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How illegal migration fuels insecurity in Nigeria, by experts

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Adamu Yakubu is Nigerien national trading on petty items in Kano. The 35-year-old foreigner explained to The Guardian how he came into Nigeria seven years ago without any document. Yakubu narrated how he usually bailed himself out at the Nigerian borders with N3, 000 or more to immigration officers at the entry point.

Nasiru Mohammad, a Chadian also residing in Kano, has lived there for several years. He shared a similar experience with Yakubu at the Nigerian border. “It is not difficult to get access into Nigeria with or without a passport as much as you are ready to settle the officers at the borders,” Mohammed said.

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The stories are not different from that of Isiyaku Al-Ahmadu. The 38-years-old Nigerien and local water vendor in Kano told The Guardian that he had never cared to obtain any travel document because “whether you have the papers or not, you will still settle officers and other people at the borders. So, for me, I just prefer to do what they want.”

Although these foreigners could not identify the names, ranks, or the security personnel that aided their free passage into the country after gratification, it appears all members of the security agencies at the border engage in this illicit activity, together with officials of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), the agency statutorily entrusted with the control of the nation’s borders. Experts, however, believe the influx of these undocumented immigrants through the country’s porous borders is invariably responsible for the renewed security threat in Nigeria.

Though some of those illegal immigrants, who are undocumented, are in the country to eke a living for themselves, the majority of their kith and kin are criminally minded and have helped in no small measure to fuel the insecurity in the country. Even the president, Muhammadu Buhari, had lamented that migrants from Libya were responsible for the increasing insecurity in the country.

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According to the president, the stooges of former Libya leader, Muamar Gaddafi, constitute the terrorists perpetrating evil acts in Nigeria.

He said the bandits, who escaped from Libya after the death of their leader in 2011, took to terrorism, the brunt of which Nigeria and some other African countries are currently bearing.

Contrary to public belief that killings in some regions are the handiwork of Nigerian herders and terrorists, the president is convinced that the unsavoury legacy of Gaddafi is still haunting Nigeria and other countries.

“The Nigerian cattle herder used to carry nothing more than a stick, but these are people with AK-47 and people refuse to reflect on the demise of Gaddafi. Gaddafi for 43 years in Libya, at some stage, decided to recruit people from Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, from the Central African Republic and these young chaps are not taught to be bricklayers, electricians, plumbers, or any trade but to shoot and kill.

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“So, when the opposition in Libya succeeded in killing him, they arrested some and they did what they did to them. The rest escaped with their orphans and we encounter some of them in the North-East and they are all over the place now organising attacks,” Buhari had said in an interview with Arise TV in 2019.

Recent interception of assorted ammunitions being imported into the country by foreigners and invasion of foreign mercenaries, aiding and abetting the insurgents against the country’s armed forces at the North-East speaks volumes of the dangerous trend.

Protecting Nigeria’s land borders is one hard task security services are still struggling to contain. Unfortunately, the country is fast losing ground to external infiltrators, who are capitalising on our seemingly weak institutions to wreak havoc. There is growing concern that the inability to guarantee the territorial integrity of the country is predominantly responsible for the increasing flux of illegal migrants into the country.

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Nigeria occupies an area of 923,768 square kilometres with a total boundary length of 4,900 km, of which 853 km is coastline. Nigeria is bordered to Niger from North West to Chad by North-East, Cameroon from South, the Gulf of Guinea of the Atlantic Ocean, and Benin republic by the South-West.

Although the NIS declared 84 operational borders, investigation indicated that authorities are contending with over 1,400 entry points, which might not officially be recognized. Despite the tireless efforts to curtail the rate at which insecurity spikes in Nigeria, the forces may find it inexplicable to contend with the existing porous borders where unauthorised persons penetrate to inflict terror in the country.

In recent times, Nigeria is witnessing rising cases of kidnapping, banditry, cattle rustling, herders-farmers conflicts, terrorism, arm robbery, and other related criminalities. These vices are worsening the protracted battle against insurgency in the North-East, which has lasted for 12 years and still counting. States like Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna, and Niger states are worse hit.

