Olanrewaju Lawal, Birnin-Kebbi
The decision by the Federal Government to close Nigeria’s major borders with her neighbours has effectively taken off in many posts in Kebbi State. Investigation along some border communities in the state, starting from Lolo, which shares boundaries with Benin Republic, down to Kamba in Niger Republic, indicates a high level of compliance to the directive from the authorities in Abuja.
Officers of the Nigerian Army and their counterparts in the Nigeria Customs Service (NSC), have taken charge of the various entry points in these communities with a view to ensuring an effective check of the movements of persons and goods into the country.
On several occasions, they were spotted patrolling the affected areas and communities to ensure that nobody enters the country from these neighbours.
At the Nigeria Customs Border Office, Kamba, comprising Dole-Kaina and Lolo-Benin Republic Area Commands, a security officer who did not want his name be mentioned, said all Nigeria’s borders with Niger and Benin republics have been effectively secured by armed security agencies against illegal immigrants and smugglers.
In the light of the new directives, there have been several arrests and seizures of contraband. At Kamba Customs Service Operations Office, 106 gallons of diesels and petrol were impounded from local smugglers who attempted to use their motorcycles to bring the products into the country.
Similarly, at Dole-Kaina and Lolo-Benin Republic Area Commands, both of which are still under the charge of Kamba Customs Service Operation Office, 59 bags of fertilizers, four bags of snuff of moringa, two bags of belts and 273 gallons of diesels and petroleum products were also impounded.
The state NSC Public Relations Officer (PRO), Mr Joseph Attah, explained that the exercise, code-named “Ex-Swift Response” was intended to address trans- border security challenges: “It is expected that the exercise will promote inter-agency cooperation and increase preparedness to address trans-border security challenges such as terrorism, armed banditry, smuggling, proliferation of small arms and light weapons.
“The exercise will involve the movement of personnel, vehicles and equipment within the affected parts of the country.” He added that the exercise was similarly going on in South-South, South-West, North-Central and North-West, and was being coordinated by the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA).
He advised members of the public, not to panic but go about their normal duties and businesses: “The overall objective is to ensure a peaceful and secured country in the interest of our national security.”
However, his calls may make little or no impact in the hearts of the members of the communities who are directly affected by the new decision. This is because since the commencement of the new order, life has not been the same in many of the border communities. Hardship, probably unintended, has been visited on these communities.
The District Head of Lolo, Alhaji Mohammad Sala Illo, said the closure of the border “is ill-advised and the timing is emphatically wrong.” He claimed that the implementation of the policy has separated close family members and has shut out many farmers from the both countries from their respective farms.
He spoke with Daily Sun at the Nigeria/ Benin Republic border: “The problem is that our farmers, who have their farms in Benin Republic cannot access their farms just like their counterparts in Benin Republic, who have farms in Lolo can no longer cross over here to go to their farms.
“Our relationship with people of Benin Republic is mutual and dates way back. We speak the same language, which is Dandi. My grandmother was born in Kwawasagi town in Benin Republic. We encroach on each other’s land just as our polling unit is now in Benin Republic territory.
«We hope government will allow our farmers to their farms over there. Nobody contacted us before this decision was made. We just heard it that the borders have been shut down and we saw soldiers. Now, a farmer cannot carry a single fertilizer across to his farm.”
Councillor representing Lolo Ward, Hassan Adamu Lolo, noted that from Lolo to Madakani to Paraku towns in Benin Republic, the people of areas are speaking Dandi language and they belong to the same tribe:
“My uncle is from Benin Republic, which means my mother is a Beninese from Madakani and my father is a Nigerian. This closure of border is really affecting our people and our farmers. We have farmlands in Benin Republic; even Benin Republic people have farmlands in Nigeria.
“I inherited a farmland from my mother, who herself was indigene of Benin Republic. Similarly, they too have their children who inherited farmlands in Nigeria.
“We humbly pray and call on the Federal Government to secure our borders first. But we are the communities in these borders. We are not against the police, soldiers and customs. It is the responsibilities of these security agencies to secure our borders.”