By Our Correspondents |
In spite of the recent federal government pronouncement that the nation’s land borders would be re-opened soon after being closed for over a year, indications from across the country are that state commands of the main security agencies manning the borders –the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) are still awaiting an official directive, hence there is no practical preparation at the borders yet to that effect.
LEADERSHIP Friday gathered that after identifying certain grey areas that may hinder effective manning of the borders, both the NIS and the NCS are strategizing to ensure effective security and scrutiny at the border posts when the re-opening order is given in order to separate genuine migrants from criminals.
The country’s land borders were closed since last year to, according to the government, curtail the smuggling and illegal importation of agricultural products, drugs, and small arms into the country.
Government was also piqued by large scale smuggling of petrol products from Nigeria to neighbouring countries.
The minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, said at a media parley with State House correspondents in Abuja on November 25, 2020 that the presidential committee set up to look into the matter had completed its assignment and recommended the re-opening of the borders.
She said the committee would soon submit its report to President Muhammadu Buhari after which a formal pronouncement would be made on the matter.
A source at the NIS who pleaded anonymity told our correspondent that the planned re-opening of the country’s land borders would be based on strict compliance with the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) regional trade agreements.
The source who disclosed the service’s readiness to tackle both trade and security threats head-long, said, “We are conscious of the fact that the current security realities all over the world means that no country is immune to insecurity if required security measures are not taken.”
He acknowledged that emerging facts in business and investment development have consistently shown that one of the major factors in the promotion of investment is the ease of movement of people.
He said: “This shows that apart from creating the ambience, there is also the need for people to take advantage of the created ambience and, sometimes, the people with financial and/or technological wherewithal may not be within the same system. This is where the Immigration Service comes in.
“At this point, it becomes imperative that we properly scrutinise people coming into the country. We must be able to identify those with genuine interests who will add value to the system and not those who will come in and end up being security threats.”
Also, the Customs national spokesman, Joseph Attah, who gave a signal of the imminent re-opening of the borders said it is expected that every cross-border trade actor will play according to the rules and the coming to being of e-customs which entails total automation of Customs processes such as provision of scanners will further boost the Service’s capacity to better secure the nation’s entry points.
Attah said, “We are also hopeful that when government opens the borders, all trans-border trade actors would have learnt and won’t go back to the activities that led to the closure and we hope going forward, compliance will be the order of the day, compliance with laid down rules, procedures and engagement will be followed accordingly.”
It would be recalled that the comptroller -general of the Immigration Service, Mohammed Babandede, had some months ago assured Nigerians of an improved border policing but requested people at the border areas to expose undocumented immigrants.
Appealing to Nigerians, particularly those residing around the nation’s borders for greater understanding, support, and cooperation with the service ahead of the planned re-opening, the comptroller general disclosed that his officers were involved in ongoing border drills aimed at achieving effective border policing for national security and economic advancement of the nation.
He was quoted to have said that despite activating joint border patrols involving the NIS, Customs and other security agencies, the federal government was trying to follow the actual protocols laid by ECOWAS.
Babandede, who stressed that a border is not a war zone but a place where law enforcement agents must respect human rights of migrants and victims of trafficking, noted that, “A safe border is a safe nation.”
Investigations by our correspondents across the country indicated that authorities at the Customs and Immigration border posts are eagerly awaiting the federal government’s directive, and there is no preparation yet towards any re-opening soon.
At the state commands of the NCS, the officers seem to be waiting for the signal.
In Ogun State, operatives of the Customs and Immigration Service were discharging their duties at the Idiroko border post and Ilara and Iwoye-Ketu border towns when LEADERSHIP FRIDAY visited, but signified no preparedness for border re-opening.
At the Idiroko border, officials of the two agencies were present at their respective duty posts on Wednesday, December 2, 2020 when our correspondent visited.
A source within the NIS who spoke on condition of anonymity said the situation was the same at all the entry points where the gates were shut against traders and freight forwarders in compliance with the presidential directive which ordered indefinite closure of all borders.
The Customs Public Relations Officer (CPRO) for Ogun Area 1 Command at Idiroko border, Oloyede Ahmed Bukoye, said they had not received any official correspondence regarding re-opening of the border and as such, would not comment.
Sources within the NIS told our correspondent that they shut the gate when the presidential order on border closure came, while other normal duties continued unhindered.
