The most difficult task of keeping Nigeria safe and secure is protecting our borders and coastlines; ensuring that people and things we do not want in Nigeria do not enter. What are our Immigration and Customs Services doing to keep our borders and coastlines safe from unwanted intruders and cargos? What are we doing to keep our aviation and transportation systems safe and secure? What are we doing to prevent the U.S-like September 11, 2001 from happening in Nigeria? What about the increasing cases of identity theft?
Nigeria has a total area of 923,768 km2 making it the world's 32nd-largest country. It is comparable in size to Venezuela, and is about twice the size of California. It shares a 4,047 kilometers borders comprising: Benin (773 km), Niger (1497 km), Chad (87 km), Cameroon (1690 km), and has a coastline of at least 853 km. Most parts of this long stretch borderline are unguarded and unmanned. There are over a hundred official and unofficial ports of entry that connect Nigeria to the rest of the world. Each year, more than four million people cross the borders into Nigeria, some three million of whom are noncitizens. Among the millions that cross our porous borders into the country daily, we cannot tell who are the real tourists and who are terrorists as the porosity of the country’s borders continually make it difficult for the borders to curtail influx of illegal aliens and thus posing great challenges to the law enforcement agencies at the borders and national security system?
The late National Security Adviser, Gen. Andrew Azazi vividly described Nigeria as too big for the security agents to secure; an expression of the realities inherent in policing the country’s borders. According to Sam Oluwalana of the National Mirror, “The country’s borders leak like a sieve and the managers are helpless in the face of these adverse developments”. He pointed out that the situation on ground “portends grave danger for the country and its citizens as inter-border crime lords and men of shady characters cross into the country through the porous borders at will and in droves.” These undesirable elements come into Nigeria with a clear-cut mind set, which is to perpetrate crimes, unlash havoc and cause breakdown of law and order.
Emphatically, the presence of these class of unwanted visitors have resulted in an upsurge in criminal activities especially armed robbery, kidnapping, live stock poaching and religious disharmony, as being witnessed presently in northern Nigeria. The Boko Haram sect falls into this category as most of their adherents are from neighboring Chad, Niger and Cameroon. In the words of Oluwalana, “the dreaded Islamic sect, Boko Haram have a lot of their members from neighbouring Niger, Chad and Cameroon”. In the early part of 2012, some suspected Boko Haram members were arrested in Diffa, Niger Republic.Nigeria borders are unmarked, undemarcated, and largely unmanned due to the lack of modern equipment, inadequate manpower, poor funding and logistics by the Nigerian Immigration Service and the Nigeria Police, who are charged with the primary responsibility of securing the borderlines of the country to work with in their quest to make our borders safer. The challenges of demarcation and clear borderlines are more pronounced in northern Nigeria than any other place in the country. Natural phenomena, political inadequacies, and government disregard and corruption also contribute to the sorry state our borders are in. With nearly 60 border posts in the Northern part of the country alone, the Immigration Service that is responsible for the management of the movement of people in and out of the country have less than 300 officers on ground. Patrol vehicles are in short supply and the only patrol boat available is often on and off.
The problem with stopping illegal aliens, especially terrorists from entering Nigeria through the northern borders are the same as those of stopping smugglers in the south-west borders and crude oil theft in the Niger Delta region, a problem that has existed for many years. Our northern borders remain a soft spot in border security. Anybody who wants to move people or cargo over the other side picks a course, any course and just walks across the land since nobody will accost or arrest him because nobody patrols the borders.Success Attracts Enemies
Also, over the years, Nigeria has remained a victim of insecurity with increasing threats emanating from several other factors including her being the giant of Africa and a prominent player in global affairs. Nigeria is also the most populous country in Africa, the seventh most populous country in the world, and the most populous country in the world in which the majority of the population is black. Its oil reserves have brought great revenues to the country. It is listed among the “next eleven” economies, and is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.
Nigeria was also a founding member of the Organization of Africa Unity (now Africa Union), and has tremendous influence in West Africa and Africa on the whole. Nigeria has additionally founded regional cooperative efforts in West Africa, functioning as standard-bearer for the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) and Economic and Military Organization (ECOMOG) respectively.
Mohammed Ali Rezaq
The Federal Government of Nigeria’s cooperation with the FBI in the apprehension of the terrorist hijacker Mohammed Ali Rezaq in Lagos on 15 July, 1993 did not go down well with his sponsors. Rezaq was returned to the United States to stand trial on charges of air piracy for the 1985 hijacking of an Egypt air flight in which 60 people died in Malta.
Nigeria’s committed tough line with regard to military intervention to maintain normalcy in Mali, is another issue of concern to the al Qaeda and its network across the world.
Farouk Abdulmutallab, 25, also wrote Nigeria’s name in the world terrorists’ record by attempting to blow up a United States jumbo passenger jet with 289 people on board on Christmas Day in 2009. He pleaded guilty in a U.S Federal Court in October 2011 of trying to detonate a bomb hidden in his underwear aboard a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit as part of a plot orchestrated by al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
The terrorists’ activities nicknamed “Kano Disturbances” from December 18 to 29, 1980 in which 4, 177 people were killed; 1, 652 families and 656 individuals were displaced; about 10,000 others injured; property worth over 12 billion Naira damaged and the economic life of Kano city completely paralyzed, was masterminded by late Maitatsine alias Muhammadu Marwa Darka. He came from Marwa in the Cameroon Republic. He professed to be a Muslim and Quranic Teacher or Quranic Commentator at the primary stage of his affairs. At the intermediate level, he declared himself a Prophet and caused his students in Kano and other places in northern Nigeria to believe in his new mission.
Nigeria borders with Cameroon, Chad, and Niger divide areas with many cultural, religious, ethnic, and linguistic linkages, and under normal circumstances many people cross back and forth on a frequent basis. The activities of Boko Haram sect have brought attention to the porousness of the nation’s borders and its regional security implications. The Federal Government of Nigeria also imposed a state of emergency in the Northeastern states of Yobe and Borno which included international border closures. The closures dealt a substantial economic impact, hurting agricultural and livestock trade between Nigeria and its neighbors, elevating food prices in Southern Niger town of Diffa, reducing trade to Cameroon and Chad, and contributing to economic devastation in Nigeria cities like Maiduguri, Potiskum, and Bauchi.
Worried about the activities of Nigeria’s Boko Haram and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb the Government of Niger Republic took a step further by announcing its desire to form Joint Border Patrol with Nigeria. As a follow up, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan visited Niamey for the meeting of the High Authority of the Nigeria-Niger Joint Commission for Cooperation. There and then, he and President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger Republic agreed that Joint BorderBut, almost a year after the meeting, the work is still on the drawing board. It is still unclear how the joint border patrols will be implemented. What portions of the borders will be patrolled and by who? What of the organization, funding, equipping, operations and management arrangements for closer border control? The US State Department has also pledged technical assistance proving that the issue of borders goes beyond just Nigeria and Niger. Interests are emerging. Besides, Nigeria shares common boundaries with four other countries: Chad Republic to the North and Cameroon to the east and Republic of Benin in the South- West and a coastline of at least 853 km which calls for proper boundary demarcation, control and management.
The present arrangement whereby the job of patrolling Nigeria land borders are vested in three to four agencies namely; Immigration, Custom, Police and Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps is unhealthy. It is time for the establishment of a single agency to handle the job of border security and inspection so that people entering Nigeria would have to deal with one security agency instead of four. Nigeria has severally moved to establish a National Guards. It is time to actualize the idea of a functional, well equipped and effective National Guards, especially in the face of rising security threatsWe can no longer afford the assumption that everybody that comes into Nigeria is what he or she claims to be. Some are here in the interest of chaos as experience has shown, and we should not be so naïve as to forget that caution is security.
Our border guards should be groomed to properly scrutinize identifications as they should, to prevent those who use false identification to enter Nigeria.Nigerians also have a major role to play regarding knowing their immediate neighbors and neighborhood by reporting illegal aliens in their vicinities to appropriate authorities for urgent actions.
Nigeria has had its fair share of aviation terrorism. On 25 October, 1993, four members of the Movement for the Advancement of Democracy (MAD) in a movie like episode hijacked a Nigerian Airways plane enroute Lagos to Abuja and diverted it to Niamey, Niger Republic.
The activities of Boko Haram should not be likened to that of 1980 Maitatsine. The differences are clear in terms of organization, weapons, membership, funding, affiliations, tactics including targeting and attacking and operations maneuverability. We cannot rule out the possibility of a major air disaster resulting from terrorists’ activities in the near future if the level of Nigeria’s aviation security is not drastically improved as soon as possible.
Our security agents must brace up to know and think like our enemies and must leap forward in intelligence. Understand your enemy’s way of thinking and you will better anticipate his next move and thereby prepare appropriately against it.Our airports are long overdue for modern technology and best practice compliance. A combination of an appropriate sized security force, the right amount of modern equipment, superior training, and appreciative motivations our airports will be safer and secured.
It is also time for our flight crews to be trained in response to emergency situations. Cabin Response Training is counterterrorism training based on the assumption that a terrorist or hijacker can beat the airport security and manages to get on board, and as the jet takes off, he is on the plane. The training teaches flight attendants to take charge and defend their lives and their aircraft at all costs. In addition, by appropriate legislation, pilots in the cockpits should be mandated to carry weapons so as to prevent terrorists from taking over the controls of planes in flight.