In a bold move to check the smuggling of arms and ammunition into the country, the Nigeria Customs (NCS) and Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) have commenced the construction of high walls along the nation’s land borders. To this effect, the Comptroller General of the NCS, Col.Hammed Ali (retd), has ordered all border commands across the country to mount strict surveillance at the border posts.
The construction of the high walls at the Seme border post has started. According to the Customs Area Comptroller, Seme border, Muhammed Aliyu, all Commands were given the marching order to ensure that all illegal routes used by smugglers for various cross-border crimes are sealed. He also disclosed that having found the nation’s seaports almost impregnable to smuggle in dangerous weapons, the smugglers have resorted to using the border posts, most of which are porous for their nefarious activities.
Securing our land borders is in order and no measure that will stop the smuggling across our borders should be seen as being too extreme. But the Nigerian public should know the cost of the project and the proposed time frame for its completion as well as the contractors handling it.
Transparency is of essence in this matter. It also requires the collaboration of sister security agencies at the border posts and the cooperation of our neigbouring countries. With the spate of insecurity in the country and the influx of small and light weapons, securing our borders has become necessary. Data from the NIS shows that our land borders are vulnerable and the personnel to man them are grossly inadequate. There are about 1,500 identified land border crossings into Nigeria, but only 114, covering 4,000 square kilometres, have approved control posts manned by immigration officials and other security agencies.
This has serious security implications for Nigeria. Available statistics also reveal that Nigeria has international land borders of about 4,470 km (2,513 miles) with Chad Republic, Cameroon, Benin and Niger and a coastline of 774km which are largely unmanned. Even among the manned borders, some are considered very strategic due to their contribution to our economy. The Seme border, which is one of them, is being perceived as a notorious route for the smuggling of arms and ammunition into the country. There are only 23,000 immigration personnel across the 1,500 identified routes.
Building high fences across the strategic borders is only one step toward checking smuggling of dangerous weapons. Other measures are required to stop the influx of illegal small weapons which have become a disturbing global issue, with an estimated 640 million small arms reported to be circulating globally. The problem is, indeed, an impediment to the socio-economic development of the country, as a sizeable number of these illicit arms are in the hands of militia groups. That puts the security of the country at high risk. It is reported that Nigeria is a source and transit point and, sometimes, destination of trafficked small arms and light weapons. For instance, on September 11, 2017, the NCS intercepted a 20-foot container at the Tin Can Island Port with 1,100 pump-action rifles. A week later, another container was found at the same seaport with 470 pump-action rifles. Also, recovered arms from robbers, terrorist groups, herdsmen and kidnappers have further exposed the magnitude of the problem and the situation is frightening. The challenge, however, is beyond the erecting of walls at the land borders alone.
Government should map out strong measures to stop these arms getting into wrong hands. With the 2019 general election fast approaching, government should deploy a multi-dimensional strategy, improved intelligence gathering, retraining of security personnel and tightening of immigration laws and others to curb it. Not quite long, the Transparency International alleged that smugglers offer bribes to corrupt officials at the nation’s ports to bring weapons into the country and urged for more accountability and transparency to strengthen security in the country.
We align with this advice from the global watchdog and, therefore, urge the NIS and other security agencies to wake up and rise to the challenge. We believe that tightening our land borders will drastically reduce the influx of small arms and light weapons into the country. Government should enter into pacts with other countries to stem the rising menace.