“We have been carrying on with our normal duties. We do attend to those who apply for international passports and we have been capturing their data. The border enforcement is equally going on and there is no cause for any alarm,” a source said.
In Katsina State, the Customs command noted that border closure or re-opening is out of their jurisdiction, saying the national spokesman was in a better position to respond. The state’s Customs spokesman, Isah Danbaba, said the decision on border closure was a presidential idea and the national spokesman should to attend to any inquiry on it.
The spokesman of the Plateau State Command also told our correspondent that he was not in a position to state the level of preparedness.
In Benue, indications are that there is no preparation towards the re-opening of Nigeria’s border with Cameroon from that angle. Our correspondent who spoke to some residents of communities at the border with Cameroon in Abande, Kwande local government area of the state said they were not aware of any development.
According to them, if the border was closed in the first place, it wouldn’t have been possible for Cameroonian refugees to continue entering the state.
When our correspondent visited the Nigeria Immigration Service in Makurdi, the comptroller declined comments.
It was gathered that the command was awaiting signals from the headquarters after which they would make their plans known.
The Kwara State Command of the Nigeria Customs Service said it was also awaiting formal directive on the planned border re-opening.
The spokesman of the command, Chado Zakari, who spoke with LEADERSHIP Friday in Ilorin, added: “There is no preparation whatsoever and as far as we are concerned, we work with directives from the headquarters. Don’t forget that border closure involves all security agencies but headed by the Customs. It is coordinated by the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA).
“We work with directives, not reports on pages of newspapers. We are still making seizures and we will continue to do so until the federal government directs otherwise. Smugglers should stay clear of Sector 3 (North Central) as we are ready for them,” he said.
The Immigration Service in Yobe State said it was always ready to enforce laws governing entry and exit at the nation’s international borders whenever the directive for re-opening is issued.
The deputy comptroller in the command, Mr M.C Monyei, while speaking on their readiness for possible re-opening, said the command was on alert in case of such directive.
“Ours is just to enforce the laws governing entry and exit at borders. The directive for border closure or opening is the sole responsibility of the office of the National Security Adviser and whenever the directive is issued, we are ready to enforce it,” Monye said.
Border communities in Sokoto State described the planned re-opening as a welcome development, saying they had lost billions of naira as a result of the closure.
Residents of border communities in the state who spoke to Leadership in Illela town, headquarters of Illela local government area, said the closure had not achieved any meaningful result but had increased hardship for ordinary Nigerians.
According to them, before the closure, businesses were booming in nearly all border communities and the federal government was generating a lot of revenue from those entry and exit posts.
While stressing that the closure was not done in good faith, Malam Ibrahim Illela said the claim by the federal government that Nigeria could feed itself was ill-conceived and wrongly timed.
Ibrahim, who backed his points with the ever increasing threats to farmers’ lives in their respective villages across the country, asked how a country battling such disturbing insecurity could think of closing land borders to “add more salt to injuries of the ordinary citizens”.
Another resident who gave his name as Alhaji Isah Miashanu said President Muhammadu Buhari ought to have secured the country first, motivate Nigerians into commercial mechanized farming and ensure food security for some years and subsidise local produce before embarking on border closure.
“Nigeria is a very large market for whatever that is produced. And even if the reason for this border closure is because of arms smugglers, then, the federal government got it all wrong as majority of arms comes into the country through herders using the bushes,” he said.
Customs and Immigration officers in the state who spoke to on condition of anonymity said they were yet to get any official communication to that effect, adding that they were not permitted to talk to the press on such issues.
Meanwhile, the Illela border post that used to be a beehive of activities looked like a ghost town when LEADERSHIP FRIDAY visited, as there was no sign or preparation to indicate possible border re-opening.
The Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) has in the meantime, rolled out modalities to tighten the nation’s borders against further trade and security threats, sources within the service have disclosed.
The Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment, Mariam Katagum, said recently that the re-opening of the borders would depend largely on the recommendations from the patrol teams set up to monitor compliance with trade protocols.
The patrol teams comprising relevant security agencies are currently in an exercise code-named Operation Exercise Swift Response.
The closure of the country’s land borders by the Nigerian government had been heavily criticised in some quarters as some critics felt that the action was against the idea of the recently-signed African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCTA).