‘FG can effectively police the borders with drones’
Dr. Chinye Bone Efoziem is a member of the American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS), a prestigious body for renowned players in the private security corridor in Nigeria and overseas. In this interview with ONYEDIKA AGBEDO, Efoziem, who is the Managing Director of Strict Guards Security Limited, says the solution to Nigeria’s porous borders lies in effective collaboration between security agencies
Nigerians are agitated over the influx of foreigners into the country amid rising insecurity. Are you also alarmed?
First and foremost, you cannot talk about the influx of foreigners into the country without asking what route they are coming in from. If you go to the U.S., President Donald Trump was able to identify that he has problems with people coming in from Mexico.
In the Nigerian case, officially, they presume that we have about 744 border points. Now, the question would be what is the strength of the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), when you talk about physically manning the borders. The other question would be what has the government done, having identified the route the influx of foreigners can be linked to. So, I think the major problem is that we have very porous borders with our neighbouring countries, which are either not manned or are poorly manned.
Now, the foreigners as individuals are no problems to Nigeria. It is their access to arms and ammunition that makes them a threat to national security. What has the Federal Government done about this?
I will tell you that the proliferation of small arms in this country like every other African country has become the major threat to national security not the population of foreigners. So, if the foreigners are in Nigeria and they are not bearing firearms, the police alone can deal with the situation. But as it is today, we have a situation where herdsmen are bearing firearms; Boko Haram are bearing firearms; kidnappers and armed robbers are also bearing firearms. These are small arms and these things are coming in from identified border points. So, it’s not just saying that you sent 200 Immigration officers to work at a particular border point. But what are they looking for. First, they are not well-trained; secondly they are ill-equipped.
On the other aspect, in places that are even manned, the issue of corruption comes in. Today, you hear that the Federal Operations Unit of the Nigerian Customs intercepted a container at Oshodi loaded with arms and ammunition. That same container was cleared from Apapa Wharf. How did it pass through all the security checks at the Wharf that it takes a tip-off for Federal Operations to go after that vehicle?
Based on your knowledge of security issues, which of the country’s borders poses these threats to Nigeria?
The problem Nigeria has had comes from Chad and Niger. People also talk of Togo and Cameroon but their own problems are not so pronounced. We could have challenges with Cameroon on the northern border, which stretches as afar as Adamawa State. But the problem with Niger and Chad are more because we do not have any way of differentiating our own people from their people. The Fulani inhabits most border towns in Nigeria; across the other side in Niger and Chad, you also see the same Fulani in the neighbouring towns. So, people could live across or move back to other countries without hitches.
Also, before 1958 or thereabout we had the National Council for Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC). That amalgamation, if I will use that word, made so many people who are originally non-Nigerians to become Nigerians. These people are predominantly Fulani. So, they have their people here in Nigeria and their families domiciled in Cameroon. If you want to stop the movement of people, where do you think they belong? These are people who can conveniently come into Nigeria, register as Nigerians, vote during elections and also go back to Cameroon and register as Cameroonians. Have you also not seen Togolese that come into Nigeria and claimed that they are Egun? And if you trace their root, you will discover that they have lineage there. So, you cannot do much about that except our borders are properly manned.
I have travelled to the U.S. and seen what homeland security is all about. Let me state clearly that until there is a combination of diverse layers of security at our border points, we won’t have security at our borders.
What can be done to enable these diverse layers of security in the country to be able to differentiate between bonafide Nigerians and illegal immigrants at our borders?
An average Nigerian had overlooked the fact that all security segments in Nigeria do not have exactly the same responsibilities. While the Armed Forces have the responsibility to protect the territorial security of Nigeria, the Nigerian Police has predominantly internal security functions. The Immigration Service is charged with the responsibility to regulate movement in and out of this country and the documentation of those who either come in or go out. The State Security Service has the duty for intelligence gathering and then pass on such information to other arms of security that will need them on the basis of the rule of intelligence gathering, which is the right to know and the need to know. So, the intelligence they gather is not for everybody’s consumption; it is for those who have the right to know and the need to know.
So, when we are talking about our borders, the question is how have we used our covert security services?
Have we used them effectively to gather information such as identifying the route illegal immigrants take to enter the country and what should be done to deal with the problem? Who is supposed to use that information? Is it for the Army, Police or Immigration? And then pass the information when it is still valid.
So, I think Nigerians should as a matter of fact begin to see the issue of security to have gone beyond what only the government can do now because they have allowed failures to linger for a long time. Now it has become everybody’s responsibility.
Do you see the ECOWAS treaty to which Nigeria is a signatory as a factor contributing to the porosity of Nigeria’s borders?
ECOWAS treaty has limits. If the ECOWAS treaty allows free movement of citizens from member states, does it allow free movement of arms and ammunition? It doesn’t! Does it also allow movement of groups? No, it allows the movement of individuals with legitimate business. I’m sure that if you study the treaty, you will find out that there must be a legitimate business for which you are leaving Nigeria to go to Ghana or Togo. So, in a situation you have no legitimate business crossing from your home country to another country, the treaty does not guarantee such movement.
The treaty does not also permit you to carry such items that a country prohibits. Prior to the time the Executive Order on the ban of licensed firearms and all that was issued, there were firearms that were called prohibited firearms and licensable firearms in Nigeria. If you are bearing a firearm that is licensed, you should be able to answer the security agencies whether the license is from the Nigerian government or from the Beninoise government. If you are bearing a firearm that was licensed in the Republic of Benin, why bring it to Nigeria? You have no business bringing it to Nigeria; take it back to Benin. If you are carrying a firearm that is prohibited in Nigeria outright, the ECOWAS treaty could permit you to come into Nigeria but will it permit you to carry that firearm? You can’t! So, you have to go and drop your firearm and then come in.
People say that Fulani herdsmen came in from Sudan, Niger Republic and all that. The Fulani we have always known are the ones that carry stick. If it were sticks they are using to attack people today, you will say it is the herdsmen who rear cattle. Will they be threat to Nigeria? They will not. So, why people are talking about the threat these people pose to the nation is because they are bearing sophisticated and prohibited firearms.
How did they come into the country?
You see, one of the cheapest ways to run Nigeria’s border security is to go the drone way; unmanned area vehicles with several control posts and quick response teams here and there such that as soon as they pick images that are suspicious, the intervention unit is dispatched to go and find out what is happening there. And these drones will work whether it is day or night. The cost of maintaining a unit of the Immigration Service will keep the number of drones that will monitor half of Nigerian borders. So, it is not the issue of money; it’s either the issue of lack of knowledge or lack of will to do the right things.
What is your take on the Migrant E-Registration and Data Processing scheme recently launched by the Federal Government?
Now, I will want to ask: Does it take residing in a place for six months to commit crime? If you want to commit crime in an area, you don’t need to be known in the area before you commit it. So, if you give six months for illegal immigrants to register, these same people could commit the crime they want to commit, then go out and come in, in a guerilla manner. So, it’s going to be a hit and run kind of attack. Registration yes, but what is going to follow the registration. The priority should not be to register the illegal immigrants; the priority should be to put a check to the influx of people into the country.
If you are able to lock up your borders so that it’s only people you allow to come that will come in, that is when you begin to talk about registering those who are already inside. If the borders remain very porous, there is never a time any government will say ‘if we see you on the streets we will arrest you’ in a country like Nigeria, which is part of the ECOWAS treaty that permits non-Nigerians from member states to come into Nigeria for a period of 90 days.
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