Nigeria’s Border Closure and National Security by Alex Ekemenah

Executive Summary

Our research yielded no specific evidence to show that the border closure has impacted positively in any fundamental way on national security – contrary to the claims by the federal government and certain section of the media. The claims of the government stand logic on its head. Media reportage on the positive effects of the border closure on national security is also not borne out in-depth investigations.

The overall effects of the border closure are mostly felt on the economic plane especially in the Southwestern part of the country where there are least security concerns. There have been no reports of large-scale arms seizure or arrest of individuals involved in criminal activities bordering on national security since the borders were closed.

On the contrary, insecurity has not abated in the Northern part of the country where for instance, Boko Haram attacks are still almost a daily occurrence, where it is been reported that the effects of the border closure has been negligible.


The main goal of the border closure was to curb the activities of smugglers of goods across the nation’s borders. Southwest border bordering Republic of Benin was the main focus of this border closure exercise as it is considered the main transit point for more than half of all the smuggled goods into Nigeria. Smuggling of goods across the national borders is not a new phenomenon in Nigeria as it has been part and parcel of the evolution of the Nigerian political economy over the decades.

The interesting point here is that no government since 1999 (if not before then) until now has ever taken any serious proactive measure to curb the phenomenon. It is for this reason that Buhari administration is commended for taking this action at all, in the first instance, and secondly, for exposing the rot in the very institutions statutorily saddled with the responsibility for protecting the nation’s borders against smugglers and other foreign criminals that could threaten our vital national security interests.

The public criticisms that trailed the closure are not unconnected with the vested interests of humongous material and financial benefits that might have been derived by various smuggling syndicates that have been involved and left unchecked over the years. This should be clinically isolated from the critical elements involved in the border closure. But this in itself points directly to the failure of the nation’s political leadership to adopt and sustain national economic policy and strategy that specifically outlaw smuggling.

At the national security level, it also means that first, there has been no durable national border protection framework that specifically outlaws smuggling as an economic counter-measure that hurt the national economy, and secondly, there is also no national security policy/strategy that embraces national border protection framework to outlaw external agent provocateurs or foreign spies from having free movement into the country.

Thus, it can be said without fear or favour that the failure of national border security (where it exists), law and order has been preponderantly overwhelming, condemnable as far as the overall national security is concerned. But this failure cannot be laid at the doorsteps of Buhari administration since the historicity of this failure can be traced back several decades.

Waking up from lethargy It was in August 2019 that President Muhammadu Buhari first ordered the closure of the borders to curb the growing menace of smuggling that was adjudged to be hurting the national economy especially local rice and poultry farmers who are not able to compete favourably with imported rice, poultry and other goods and services from all corners of the world through the national borders especially the Southwest borders.

Also added to the list of economic concerns is the alleged smuggling of petroleum products across the borders from other Western African countries into Nigeria which add a critical financial burden on fuel subsidy, as the argument goes. The border closure kicked off on August 20, 2019. The exercise was reported in the media to being coordinated by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), and is aimed at better securing the borders in order to strengthen the economy and address other trans-border security concerns. It was also an inter-agency security operation involving the Nigerian Customs Service, and Nigerian Immigration Service, in collaboration with the Armed Forces of Nigeria (AFN), as well as the Nigeria Police Force, and other security and intelligence agencies. The operation is code-named ‘EX-SWIFT RESPONSE’ and is being carried out in the four geopolitical zones of the country.

But it is not known whether Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON) are directly or indirectly involved in the exercise or not since their names were not mentioned in the various media reports examined in this research. What can be considered the second phase of the border closure took off in October. “All goods, for now, are banned from being exported or imported through our land borders and that is to ensure we have total control over what comes in,” according to the Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Customs Services, Hameed Ali, while addressing journalists in Abuja in October. Government officials were seen falling over each other in the attempt to justify the border closure.

Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Hajiya Zainab Ahmed, said: “Nigeria’s decision to close its borders is aimed at preventing weapons and drugs from entering the country and not just to stop food smuggling.” It is interesting to note the different perspectives where individual government officials were speaking from.

