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The N52 billion e-border project

THE Federal Executive Council (FEC) recently rose from its regular weekly meeting and announced to a bewildered public that the sum of N52 billion had been approved to finance a project that would assist Nigeria to digitally monitor its borders. Briefing journalists in Abuja, the Minister of Interior, Lieutenant-General Abdulrahman Dambazzau (retd), said that given the porous nature of the country’s borders, it was absolutely impossible to safeguard them. According to him, only the installation of technological devices could guarantee effective monitoring of the borders, which he said necessitated the approval of N52 billion for the execution of the e-border project.

Apparently, the approval was preceded by a memorandum presented to the council by the minister, in which he argued that when executed, the project would be effective in the 86 border posts and 1400 illegal routes through which smuggling and other cross-border criminal activities were usually perpetrated. The Minister of Interior certainly cannot claim any credit for mentioning the fact of Nigeria’s porous borders to the FEC. It is elementary knowledge. But there is something foreboding in the approval of N52 billion just to “monitor” Nigeria’s porous borders. The problem of Nigeria’s porous borders certainly goes beyond digital monitoring, which is why apprehending criminals and ensuring that they don’t return to the country through the same routes is not likely to be guaranteed by the project under reference.

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To be sure, operatives of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) are not unfamiliar with these routes. They know the routes being used by smugglers and other criminals exploiting the porosity of the country’s borders. While the security challenges of the country may have exasperated the authorities, there is still no need for suspicious strategies. For one thing, the proposed electronic monitoring of Nigeria’s porous borders is not strongly supported by adequate power generation and distribution in the country. If the developed economies of the world are into e-border projects, it is because they have adequate infrastructure and personnel to support it. Without adequate power generation, the electronic monitoring of the country’s porous borders remains a pipe dream.

We expect the very basic things to be taken care of before the government proceeds to the more advanced things pertaining to the country’s security. For instance, have the NCS operatives been transparently honest and sincere in policing Nigeria’s borders before now? If the answer is no, what gives anybody the confidence that things will be different if digital devices are deployed in monitoring the borders? Policing the borders requires integrity and professionalism, factors which have over the years been lacking in the operations of the NCS. The fact is well known that some unscrupulous members of the organisation collude with smugglers, bandits and other felons for pecuniary benefits. To date, there is no credible evidence that such bad eggs have been flushed out of the system. Given this situation, therefore, the N52 billion e-border project cannot guarantee the results that the government envisages.

Besides, it is expected that the legislature will be involved in the appropriation of the sum of N52 billion for the monitoring of Nigeria’s borders, or any other project at all. But the 2019 Appropriation Bill is already on the legislature’s table and the e-border project was not captured in it, yet the government has not said anything about approaching the legislature for approval. It will certainly be a huge task defending the integrity of the project if the legislature is not involved in the disbursement of such a huge amount of public funds. We urge the government to address this quest, and very quickly too.

Time and again, we have advocated the construction of border walls, but the government has turned a deaf ear to the advocacy. Yet there can be no solution to the country’s border insecurity if border walls are not built and equipped with state-of-the-art infrastructure. The proposed e-border project puts the cart before the horse and will come to nought. It will only further deplete the country’s treasury without corresponding results. That will be really ugly for an administration that claims to be fuelled by integrity.

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