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The NIS has introduced several guidelines and procedures that standardise immigrant’s documentation. The genuine initiative was intended to regulate and control immigration matters as well as addressing the causes of illegal migration in the country. Unfortunately, the blueprint can only be efficiently applied to immigrants using the airport in Nigeria. Experts believe the purpose of the new guideline would be defeated if the porous borders are not checked.

Between 2017 and 2020, a documented record indicated that NIS arrested no fewer than 99 illegal immigrants from the neighbouring Niger, Togo, and Benin republic. Much recently, in 2021, NIS arrested 1,400 authorised migrants from the Benin Republic.

Uncontrolled entry points have not only given leeway for illegal migrants but also provided unhindered routes where the infiltrators ship arms and ammunition into the country to perpetrate their heinous crimes, thereby exacerbating the spike of insecurity in the country.

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To stem the tide of the ugly trend, the Federal government in 2019 shut down the nation’s land borders to curtail the free flow of dangerous arms into the country. But 15 months after, the situation seems intractable.

Director-General of National Taskforce on Illegal Importation of Light Weapons and Small Arms, Chief Osita Okereke, recently told the National Assembly to ratify a bill for the National Commission for the Prohibition of all Illegal Importation of Small Arms, Ammunition and Light Weapons to further fortify the country against external aggression. Chief Okereke submitted that illegal importation of ammunition was one of the major security challenges bedeviling Nigeria, adding that the free trafficking along the Nigeria borders was responsible for increasing insecurity across the county.

Speculations are common that foreign herdsmen who made their way into the country through illegal routes are responsible for the herders-farmers clashes in the southern part of Nigeria.

Raising similar concern, Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje of Kano State had suggested a legal framework to outlaw the movement of cattle from West African countries into Nigeria on the pretence of seeking greener pasture for the animals. Ganduje declared that those perpetrating the killings of farmers in the name of Fulani’s are foreigners, who are bent on distabilising the country.

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What is NIS doing to address the menace? How would the service prove allegations of corruption against them wrong? What makes it difficult to control Nigerian borders effectively and efficiently? These and many more posers beg for answers from concerned authorities. Frantic efforts to hear from the service by The Guardian did not yield any positive outcome. Inquiry put before Mr Sunday James, the spokesperson of Immigration Service was not replied as the image-maker refused to pick several calls and text messages sent to him.

Meanwhile, a legal luminary, Saeedu Muhammad Tudun Wada, decried the poor management of the borders. According to him, the inefficiency of security personnel and corruption are responsible for the development. He advocated a paradigm shift from the traditional ways of security checks. “This notion is not new. It was, at least, partly the logic that informed the year-long shutdown of the country’s borders 15 months ago. From all indications, that drastic step did not achieve the objectives. This much was candidly admitted by the President last month.

“So, what is the way out? Are there any policy options available to the government? Has the problem really been properly diagnosed? In other words, is the perception that illegal immigration fuels insecurity grounded in reality? What are the means for identifying real Nigerians from non-Nigerians? The correct answers to these questions, in my view, will go a long way in properly locating the issue and, perhaps, re-framing it.

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“In this regard, for as long as Nigeria has been a sovereign country, most (if not all) the means of securing its borders has been through sheer physical manpower, that is, through Immigration officers deployed to our borders, occasionally complemented by other security and law enforcement agencies (the Police, Military, Customs, and Civil Defence). This has proved, time and again, to be grossly incapable of stemming the tide of both illegal immigration and – worse – the flow of small arms, into the country,” the senior lawyer emphasised.

Saeedu further added that fresh thinking is required in terms of overhauling the country’s security architecture, not only at the borders, but also into towns, cities, villages, and communities. He stated that closely tied to those are the development and adoption of technology in border security.

“We ought to borrow a leaf from other developing and developed countries that have made rapid advances in the deployment of state-of-the-art technology in sanitising their borders and identifying their actual indigenes/citizens. Such innovations include facial recognition, biometric information, and the like.