For instance, in the two statements quoted above, the Comptroller-General of Customs was speaking from the merchandise point of view while the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning was speaking from the security standpoint. Meanwhile, nothing concrete can be heard from the very coordinator of the entire border closure exercise, the National Security Adviser!

Thus the border closure was a unilateral decision taken by the Nigerian Government i.e. without consultation with the affected neighbouring countries, and also without having examined first all the legal frameworks and trade protocols governing the exchange of goods and services among ECOWAS countries that are mostly affected by the border closure. It was being done in a manner to show to the world that it is a regional hegemon capable of bullying its neighbours.

Nigeria’s unilateral action comes two months after it reluctantly signed the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which aims to remove barriers to trade and promote the free flow of goods, services and people across the continent. Why the sudden policy somersault with the border closure? In closing the borders, the Nigerian Government argued that her Western African neighbours have never complied with the all the trade protocols and other legal instruments both for economic and security matters.

But what has happened to the enforcement regime so far? Who is to be blamed: the Nigerian Government that has never really sought for enforcement of anything or the Western African neighbours who see the non-enforcement of appropriate legal instruments as an advantage to be exploited in their own national economic interests? (For more details on the asymmetric economic relationships between Nigeria and her neighbours, see Stephen Golub, Ahmadou Aly Mbaye and Christina Golubski: “The Effects of Nigeria’s Closed Borders on Informal Trade with Benin” October 29, 2019 content=78710124)

Nigeria perhaps has one of the most porous borders in the world. This is legendary in the context of various governments and power blocs that have traipsed in and out of national corridor of power since 1960 to date. It is thus wonderful that the Nigerian Government is just waking up to this realization.

Incontrovertibly, the closure is taking place at late hour in the day after so much unquantifiable harm has been done to the fabric of the national economy, security, and psyche of the citizens. It is often said “it is better late than never”. In this context, it can be argued that the decision to close the borders is a right step in the right direction taken after prolonged suffering as a result of our porous national borders. But as is often the case, as empirical evidences have shown in the past, a step in the so-called “right direction” may lead to several steps backward if the right policy framework or strategy is not put in place to prevent relapsing into the old “business-as-usual” mode.

Our own research indicates that Nigeria may suffer this “business-as-usual” dirigisme especially when the closure is not situated within the context of a national economic or security framework or model. The border closure is an ad-hoc measure being taken as an emergency response to shrinking revenue base for the Federal Government. The situation as it is (as at the time of writing) is still very fluid. It is ongoing and unfolding other elements previously not taken into consideration. The closure will last till January 31, 2020.

After this terminal date, what next? Back to business as usual? What are the strategic policy frameworks being put in place while the exercise is still on to ensure that any good and service coming through the national borders now do so henceforth within the established legal framework or new one that may be established before the terminal date of the exercise?

Overall, is there any evidence anywhere to show that the Nigerian Government has the force of will to sustain over a long period the necessary framework for sanity to prevail along the national borders beyond the current public euphoria? What are the fundamental lessons (economic and security) that have been learnt so far over this border closure?

There are also the counterfactual arguments to the effect that the border closure has hurt the economies of her neighbours because of the fact that Nigeria is the largest economy in the West African region. These arguments are not valid. While it is true that the Nigeria is the largest economy on the West African coast, this does not automatically translate her to a dumping ground of all smuggled goods from all corners of the world.

Nigeria has no comparative advantage in being the largest economy in relation to her neigbours. Consumption rate in Nigeria is high in relation to her demographic size and strength – but this is to the disadvantage of her manufacturing and productive strength that has been largely eroded by the ease with which goods and services are smuggled into Nigeria due to the failure of the institutions saddled with the responsibility of protect our borders against such malfeasance as smuggling.

Thus, Nigeria may be justified in standing up to her neighbours, for the first time ever, with the border closure to correct this historical anomaly that has now translated into economic injustice or woe for Nigeria. Nigeria has been negotiating with her affected neighbours to resolve all extant issues and points of disagreement. The negotiation has so far been reported to be deadlocked.

