Cross-border movements amid COVID-19
A report disclosed the other day that some foreigners were sighted at major motor parks boarding vehicles preparatory to leaving Nigeria. Specifically, some Nigeriens were pictured in Kasuwan Barchi in Kaduna State departing for Niger Republic as the anti-COVID-19 lockdown hits hard in the country. What was behind the exodus? Were they fair-weather friends who decided to escape the onslaught of COVID-19? No doubt, persons have the fundamental right to freely move into destinations of their choice after proper documentation. Some questions need to be answered though: who are these migrants? Were they properly documented when they entered Nigerian geographical space? What are the inherent security implications of such migrations? Is the Ministry of Interior fully aware of the number and identities of persons who enter and exit our borders? What does the nation stand to gain if persons of different nationalities can easily breach its borders? How did some of those Sudanese vagrants, set apart by their physical features, find their way into different communities in Nigeria?
For a nation which has faced a violent insurgency and deepening national security issues in the last ten odd years, the federal authorities ought to take migrations seriously. The porous nature of our borders is now legendary, if not outright notorious. In some sections of the border, the next ‘country’ is a shouting distance away, with kith and kin separated by artificial geographical demarcations. Though not of our making, considering the fact that African nations were not represented in the now notorious Berlin 1884-5 scramble for and partition of Africa, some sixty years after independence, African nations ought to have seized their destiny in their hands and settled all issues arising from border delineations.
But by far the most troubling dimension of migrations is the recent presidential declaration of visa-on-arrival policy of the incumbent government, which President Muhammadu Buhari announced in December 2019. It is a foolhardy policy that ought not to have been contemplated in the first instance and which should be reconsidered as a matter of urgency. This newspaper had then strongly warned about the consequences of such a hazardous policy.
Since the collapse of Libya and the intense fighting going on in sub-Saharan Africa, light arms and jihadists have been moving freely across the zone. Owing to the common linguistic similarities nurtured by cultural and religious affinities among the peoples of the Sahel, inter-regional migrations have become too much of a routine. This is dangerous with grave security implications. National identities have become too fluid thus making cross-border crimes a nightmare for security agencies.
It is no secret that some of the so-called herdsmen who unleash violence on their victims through kidnappings, arson and mass murder are not the typical Nigerians. Pray, which Nigerian, bred and nursed on our ideals would unleash the kind of mayhem that we have witnessed in Kaduna, Plateau, Katsina, Taraba, Benue and Zamfara States? Pockets of such criminal activities are found in different parts of the country from the Southwest through the South-south regions. If these criminals are ethnic Nigerians, they must be barbarians of the lowest order. But some of their victims have said that the criminals speak languages other than indigenous ones. It is true that some locals are involved as some arrests have proved. Yet, it is not in the interest of national security to let all persons who seek to enter our geographical space do so without proper checks.
It is against this background that we are curious that there was mass migration of some persons from the country in the wake of COVID-19 outbreak. We are also aware that some Nigerians who have been brutalised in some African countries are struggling to return home. Such citizens have been left at the mercy of foreign nations. This is unacceptable. Yet within our country we treat foreigners with extreme courtesy and allow them in and out without let or hindrance. No country, which takes itself seriously leaves its borders and migrations porous and fluid as we have in Nigeria. COVID-19 as we all know is a pandemic (global scourge) that moved swiftly into new geographical jurisdictions through travel and international connections. We ought to be concerned about the movement of persons through and across our borders – land, sea and air. Security breaches are difficult to contain if borders remain porous.
We therefore recommend to the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) to keep an eye on all immigrants in the country. Our inability to properly identify our citizens was cited by the U.S. authorities when they imposed some visa restrictions on Nigeria early in the year. Innocent Nigerians have been made to suffer the inefficiency of the Nigerian State. The national identity card project deserves better and indeed urgent attention from the government. For instance, unavailability of a database for all Nigerians has made a mockery of the cash transfer programme of the government. With a vibrant and constantly updated database, it would be possible to keep track of all citizens and meet them up in times of need or danger such as this. No one should either by design or default promote the narrative that there is a plot to populate the country and provide a home for persons of migrant origins and culture who are usually found on the continent. The statehood of Nigeria needs to be properly defined and maintained through acts of affirmation. And so, our leaders should not gamble with this – yes, our statehood, our sovereignty!
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