegal routes cost less than the legal crossing points. Some border officials collect these bribes because they are not well compensated for their hardship posting.
There was an article in which border security officials explained that they “don’t even get anything like torch light, camp beds and other work materials. We have to either sleep outside or rent houses which we pay for from our pockets.”
In addition to this, some border operatives are expected to share the returns with their immediate superiors back at the office further encouraging the cycle of corruption. The report also mentioned that security cameras that were installed along that particular border crossing were removed two weeks later.
Protecting Nigeria’s borders is vital to its national security. This involves a major undertaking that requires the government to quickly implement technologies. They must stay one step ahead of smugglers and traffickers who will quickly adapt and exploit security vulnerabilities. But most importantly, the corruption culture that allows illegal border crossing to thrive must be effectively dealt with. All these activities must be carried out 24 /7, daytime or night time, in good or bad weather. The country desperately needs its borders secure, but is the government really ready for this major undertaking?