However the deadlock may be broken at any time to finally arrive at new understandings and corollary agreements. Significance of the Southwest borders While the border closure is national in scope, the main focus is on the Southwest borders. Not much is known or said of the borders superjacent to Cameroon, Niger and Chad republics, on the other hand, as not much has been written on the effects of the closure in those places. The focus is hardly there either as a result of poor planning or political considerations.

Yet these are the very borders from where national security is most threatened because of Boko Haram insurgency raging along these borders. The main economic issue of concern over the border closure is massive smuggling of rice and other commodities especially along the Southwestern borders.

But nobody has reported any major security breach that threatens national security along the southwestern borders. President Muhammadu Buhari lends credence to the significance of the southwest borders when he said that “the limited closure of the country’s western border was to allow Nigeria’s security forces to develop a strategy on how to stem the dangerous trend and its wider ramifications”.

However, nobody has been able to interpret correctly what President Buhari might have meant with his statement. It is rather difficult to interpret literally while the political connotations might be seen to be far-fetched. It was reported that “the restriction at Seme followed the joint border security exercise ordered by the government and aimed at securing Nigeria’s land and maritime borders”.

The two major issues concerning national security are the alleged influx of illegal immigrants and the smuggling of arms and ammunitions across the borders including dangerous drugs and substances capable of eroding the health of the citizens when consumed without medical prescriptions. While these are general statement of facts, they are not particular.

The Federal Government did not show us the particular elements of these phenomena that threaten national security. For instance, Federal Government did not show us the particular places in our national borders prone to influx of illegal immigrants. Neither has it shown us which particular drugs and other dangerous substances that are being smuggled into the country that threatens the health of Nigerian citizens.

Thus the particulars of Federal Government’s statements concerning national security remain very unclear and thus difficult to locate in the broad spectrum of threats to national security especially when they are elevated to the security level of national concern.

Dancing in the Sky The border closure throws up a very interesting scenario in the realm of thought and epistemology concerning national security both as a concept and methopraxy. That the borders were ordered closed denote a condition of hitherto porous borders i.e. borders thrown widely opened for all manners of foreigners to do whatever they like in our territory.

The consequence is that Nigeria may not have had a defined territory in practice except on paper. The geographical expression of the space called Nigeria probably does not exist except as a figure of speech because of the unthinkable insane criminal negligence of government over the years to define the nation’s national borders in practice. It is this negligence that partly explains the various border disputes that Nigeria has had with Cameroon over Bakassi Peninsula and with Chad over Lake Chad Basin in the past.

President Muhammadu Buhari was quoted to have said that “the limited closure of the country’s western border was to allow Nigeria’s security forces to develop a strategy on how to stem the dangerous trend and its wider ramifications”. (Nigeria-Benin border closed to curb smuggling —Buhari, August 8, 2019 What exactly are these “dangerous trend and its wider ramifications” are not defined or known. They are not known to be based on any set of actionable strategic intelligence. And if they are, one would then like to know the analytical parameters used to arrive at the strategic conclusions.

There are uses and also the danger of misuse of such strategic intelligence. “When intelligence analysts become victims of such a political fixation, the entire system of intelligence and policy becomes corrupted and weakens” (International Policy Report: “Uses and Misuses of Strategic Intelligence”, January 2004, A Publication of the Center for International Policy).

While the strategic value of the border closure can be placed in the context of the attempt to protect national economy from those identifiable factors and forces that threaten it, this is not the same in the context of national security. Indeed, the contrary is the case i.e. that what threatens the national economy and security can be located more within the country rather than from outside the country (through the national borders). There is also the reference to the southwestern borders.

Why this particular historio-graphic reference to the western border of the country? Thus it is very difficult to understand the theoretical underpinnings of the border closure and what is its ultimate goal. Why this is so is due to the fact that the emergent thinking (securitization of the national borders) is not based on any coherent national security epistemology, at least from the federal government standpoint.

This is worrisome because, first, one do not know the security quarters where the thinking emanated from so as to properly pigeon-hole its locus. While the exercise is being coordinated by the Office of National Security Adviser (ONSA), it is not known whether the thinking actually emanated from that office. This is because the ONSA has been largely believed publicly to have been very docile in the general scheme of national efforts at curbing the growing insecurities in the country especially since Buhari administration emerged in 2015.

