MAJOR stakeholders within the country and in the neighbouring countries are worried by the partial closure of Nigeria’s borders by the Federal Government since August 21. The business class and travellers are groaning under the government’s tighter and firmer security surveillance. Coordinated by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), Major-General Babagana Monguno (retd), the exercise involves all security agencies and is ongoing in the South-West, South-South, North-Central and North-West.
Over the years, smugglers have become increasingly daring in their operations, killing personnel of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) during several deadly encounters, while the economy bled profusely because of illicit trades across the country’s borders. Despite several interventions, the menace has persisted, necessitating what the Federal Government considers as a concerted effort to rid the land borders of the smuggling of arms and other contrabands into the country. Since the current joint operation began, however, there has been no report of major arrests of the elements behind the illegal business. Rather, the NCS claims to have impounded vehicles and large quantities of contrabands, especially rice in transit, in isolated places after the consignments had made their way into the hinterlands. This is in spite of the so-called eagle-eyed Customs personnel whose duty is to fortify the borders and curtail illegal activities.
The government has tried to justify the latest stringent measures by citing the haemorrhage which the illegal importation of commodities was having on its economic policies and programmes, including the diversification of the economy to boost local production. Part of its protectionist policy is the ban on rice importation through the land borders on the groundS that Nigeria had made a steady progress in local production. Major players in commerce and industry, however, disagree with the government, saying that the current security operations at the borders have only compounded the hardships being faced by Nigerians. With the quantum of raw materials coming through the land borders to complement what is sourced locally, the manufacturing sector is imperiled by rising costs of production to be eventually borne by consumers. Accordingly, manufacturers believe that the trumpeted home-grown production of food without a corresponding conducive economic climate pales into insignificance.
Also, while the argument for tighter security at the borders to checkmate smuggling seems plausible, the measure is actually defeatist based on current realities. It implies a loss of confidence in the agency statutorily saddled with policing the borders and accentuates the general impression that its personnel have been sabotaging the country by compromising with economic saboteurs or looking the other way while criminals carry out their nefarious activities.
We stand by our recommendations in previous editorials that the government must erect walls across the borders as a permanent solution to the crisis, instead of embarking on cosmetic measures in the bid to curb smuggling. The walls should come with the full complement of modern technology that will make surveillance and general operations at the borders less cumbersome and reduce overheads in terms of personnel and the general cost of operation, as well as discourage smugglers. Therefore, the real issue goes beyond the closure of the land borders; it is about finding realistic solutions that will allow the country to control its fiscal policy. Given the pervasive corruption in the country, the closure will only empower corrupt security officials.
As we noted in previous editorials, illegal cross-border activities and other organised trans-border crimes occur because the borders are not effectively manned and policed. The Seme border between Nigeria and Benin Republic is about 809 km long and has several illegal routes through which goods, including hard drugs, are smuggled into Nigeria. These illegal activities continue to occur in spite of the fact that over 19 checkpoints are mounted by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and the police. The time has therefore come to address the border crisis head-on.