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Policing Nigeria’s porous borders

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Muhammadu Babandede. PHOTO: youtube


…Concerns Mount Over Influx Of Foreigners Into The Country Amid Alleged Link With Insecurity

Illegal migration and its implication on national security is a subject of critical note for every sovereign nation. It has been cause for serious debate in Nigeria, especially since the emergence of the terrorist group, Boko Haram. The challenges of safeguarding Nigeria’s borders is one that seems to be in defiance of the efforts of authorities charged with the task. 

It is therefore no wonder that illegal migration into and even out of the country persists; it is even believed to be a major cause of insecurity issues such as farmers-herders conflict and Boko Haram insurgency bedeviling the country. Thus, the influx of migrants into the country has necessitated an even greater need for proper record keeping and documentation of all migrants especially at a time that the nation is faced with security challenges.

A Cameroonian, Mrs. Rose, is a resident in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) along with her family and parent. According to her, they were forced to migrate out of their country due to the continued killing of civilians by soldiers under the command of President Paul Biya. She narrated how she had initially lived alone in Nigeria for over a decade before she recently brought in her mother and siblings after her first son was killed by soldiers.

“We had to come and find peace here or else we will be killed in our home country. Nigeria is quite peaceful and we easily blend. My sister who is married also lives in Nigeria with her family and my cousin is also here teaching French while I’m into foodstuffs business,” she further explained.

When asked of the route they took into Nigeria, she said they used the riverine area of Calabar in Cross River State.It is also common knowledge that border towns and communities in the northern part of Nigeria are also focal entry and exit points for migrants.

To safeguard the nation’s borders and ensure proper documentation on the movement of people into and out of the country, the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), recently released some guidelines for international passengers arriving or leaving the country through any of its international airports or borders to ensure that they are in possession of valid documents at the point of entry or exit to their destination country. 

Comptroller General of Immigration, Muhammad Babandede, had said that the NIS noticed that some international passengers arriving or departing Nigeria, by air, land or sea now avoided the normal immigration clearance procedures especially at the international airports. He said that was why the NIS issued the guidelines.

The guidelines prescribe that all intending international travelers including citizens of Nigeria arriving or leaving the country must pass through a recognised point of entry or exit and must submit themselves to immigration officers for clearance. The move is also expected to curb the challenge of documentation of both legal and illegal migrants in the country.

The guidelines also state that all passengers are expected to be in possession of valid travel passport or Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) travel certificate if they are members of ECOWAS and should equally be in possession of a valid visa for Nigeria or for their destination country.

As part of efforts to secure the nation’s borders and monitor movements on the borderlines, the Federal Government and the ECOWAS have joined forces in the area of trans-border security to tackle the problems of border insecurity, terrorist threat and free movement.

Former Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Bello Danbazzau, had explained that the partnership would boost border security management and reduce irregular migration of citizensHe said: “If we collaborate to tackle insecurity in the region, we will have a secure environment which will encourage trade and tourism, not only within Africa but with other parts of the world.”
He lamented that many people risk their lives through the desert and Mediterranean Sea in a bid to cross to Europe but end up getting trapped in slavery or lose their lives.

The Federal Government also formally adopted a National Policy on Migration and its Implementation Plan, with support from the International Office for Migration (IOM) and the European Union (EU) in 2015. It was within the framework of the National 10th European Development Fund project themed, “Promoting Better Management of Migration in Nigeria”.The IOM supported Nigeria’s Technical Working Group (TWG) on Migration and Development throughout the development of the policy and has been a strong advocate for its adoption.

According to Article Three of the ECOWAS Protocol A/P.1/5/79, relating to the Free Movement of Persons, Residence and Establishment, “any citizen of the community who wishes to enter the territory of any other Member State shall be required to possess valid travel document and international health certificate.”

It reads further that “a citizen of the Community visiting any Member State for a period not exceeding 90 days shall enter the territory of that Member State through the official entry point free of visa requirements. Such citizen shall, however, be required to obtain permission for an extension of stay from the appropriate authority if after such entry that citizen has cause to stay for more than 90 days.”

Article Four, however, reads that “notwithstanding the provisions of Article Three above, Member States shall reserve the right to refuse admission into their territory any Community citizen who comes within the category of inadmissible immigrants under its laws.”Find out whether these efforts have yielded the expected dividends from the reports below:  

We Don’t See Need For Travel Documents, Say Illegal Migrants In Taraba

By Charles Akpeji, Jalingo
FEDERAL Government’s dream of curtailing the influx of illegal migrants through the Cameroon and Nigeria borders in Taraba State in order to address the present security challenges facing the country would continue to be a mirage. The activities of some security agencies assigned to the various border outposts across the state are grossly antithetical to the government’s objective.