If the thinking emanated from ONSA then there is the legitimate question as whether it was motivated by economic nationalism or merely meant to making the ONSA relevant in the general scheme of national security politicking in view of its increasing isolation from this general scheme in the last few years. If it is a product of economic nationalism, the question then is: what is the business of the ONSA in economic matters? Is that part of its mandate? On the administrative side, the involvement of the ONSA as the coordinator of the exercise also speaks volume and it specifically gives us an insight into the silent struggles within the national security bureaucracy. First, it only tells us that the nation cannot afford to have a docile NSA in these turbulent times. It is not enough for an NSA to ensconce himself in the office, shuffling papers and sipping tea, or to even attend conferences or send representatives to make those platitude or homilic speeches.

It is not enough to sit down in office and be granting licences for bullet-proof vehicles for government officials and/or private citizens. The role of the NSA is much more than this sort of daily routines. It is more crucial for security and survival of the nation as a sovereign entity. In his daily briefings and periodic reports to the President and Commander-in-Chief, he overviews the entire security architecture of the nation, collection and collation of vital intelligence strands and analysis of the imports of the information on the table; and make appropriate policy recommendation to the President who approve such for execution.

But a docile NSA would sit in office, sipping tea while rats of insecurity run all over the place tearing apart the fabrics of society. In short, the NSA must roll up his sleeves with boots on ground! As the engine room of the ONSA is the Joint Intelligence Board where decisions are taken as to what to present to the President for his attention and action. But there is a fundamental problem here. The JIB is not representative of national security interests. This is because the current national security architecture is preponderantly dominated by a particular section of the country. This fact cannot be wished away. It cannot be glossed over.

Currently, out of 17 security agencies we have in the country, 15 are headed by people of Northern extraction while only 2 are from elsewhere. This situation cannot be said to be representative of aggregate national security interests. This is part of the fundamental flaw in the national security architecture under Buhari administration which must be courageously acknowledged which does not speak well of his acclaimed integrity. Also worrisome is the fact that the epistemology of securitization of the national borders does not capture the full trend or broad spectrum of national security crisis that the country has been facing in the last two decades or thereabout till date.

This is because the porous borders that have at any rate become characteristic of our national insecurity are not the major drivers or triggers of national security crisis that the country has been facing so far. Our epochal porous national borders are only part of the full spectrum of the nation’s security crisis. The major drivers and triggers are indeed located within the country and not outside it as such.

We must have this scientific understanding before embarking on any exercise allegedly aimed at combating the increasing insecurities that are now threatening the very fabric of national unity. There is this growing fixation within the national security circles with national borders and the corollary illegal immigrants as been mainly responsible for the nation’s security woes. Just few months back (September 15, 2019, to be precise) the Nigerian Army announced that it would embark on a nation-wide exercise called Operation Positive Identification to flush out bandits, kidnappers, armed robbers, ethnic militias, cattle rustlers, as well as other sundry criminals across the various parts of the country including illegal immigrants. In the hailstorms of public criticisms of the exercise, the operation ran into a bind alley.

Consequently, nothing was heard of it anymore. Now another song is being sung about national borders and illegal immigrants under the guise of border closure. Indeed to talk of “national security” as a concept in a situation of historic porous national borders is self-contradiction and/or oxymoron essentially because a secured national border (from land, territorial waters and airspace) is a precondition for national security both as a philosophical and physical concept.

What this means is that Nigeria may not have had a philosophy of security or philosophical basis for its national security as a normative concept over the arch of time and space and upon which this border closure is anchored, tragic as this may seem or sound. It is this historic philosophical lacunae that explains the code-name give to the border closure: “EX-SWIFT RESPONSE” which vividly tells us the mental terrain or topography (including the mental wave-length or frequency) that our political leaders and national security practitioners are operating from.

