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Partial border closure: Policy choking travellers, businessmen and smugglers

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Seme border


• Touts Facilitating Movement At Unapproved Border Routes
• Illegal Migrants Arrested, Repatriated
• Prices Of Turkey, Rice Soar
• Action To Protect Nigerians –Customs

Thirteen days into the partial closure of Nigeria-Seme border by the Federal Government, legitimate businessmen/women, as well as international travellers plying that road are still angry at being shut out without notice.However, there are indications that indigenes of border communities, international travellers, bureau de change operators, cross-border traders and transporters would continue to suffer the effect the partial closure, which is termed “border drill,” and expected to elapse mid-September.

While the drill continues, the much-talked about local rice produced by the country is nowhere to be found. Where found at all, the prices are very high, while price of a carton of turkey has jumped from N10, 500 to between N14, 500 and N16, 000 in some locations in Ogun and Lagos states. President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday August 20 ordered a joint border security exercise aimed at securing the country’s land and maritime borders. The partial closure is due to the massive smuggling activities taking place along porous borders with foodstuffs and automobile smuggled into the country at will.

Code-named, “Exercise Swift Response,” the exercise is jointly conducted by the Nigeria Custom Services, Nigerian Immigration Service, the Nigerian Police, and the Nigerian Army. The Office of the National Security Adviser coordinates it.Smuggling, which is a major industry draining the country of millions of naira daily, and which has defied several strategies in the past, appeared to have reasonably jolted authorities.

At the border, The Guardian checks revealed that the security agencies ensured strict compliance to government directives. But while sanity appears to reign at the main border post, business still thrived at some bush paths and sundry illegal entry points, where unscrupulous security operatives, working hand-in-glove with youths, facilitate illegal passages for a fee for illegal migrants and traders.

“Come brother, are you going to French (French is a popular name for Benin Republic in border communities). There is a bush path here. We will take you across. Don’t fear,” a teenager told The Guardian.But when The Guardian insisted on making the dash on its own, without the aid of anyone, the teenager retorted: “You can’t go sir. They (security operatives) are there. They will not allow you to pass. Just bring N200.00 and I will take you to them and even take you across to French.”

Asked what his relationship with the security operatives was, he simply said, “they are our brothers.”While fronts for security officers like the teenager continued their businesses unhindered, trapped cross-border traders continued to groan, begging for considerations. Travellers without valid documents are equally on tenterhooks, while the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) protocol on free movement appears to be threatened.

A security source at the Seme border informed The Guardian that on Thursday, about 15 foreigners tried entering Nigeria without valid papers, while about 50 Nigerians attempted to leave the country through bush paths also without valid documents.

The source further explained that the illegal migrants were turned back and cautioned that further attempts would be met with dire consequences as provided by law.“Our operatives are combing the bushes as part of this operation because we suspect the possibility of such movements. As we speak, our men are on the flanks checking the movement of people and goods. We shall continue with the checks for as long as the operation lasts. Let me add that checking illegal migrants is a routine duty here. The difference now is the combined efforts by various security agencies, ” the source said.

The National Public Relations Officer of the NCS, Deputy Comptroller (DC) Joseph Attah, however, said that 33 migrants have so far been arrested, while several smuggled goods have also been intercepted within the period of the joint operation.“The resolve of Nigerian security agencies to better secure the country’s territorial integrity, particularly land and maritime borders against trans-border security concerns has started yielding positive results from the ongoing joint border security exercise…” he said, adding that the “exercise, has received appreciable support from members of the public, as well as border community dwellers and other well-meaning Nigerians.

The ONSA, which is coordinating the exercise, is already recording large numbers of seizures and arrests from the four zones comprising the North-West, North Central, South West, and South-South geopolitical zones.“As at 26th August 2019, 33 illegal migrants have been arrested while seizures include 3, 560-50kg bags of parboiled foreign rice; 59 bags of NPK fertilizer; 15 vehicles; 12 drums filled with PMS; four engine boats; 65 drums of groundnut oil; four truck; 75 gallons of PMS; 29 motorcycles; 68 gallons of vegetable oil and 70 jerry cans of PMS, among other items.

According to the NCS spokesperson, while an exercise of this nature is likely to create some inconveniences to members of the public, the overriding interest is to protect the country against transnational security concerns such as smuggling, proliferation of small arms and light weapons, irregular migration, terrorism, armed banditry, amongst a host of other concerns.

“This is consistent with the constitutional responsibility of any well-meaning government. We, therefore continue to seek the support of all and sundry, to ensure that the desired objectives of Exercise SWIFT RESPONSE are achieved, in order to promote a secured, peaceful and prosperous Nigeria,” Attah said.

The Guardian investigation at Idiroko border in Ogun State revealed that illegal trans-border dealings was still ongoing and facilitated by local youths, even as security agencies are turning back travellers without valid documents on the route, which is one of most notorious smuggling route in the country. But generally speaking, the joint operation has taken serious economic toll on communities in the area, while some residents still applauded the measure, saying it was in the best interest of the country.