From Sardauna, Gashaka, Kurmi, Takum and Ussa local government councils that share common international boundaries with the neighbouring Cameroon, the security agencies especially officials of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) are nothing near diligence in the discharge of their duties.

The Guardian investigations showed that while officials of the NCS at the borders are preoccupied with raising funds for the government from goods heading into the country, they pave way for migrants to access the country through the borders. Consequently, smuggling activities also boom in those borders despite their presence. Also, it was discovered that officials of the NIS allow illegal migrants access into the country once they are able to cough out some amount of money.

The Guardian also observed that drivers of commercial vehicles plying most of the roads leading to the neighbouring country assist migrants to come into Nigeria by employing all kinds of tricks. For instance, rather than allowing passengers especially foreigners plying the roads to present themselves for relevant identifications at the Immigration check points, the drivers often collect money from them and ‘settle’ Immigration officials at such check points. The situation have become so bad that migrants plying this axis now believe they can access Nigeria through any of the borders in Taraba State any time they choose, provided they are ready to part with certain amounts of money.

Some of the illegal migrants who interacted with The Guardian revealed that they had no travelling documents, saying all they needed to do at the various check points and border posts to gain entry into Nigeria was to part away with money. Mallam Ali, a Cameroonian who claimed to have been going in and out of Nigeria for the past 12 years without a single document to present to security officials, said that “some of us are very familiar to your security men here.”

He said: “Certain amounts of money have been fixed for people like us who do not have traveling documents. As far we are able to pay them (security officers) the fixed amounts, our going in and out of Nigeria is 100 per cent guaranteedHe stated that the reverse was the case in Cameroon, noting that, “it is more easy for foreigners to enter your country from this area than my country Cameroon.”

Corroborating his claims, one Mr. Ogoga, who had also been plying the route, said: “I don’t even see the need for all these documents because with or without traveling documents, your officers in all the border posts will always demand for settlement. I cannot mention the exact amount one has to part with before having access to Nigeria, but all I can tell you is that those without documents pay higher money than those of us that have documents. This has made some of us not to bother to renew our documents when they expire because we are sure of coming in at anytime as far as we are willing to settle your Immigration and other security men in all the check points.”
 
On the Migrant E-Registration and Data Processing scheme recently launched by the Federal Government, some of the illegal migrants said they were unaware of the exercise. But they admitted that the move would go along way to assist them while remain in Nigeria.An illegal migrant, Suleiman Jubril, said: “To be frank with you, I am just hearing this. But if it is true, I am assuring you that those of us that often sneak into your country without any document would take great advantage of the registration.”

Vigilante Group, Security Agencies Unite To Identify Illegal Migrants In Kebbi

From Ahmadu Baba Idris, Birnin Kebbi

The District Head of Bachaka, Alhaji Yakubu Maiyaki, has disclosed that the community engaged some youths to screen any visitor found in the area. Bachaka is a Nigerian community in Kebbi State that borders Niger Republic.Speaking to The Guardian recently shortly after the handover of a healthcare centre constructed by the EU/UNICEF in the area, Maiyaki added that as a border community, the residents put a vigilante group in place that collaborate with other security agencies to ensure the safety of lives and property of citizens.

He explained further that there were cases of illegal migrants in the community recently, stressing that with the support of the state government and traditional rulers, they were able to overcome the challenge.

“If we see or observe that there is a new face in the area, we usually invite the security agents or some youths to screen the person. We have been living in peace without any challenges.“We have a committed governor who always visit our area and put security in place. We thank him for his support and the love he has for people.”

Also speaking, Alhaji Issa Mohammed, who is also a resident, commended the efforts of the government and traditional rulers towards curbing cases of illegal migrants in the area. “Anybody found will be directed to the proper authorities for investigation,” he added.

‘I Married Nigerian To Legalise My Stay’

From Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi, Jos

Plateau State does not share boundaries with any foreign country but it plays host to many illegal migrants. Many of them are into commercial motorcycling (okada) while others are artisans and petty traders. Samba Lalu, a Senegalese who specialises in women designs and wear, said she has spent five years in Nigeria. “I came to Nigeria close to five years ago through Mubi bush in Adamawa State. I have a nephew in Jos who also illegally entered Jos as Mairuwa (water vendor). What I did as a Muslim was to get one of the Hausa ladies in Jos and married her. I have two wives back home in Senegal. I married Rukayatu here in Jos and got her a shop in Jos and started tailoring business.

“I make good customers because of female wears. Currently, I have two children. Nobody disturbs me whether I am a Nigerian, Plateau indigene or illegal migrant because as far as I am concerned now, I have become a Nigerian by marriage. I go home in Senegal once in two years to visit my people,” he said. He reveals that he does good business in Nigeria particularly Jos, saying there is stiff competition in Senegal.