Here we see a cloudy mental terrain or rugged topography in which no one is sure of the soundness of security navigational equipment being deployed. “EX-SWIFT RESPONSE” is a nebulous code-name given as a result of confusion about the main object of the exercise if it means anything at all. This is partly why the exercise has no wide support. What has rather happened is that Buhari administration has merely deployed the instrument of State coercion and violence (i.e. the security agencies) in an ad-hoc manner to barrel its way through, bully everybody and force its own version of the explanations down the throats of the citizens including other neighbouring countries that have become affected by the border closure.

This is why in the long run the border closure would be an exercise in futility after its terminal date of January 31, 2020, which would allow a revert back to the status quo ante of the hitherto porous border. Government has not evinced the full force of will (except with the expression of stubbornness) to sustain the closure which is why it has a terminal date in the first instance.

There is no orientation campaign to show that there are both national economic and security needs to sustain the border closure as an expression of national willingness to do what is necessary to protect our national economic and security interests irrespective of whatever anybody might wish to say in opposition or criticism. Even though government has been negotiating with neighbouring countries and internal stakeholders for reopening of the borders (for respect and compliance with relevant statutory instruments e.g. ECOWAS Protocol on Transit of Goods and Services, the Rule of Origin, etc), it is not certain how these will help resolve our national security problems especially where the major security treaties and protocols with the same neighbouring countries have not done so over the years.

Purported Achievements of the Border Closure So flowing from the above faulty theoretical premises, when the Federal Government and its officials started claiming from the rooftops with megaphones in their mouths that the border closure has achieved measurable national security stability, one is naturally worried and has the right to question these claims. On the economic plane, the border closure was nothing more than a result of the hard times the national economy has been going through in the last few years. For instance, the National Industrial Revolution Plan adopted in January 2014 and taken over by the current government has been a resounding failure at its terminal date this month, December 2019. The current Economic Recovery and Growth Plan also adopted in 2017 at the wake of national economic recession will also come to its terminal date in 2020 without having achieved anything concrete with it so far.

The border closure falls neatly into the visible pattern of the frantic efforts being made by Buhari administration by running from one pillar to another pole to generate more revenue for its everincreasing expenses without proper accountability so far. For instance, VAT rate was jacked up from 5.2 to 7 per cent few months ago; there is also the renewed effort at collecting more taxes by FIRS using Tax Identification Number to force all bank customers to pay taxes, etc.

According to a media report, the Federal Government foreclosed re-opening of the nation’s borders, saying 95 per cent of arms and ammunition inflow to Boko Haram, kidnappers, killer herdsmen and bandits has gone down considerably. The report also said about 296 illegal immigrants had so far been arrested. He explained that the decision to close the borders was taken to secure the country which had been confronted by numerous trans-border economic and security challenges from economic and security sabotage.

The Minister of Information and Communications, Alhaji Lai Mohammed said: “Overtime, Nigeria has been confronted with numerous trans-border economic and security challenges. These challenges range from banditry, kidnapping, smuggling, illegal migrants and proliferation of light weapons, among others. (“Nigeria: Why Land Borders Will Remain Closed – Govt”, 26 November 2019

In the area of security, Mohammed said the ongoing exercise has recorded a number of seizures and arrests that would have had grave security consequences. Mohammed was further quoted to have said: “It is important to note that 95 per cent of illicit drugs and weapons that are being used for acts of terrorism and kidnapping in Nigeria today come in through our porous borders. However, since this partial closure, the acts have been drastically reduced. Our conclusion is that the arms and ammunition these terrorists and criminal elements were using no longer gain access into the country.

In addition, the drugs which affect the health and well being of Nigerians have equally been reduced.” (Ibid) One cannot be surprised at the facile content of these claims upon closer examination. Government officials claimed that the incidences of kidnapping and herdsmen attacks have been reduced as a result of the border closure. Nothing can be further from the truth. These claims were being made at a time when year is coming to an end. And it is well known that criminal activities often spike up during yuletide in form of seasonal cycles of criminal activities. Government’s claims do not square up with this spike in seasonal cycles of criminal activities.

Close watchers of national security scene have not fail to notice that, for instance, herdsmen attacks have largely abated in the last few months before the federal government ordered the closure of the national borders. That abatement is still going on before the border closure. The reduction of the herdsmen attacks was definitely not as a result of the border closure. Government officials are making specious claims, indeed a very clever way of claiming an achievement where there is none. So also is kidnapping. The border closure contributed nothing in these instances.

