By Stephen Ubanna
More facts have emerged why Border Regions In Transition, BRIT, slated Nigeria and Republic of Benin, two neighboring countries in the West African sub-region for its sixteenth annual Conference to take a critical look at issues relating to Border Management across the world. This is because of the 2019 general elections in Nigeria and the need to ensure the elections are free and Fair by controlling cross border movements.
It is the first time the Conference would be held in Africa because of the importance attached to the Nigeria elections which is to produce another Democratically elected President in the country, an indication that the country may be transiting from one Democratically elected government to another.
Perhaps, to ensure a Free and Fair elections and as a country in Democratic transition, BRIT believes that organizing the Conference in the two West African countries will help to extend the frontiers of knowledge and assist the countries’ policy makers in formulating and implementing policy decisions on Border Management”.
Buhari may have thrown his weight behind the BRIT-organized ”North-South Dialogue On Border Management” in Nigeria, because of his promise to the International Community to organize a Free and Fair elections in the country. The president may have seen the Border Management Conference as an opportunity to expose the Nigeria Police Force, NPF, Nigeria Immigration Service, NIS and The Nigeria Customs Service , NCS, officials to the push and pull factors for both regular and irregular migration from the South to the North in the modern world and the global, regional and national border control mechanisms that exits for dealing with the problems and how adequate they could be.
Perhaps to ensure a successful hosting of the 3-day and two days Border Management Conference in Nigeria and Republic of Benin respectively, the BRIT officials were said to have maintained regular contacts with government officials from both countries to prepare the ground for it.
As a prelude to the the 3-day Conference, which kick-started at the University of Ibadan on Monday, September 15, 2018, Abdulrahman Dambazau, a retired Army Lt. General and former Chief of Army Staff and who incidentally is the minister of Interior was said to have inaugurated a National planning Committee . The Committee was said to have been headed by Tajudeen Akanji, a Professor at the University of Ibadan to oversee the Conference .
The President was said to have given matching order to ibrahim Idris, Inspector General of Police, IGP, Hameed Ali, retired Colonel and, Nigeria Customs Service, NCS and David Paradang, Comptroller General, Nigeria Immigration Service, NIS and other security agencies Chief Executives involved in Border control services to mobilize their officials for the Conference both in Nigeria and Benin republic. Ali, the Customs Comptroller General was said to have appointed a Comptroller in one of the land Border posts to represent him at the Conference. A source disclosed that about 60 senior Customs officers , mostly from all the Border posts including the Customs Headquarters were at the Conference at University of Ibadan. The NPF and the NIS , were also said to have sent powerful representations to the BRIT Border Management Conference at University of Ibadan.
Dambazau, confirmed that this is the” first time the government is making efforts to tackle the threats and challenges associated with trans-border crimes and criminality in the country”. He thanked BRIT officials for giving the government the opportunity to do so. He described”the Conference as a dawn in Border Management in Nigeria.”
Prior to the Conference , Paradang, the Comptroller General, NIS, had disclosed that here are over 1,400 illegal routes used by immigrants to enter into the country. Paradang confirmed that there are only 84 approved land border stations, an indication that the number of illegal routes is about 100 times more than the approved routes.
The NIS boss was said to have cited the case of Adamawa which had over 80 illegal routes in the state, through which immigrants, particularly from Cameroun, could enter into the country freely without traveling documents.
The porous nature of the state may have influenced the deployment of Orisemire Kayode, a former Comptroller of Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone C, Owerri, Imo state, by Ali, the Customs Comptroller General, to take over the Adamawa/Taraba customs Command. Kayode who had also served as Comptroller of FOU, Zone D, Bauchi and Kaduna/Katsina Commands respectively may have had the opportunity of visiting some of the illegal Border routes in the north to know how to deploy his officers to police it to forestall smuggling of Contraband into the country. His NIS counterpart was also said to be on ground to control movement of immigrants through the illegal routes into the country despite the limited Staff strength.It is not surprising why why Paradang, the NIS boss is pushing for an additional 30 Border posts in Adamawa/Taraba, alone, to effectively contain immigrants .
The NIS boss was also said to have cited Ogun state where there are confirmed 83 routes, stressing that the development has a grave implications to the country, particular during elections . He revealed that in some of the Border Communities, ”there are people who have their bedrooms in another country and their sitting room in Nigeria.” The Magazine cited one of such buildings at the Ilaro axis of Ogun state.
The government may have a role to play to strengthen both the NIS and the NCS, to effectively do their job in the Border areas of controlling cross border movements and anti-smuggling activities by lifting the ban on unemployment into NIS and NCS. The agencies, according to a security expert should be allowed in the next five years to recruit at least five thousand officers each to effectively carry out their duties at the Border areas in the north and the southern part of the country.
The Magazine findings shows that past elections in the country, had witnessed citizens of Republic of Benin,Niger, Chad, and Cameroun parading themselves as Nigerians and coming to vote in Lagos, Ogun, Oyo and Ekiti states, in the south west, Sokoto, Kebbi and Zamfra states in the north west, Adamawa, Taraba, Borno and Yobe states, north east, Cross River, Akwa Ibom and Rivers state in the south south south and Kwara state in the north Central geo-politcal region.
In most cast cases, they were said to have entered the country through the sea. This is the situation in Cross River, Akwa Ibom and Rivers state. This is why President Buhari must has to equip the NCS, the two Amphibious Commands, Western and Eastern Marine Commands, with adequate functional Crafts to be able to patrol the nation’s waterways to control movement of immigrants.
Until Buhari is ready to put down his foot to force the ministry of Finance to release Funds to the Ali led Customs Management to procure the Crafts to support the two Customs Amphibious Commands , the voting pattern in the states in the north and the south with porous borders may not be different from the situation in past elections in the country.
Many believe that he has to act fast as the leadership of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, have taken the bold initiative to hand over the newly built multi-million dollars ,world class Border post at Seme, the Border Community between Nigeria and Republic of Benin.
Participants at the one week BRIT Conference, which kick- started in Nigeria on Monday September 15, 2018, and which is expected to end on Friday, September 19, 2018, at Republic of Benin see it, as an eye opener to Customs , Immigration and other security agencies personnel from Nigeria Benin and other countries in Africa on Border Management .
Customs and NIS officers who attended the BRIT Conference at University of Ibadan, confirmed that the Resource persons succeeded in appraising the existing policy frameworks, instruments, institutional arrangements and opportunities for managing the border routes in other parts of the world showed how the new methods used in these other countries to control Cross -border movements could be applied in Nigeria , Republic of Benin and other Africa countries in general. They confirmed that there was no dull moment at the Conference as they were fully occupied to learn new methods involved in Border Management.
It is not surprising why NCS and NIS officials had vowed to tighten up security at the country land Border posts, ahead of the 2019 general elections, to forestall immigrants from coming into the country to stay in order to participate in the elections.
Although, the first leg of the Border Management Conference will end in Nigeria on Wednesday, October 17, 2018, Mohammed Uba Garba, the NCS Comptroller at Seme Command, and his counterpart at NIS, who were at the BRIT Conference were said to have started implementing some of the decisions reached on the Border Management Conference at the land Border.
A senior Customs officer confirmed that the Security situation has been tightened up at the Border as it is no longer business as usual for immigrants. The immigrants may have been forced to cry out for help, pleading with the Customs and NIS personnel to relax some of the stringent policies being implemented at the land Border as they could no longer enter the country with ease. Other Customs and NIS, Comptrollers are expected to follow suit.