According to him, there are more designers in Senegal than in Nigeria, adding that the tax law there was very demanding and made profit making difficult.“I did not come with any passport. In fact, I came in illegally because of the laxity of the law here,” he said.

Lalu stated that since his life was better in Nigeria than in Senegal, he does not envisage staying here temporarily. “I have come to stay in Nigeria. I have travelled to Lagos, Abuja and Kaduna but I prefer to stay in Jos,” he added. Lalu, however, said he would not take advantage of the Federal Government’s illegal migrants registration to legalise his stay. He feared that it could be a bait to arrest those who sneaked into the country illegally.The Guardian investigations showed that every week, Immigration officials in Jos swoop on the illegal migrants and carry them in their vans to their office, but release them at the end of the day. When approached for comments, none of the NIS officials in the state agreed to speak, saying they were not authorised to do so.

We Migrated To Nigeria Because Life Is Very Difficult In Our Countries’

From Tina Todo, Calabar

Thousands of migrants from neighbouring countries like Cameroon, Chad and Republic of Niger living in Cross River State are into street begging while some others are artisans.Many of them live amongst Nigerians especially in the border communities. The Chadians and Nigerien living in Calabar are mostly found in the Hausa communities.

Some of the migrants in Calabar metropolis said they were not aware of the Migrant E-Registration and Data Processing exercise presently going on across the country. Those who spoke with The Guardian said they had not been educated on the importance of the e-registration. Some of them who beg for alms at the popular Watt market claimed they came into Nigeria with their resident permits while some felt uncomfortable to speak to the press.

One of the illegal migrants, 18-year-old Aisha, said she has been living in Nigeria for the past three years but usually travels to her country, the Republic of Niger, at least once in a year to visit her family. She said she saves the money she makes from street begging and takes it to her family whenever she travels back home.

Aisha explained: “I am from Niger and I have been living here since three years ago but I travel once in a year to my country. My father and my mother are in Niger. I came with some people who are also begging“I don’t know of any registration and my friends also don’t know. They would have told me but I will find out and do that so that I will not have any problem staying here.”

When asked why she came to Nigeria to beg for alms, Aisha said, “life is very difficult in my country and we need to earn a living. So, I joined some people who are coming down to make some money for my family.” Another female beggar, who identified herself as Zainab, said she came to Calabar two years ago with her husband, disclosing that they now have two children. Zainab, who was holding her baby while begging at Total filling station adjacent Mary Slessor along Calabar road, said her husband was a shoe mender, adding that they live in Bogobiri, an Hausa settlement in Calabar. Zainab also said she left her country with her husband to Nigeria to beg for alms because Nigerians take pity on beggars a lot.

“I don’t have any problem begging. I have my papers. When immigration comes around, I show them my papers. But I have not done the one you just told me now because I was not aware of it. But I will ask my friends and my husband if they know about it,” she said.

Kabiru from Republic of Chad, an itinerant tailor, did not reveal if he has legal papers or not. But he said he came to Nigeria last year to earn a living for his family.The migrant said he left his country to join his brother who taught him how to sew because of the high level of poverty in his country.Kabiru explained that Nigeria, especially Cross River State, is a peaceful place to live and earn a living with whatever business you decide to do.

He said: “I came here last year to join my brother who taught me how to sew and bought me this sewing machine. I like Nigeria because the people are good and I can make money with this sewing and send to my family in Chad. In my country, it is very difficult to make a living because we are very poor but here we can sell, sew and do all kinds of business to make money.”

Imo Residents Decry Influx Of Illegal Migrants

From Charles Ogugbuaja, Owerri

There are many suspected illegal aliens, mainly from Niger Republic, in Owerri, the Imo State capital begging for alms. They are mainly found on major streets in the city such as Ikenegbu/Aladinma, Douglas, Wethdral, Okigwe roads and some adjourning streets. They also stay at the popular roundabout in Owerri, Control Post by Assumpta Catholic Cathedral. There, you will see women mostly, always carrying babies. They look healthy without any physical deformity, unlike some indigenous beggars.  

At the Control Post axis, they hang around a regular police check point, apparently for protection while they carry on their business of begging.They seem to be professional beggars. The little ones would always hold a passerby begging to a little distance before they allow him/her to go. Those who have their feelings would give, but others quickly dispense them and continue their journey.

Enquiries on why they beg for alms, how they entered the country or why they chose to beg instead of working to earn a living were not answered. One of them, who simply identified himself as Bashiru, told The Guardian that his parents brought him to the city, adding that they were hungry and the only way to exist was to depend on begging.His words: “We are hungry. We ran away from our country so that we will not die. We are not strong to work. We are living in uncompleted houses and open places. We depend on people to eat.”


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