Government officials also claimed that drug smuggling across the borders has significantly reduced. This may be true given the reported volume of drugs seized in the course of the exercise so far. But NDLEA has not confirmed this claim as the main statutory body charged with the responsibility of ensuring the safety of the citizens from harmful effects of illegal drugs and substances either manufactured within the country or imported/smuggled. Nobody knows where this reverse thinking is actually coming from.

This claim has no validity. Drug smuggling into Nigeria across the nation’s borders is not a considered national security threat. It lies more in the area of human security, like child trafficking, infant and maternal mortality or prostitution. Rather, most of the drug and substance abuse within the country are generated from within the country such as Tramadol, codeine, and other substances being abused and consumed in large quantity especially in the Northern part of the country.

In actual fact, these drugs and substances are being smuggled outside the country for which many culprits have been caught in the recent past – contrary to the claim that these substances are being smuggled into the country. Government also claimed that its security agents have impounded fertilizers being used as explosives.

Security watchers have also not failed to notice that the incidence of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and actual bomb explosions has significantly reduced in the last two or three years primarily as a result of Boko Haram insurgency deviating or departing from using IEDs as a methodology of terror campaign or warfare. So the virtual disappearance of explosions and the reduction of the materials needed to couple these explosive devices together could not have been as a result of the few bags of fertilizers impounded by the patrol teams in the ongoing border closure exercise.

The fertilizers so impounded might have been meant for other purposes not properly investigated by the security agencies. It is presumptuous to assume that the destination of the fertilizers were terrorists and the so-called other criminal elements or they were meant to be used as parts of the materials for making explosives.

Where are the confessional statements by the arrested smugglers of these fertilizers? Nothing remotely connected with grave national security problems can therefore be said to have been achieved since the borders were closed. This is why the claims by government officials that security and safety has been achieved at the national borders based on the closure can be considered imaginary or hypothetical.

The totality of whatever government is claiming to have achieved in this regard cannot be considered as a grave threat to national security. Government is merely blowing trumpets to justify the hastily-organized border closure exercise amidst visible declining of popular support for the administration. There have been no physical evidences to back up the various spurious claims.

No seizure of arms and ammunitions caches as a result of the border closure has been reported in the media. It is government that is reporting it without showing anything so captured. This is more so because smuggling of arms or proliferation of small and medium weapons across the border is not an everyday occurrence or activity unlike smuggling of rice or frozen chickens which is a regular affair at the nation’s borders.

There have been several videos circulated on social media platforms showing smuggling activities using various means such as motor bikes and vehicles not to talk of the high seas and creeks. And right under the very noses of security agents! And it would be a sheer folly for arms smugglers to embark on their nefarious activity precisely when the borders were closed or under heavy monitoring and patrol by security forces.

What is the corpus and substance of actionable intelligence about the threats from illegal immigrants that form part of the rationale for the border closure exercise? How many of the allegedly arrested illegal foreign immigrants are considered spies and therefore threat to national security and in what specific areas of national security? If arms and ammunitions have been impounded, where did they originate from since they were not manufactured in any of the West African countries? What types of arms and ammunitions were involved? Where were the 296 illegal immigrants actually or precisely arrested? Where were they kept after arrest?

Have their home governments been informed? What is the Federal Government planning to do with them: deport them back to their home countries or prosecute them in Nigerian courts? If they are to be prosecuted and found guilty as charged of illegally crossing our boundaries without valid travelling documents, what then would be their fate: sentence them to prison terms or send them back to their countries of origin?

Contrary to Alhaji Lai Mohammed’s claims (suppra) most of the security incidences that have happened in recent times have very little to do with our porous borders. The motives, drivers/vectors and triggers are within the country. The arms and ammunitions being used by Boko Haram, ISWAP insurgents, killer herdsmen, various ethnic constabulary forces or militants/separatists and various shades of criminal elements are mostly obtained from within the country.