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“Before these can be effectively deployed, however, we need a fool-proof, reliable database of all genuine Nigerians; by whatever criteria they may be defined. The ongoing system of National Identification Numbers (NIN) needs to be speeded up and fine-tuned to eliminate delays in issuing ID cards. All this will come at an inevitable cost. Can we afford it? That is the question. Until such a system is put in place, however, we shall continue to have security challenges, which conventional wisdom (if nothing else) strongly suggests are – at least, partly – caused by non-Nigerians who have taken advantage of our porous borders to undermine our security,” Saeedu explained.

Similarly, a Professor of Law with Bayero University Kano, Mamman Lawan, attributed the influx of illegal immigrants and its attendant consequences to failure to implement the stipulated legal provision on prevailing abuse of immigration law in Nigeria. He suggested that those statutorily responsible should be held for the failure of the system.

“As you are quite aware, the issue of immigration is well regulated by law. The NIS is an autonomous agency under the ministry of interior, charged with the responsibility of regulating the entry and exit of immigrants in the country. Everything about the documentation of immigrants is clearly stated under the regulations and law.

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“What is happening in Nigeria today is not the absence of the law but the failure to implement the dictates of the law. The law is there already. What we need is for those entrusted with the responsibility to ensure its execution do their job. The NIS is to ensure immigrants’ entry, existence and exit are in compliance with regulations. And when anybody defaults, the law stipulates appropriate sanction for such infraction,” Prof Lawan explained.

The Senior Advocate of Nigeria further explained that when it comes to allegations of crime against immigrants, it becomes a serious area of law, which should cause a person to be arrested and prosecuted. His words: “Now, it is the responsibility of NIS to ensure things are done properly but it failed. Nigeria should hold the immigration service responsible. It is an autonomous body headed by a controller.

“The controller can equally hold his men and officers responsible for any violation of the laws of the service through their internal disciplinary measures. There is also a minister of Interior who can also call the Controller General to order when there is a violation. If that is not done, the president is there to call the minister to order. These are very significant processes that need to be followed to make positive changes in policy derail.

“If these processes also fail, the civil society can raise the alarm to the public. By this, the government is forced to take action. On porous borders, we may not hold immigration responsible 100 percent because there should be inter-agency collaboration to do the job. We need to secure our borders where the immigrants come to Nigeria without proper documentation.

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“Yet NIS has a role to play, but you cannot pass the blame to them entirely because it is not their making. Government is also enjoined to carry out bilateral collaboration to curb the high level of insecurity in the region through the inter-agency task force and military control to ensure borders linking other countries are well secured. If neighbouring borders are controlled, and we also control ours, it would enhance the services of the immigration and further strengthen capacity to control illegal migration at least to the barest minimum.”

On the security implication, retired Assistant Inspector General of Police, Mohammad Hadi Zarewa, said the perpetual menace of corruption and undue sentiment, which have eaten deep into the Nigerian system, are clearly reflective in the conduct of the officers and men of the NIS.

Zarewa suggested that until the government effectively manages all tendencies of tribalism, religious sentiment, nepotism, and all sorts of sentiments, the country might continue to face difficult security challenges.

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He said: “First, the issue of porous borders is a major challenge to the security situation in Nigeria. You will not understand this very well until you find yourself in Maiduguri, where coming to Nigeria from Niger and Chad republic is as easy as anything you can find easy.

“At the same time, corruption has eaten profoundly into our body system such that even if you address the porous borders, corrupt immigration officers would bungle the whole situation. The situation is worsening by the day because we now have a free entry of small arms and ammunition into our territory unhindered. Ammunitions coming from Libya and other war-riddled countries in Africa arrive at Nigeria as the preferred destination. I will suggest a national cohesion and integration policy that will unite all of Nigeria and allow us to face our common enemies. This is our major concern in this country.”

Zarewa advised Nigerians to promote national interest ahead of others. “We should understand that Nigeria is bigger than every one of us, he said “We must first think of Nigeria’s development and unity as a way of charting a new course in this country. I also urge us all to shun corruption and its underlying tendencies. In fact, to move further in this country, we must kill corruption before it kills us all.”

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