Mrs. Rose Adelakun, a cross-border trader, who shuttles between Nigeria and Ghana, through Seme and Idiroko borders, told The Guardian that security at these border posts has become extraordinarily strict. Adelakun alleged that despite the closure, some “stubborn” drivers who ply the routes still managed to have their way.

Her words, “There are some illegal routes that some drivers are still using to transport goods and passengers into the country. The only thing is that the new fare is now much higher than before.”She lamented that the partial border closure has contributed negatively to the socio-economic imbalance of the area, saying residents who make a living facilitating the movement of goods and services between Nigeria and Benin Republic are lamenting seriously.

For Mrs. Janet Adesi, a trader, “rice has become an essential commodity in the market. My suppliers called me yesterday (Thursday) and informed that there is no rice because of the restriction of movement at the border. Everything is so tough now, I have no grains to sell, and my shop is empty. The Federal Government should help us.

“Where is the Nigerian rice that the government is saying is everywhere? It is so scarce and costly when seen. We hope that the government will encourage farmers to cultivate more rice so as not to throw the entire country into famine.”Mrs. Sherifah Amzat, who trades in frozen food said: said: “Turkey is not allowed to come into the country and the traders are hoarding the existing , thereby hiking the price. I just bought one pack today for N14, 500 and I will resell taking into account, the cost price.”

While the closure subsists, residents of some border communities including, Ilaro, Idiroko, Oke Odan, Ipokia, Owode, Mawun, Alari, Koko, Badagry, Ajilete, Ago, Ighonyedo and Ifo now have their economies in a shambles. Core businesses in these communities are smuggling, transportation and farming.They insist that the joint action by security operatives, which has put smuggling activities in check could trigger increase in crime rate.

Indigenes of the border communities in the North West and North East ranging from Matamaye, Magarya, Babura, Mai Mujiya, Tikim among others in Kano and Jigawa states, which fall within the Zandar region that directly links Niger and Nigeria are also in pains as these places are now a shadow of themselves, with low economic activities.

The Comptroller General of NIS, Mohammad Babadende, who spoke last week explained that the country’s borders with Benin Republic, Niger, Chad and Cameroon were not closed for business.He explained that what is happening at the Borders was a joint drill operation conducted by the various security and intelligence agencies in the country to control traffic into the country.

The NIS boss maintained that there is no border closure as alleged in several quarters within the member countries of ECOWAS but “border drill.”He disclosed that security agencies involved in the border drill operation have succeeded in preventing those making attempts to come into the country without travelling documents and records.BEFORE the partial closure, smugglers and sundry characters always ferried contraband products into the country through three porous border points in Cross River State.

They are the land borders in Mfum in Ikom Local Council, Enang in Akamkpa Local Council and the maritime boundary in Ikang, Bakassi Local Council, which leads to Cameroon. The Guardian gathered that some smugglers are still using bush paths and creeks to bring in, or take out goods from the country.

A trader in Calabar, Mr China Eze said, “before now, we used to get our goods easily into Nigeria through the Mfum border, but with this Cameroon problem and the partial ban, we cannot travel easily.”We are subjected to serious checks as if we carry prohibited items and this is discouraging. We don’t carry arms or do illegal business.”

A security expert, Mr. Michael Ekpo said: “Our borders are so porous to the extent that illegal arms come in especially through the creeks. If you look at most of the communal crises that break out here and there, sophisticated weapons are used. And I ask, how do they come into the country?”We have so much arms in circulation in the state, and this predates the partial ban. Such arms are brought in through these loose entry points. The government should do better than what it’s doing now if it is serious about curbing transnational security concerns such as smuggling, proliferation of small arms and light weapons.”

He stressed that putting a partial ban in place was not the solution because banned items including arms are everywhere and “there is need to increase maritime patrols on the high sea and in the creeks if we want to drastically check smuggling.”

In Kebbi State, prices of food items as have equally risen by 10 percent in the wake of the partial closure. At Kamba, Dole Kaina, Lolo border areas, as well as Birnin Kebbi Central Market, traders who spoke to The Guardian lamented the increase in prices of items like rice, millet, sugar, beverages, adding that some indigenous companies have also increased the prices of their products.

According to Mallam Umar U. Kamaba, the price of rice in Kamba, a border area as risen from N11, 000 to N12, 000 per bag, while at the Birnin Kebbi Central Market, it is now N14, 000 as against the N12, 000, which it was sold before.Also, a retailer at the Central Market in Birnin Kebbi, Alhaji Hassan, appealed to the Federal Government to reopen the border so that the prices of the goods and services in the country would not go out of the reach of the poor.

He expressed dismay over the attitude of some indigenous companies that have also increased the prices of their products, saying, “could you imagine that Labana Rice Mills, an indigenous company in Birnin Kebbi has also increased the price of its rice. This is not a good step to take at this time.
“We want indigenous business men to understand that things are not easy for Nigerians now, an our political elite are not helping the masses. So, the Federal Government should please reconsider the closure of the border because of the multiplier effect across the country,” he concluded.


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