There has been no preponderance of evidences to show that these arms and ammunitions are smuggled from outside the country across the borders. Yes. Of course, there is no doubt that some of them are smuggled into the country – but only SOME of them, and NOT the majority. It is also not ruled out that foreign countries and/or international non-state actors might have been involved in the security crisis the country has been facing for the past one decade now especially in connection with Boko Haram and/or ISWAP. Indeed, Boko Haram has been known at various times to be affiliated with Al Qae’da, ISIS, etc.

In the social media, accusing fingers have been pointed in various directions. In all these, however, it is the primary duties of the national security and intelligence agencies to expose all the hidden connections and take appropriate measures to block, disrupt and/or contain all the hidden connections.

This, they have not been able to do either because they have no actionable intelligence to this effect or they are cowards, or constrained by international geo-strategic considerations in which case the Federal Government as a whole does not want to be seen offending foreign powers that might have been involved in such dastardly acts.

According to the Nigeria Security Intelligence Report by Halogen Group, the foremost private security firm in Nigeria, for the month of November 2019: ➢ 287 security incidents were recorded that resulting in 455 deaths of both perpetrators and victims. 679 arrests were made by security agencies in relation to these crimes.

➢ Kidnapping and Auto crashes are the leading threats in the month of November. Both account for 36% of total incidents.

➢ The military neutralized 130 Boko Haram insurgents and made 61 arrests. The insurgent group claimed the lives of 44 victims in November.

➢ 82 people were kidnapped pan Nigeria in November. Figures are 46% above reported cases in November 2019.

➢ Borno, Zamfara and Kaduna recorded the highest threats induced deaths at 172, 75 and 31 constituting 61% of cumulative deaths.

➢ 107 lives were lost to banditry related activities constituting 23% of deaths.

➢ Most arrests were made in the North West and North Central regions at 195 and 137 respectively. Source: Halogen Group, 2019 Source: Halogen Group, 2019.

The above is a visual map informed by Halogen’s risks profiling, using data from its nationwide operations for the past six months; June – November 2019. Red covers Borno, Yobe, Taraba, Adamawa and Zamfara which from all reports available lack close monitoring during the border closure while Amber are medium risk areas where the border closure has received little or no monitoring at all.

Green is the low risk areas strangely where the border closure has received the highest scrutiny. Newspapers’ reports on December 28, 2019 show Islamic State of West African Province (ISWAP), a faction of the mainstream Boko Haram insurgents beheaded 10 Christians – showing clearly that the edifice of arguments erected on national border closure stands on a very flimsy foundation.

Finally, a closer look at the taxonomic structure or check-list of hat the Federal Government claimed to have achieved, it would not escape the notice of the observer that there have been no detailed reports of individual smugglers arrested in the course of the exercise so far.

There were also no reports of shootouts between security agents and smugglers – an event that occurs fairly regularly before the border closure. This lack of such details speak volume because it would lead the public directly to the unveiling the various syndicates and/or mafia and the paymasters behind the smuggling activities in the country. There have no report of critical interrogation of whoever might have been arrested.

All the public has been inundated with are reports of good seized, arrested or impounded – but not the actual criminals. Again, the country is faced with the dilemma of wanting to eat omelet without breaking the egg! What has hitherto been the case was that the individual smugglers are mostly errand boys for the powerful individuals and businessmen including powerful political actors in the country who however remain faceless or anonymous.

But without doubt, the border closure exercise has actually upset the applecart of the smuggling activities in the country, at least, if only a temporary basis. All sort of criminalities that have their roots in the porous national borders have been temporarily halted. The situation is analogous to choosing evidences to suit one’s preferred preconceived narratives.

There are simply no logics in the outlandish claims by government officials in respect of national security. A Hegemon with Achilles Heel The border closure has blown off the lid of can of cankerworms and maggots that have come to infest the management and administration of border security over the years. It has also exposed the mental vacuity in which the national security officialdom is operating.

The first of this calamity is the failure of institutions and administrative bodies saddled with the statutory responsibilities for securing the nation’s borders. It is a failure of highest order. And in this simulacra of failure leapt forth the Nigerian Customs Service, Nigerian Immigration Service, the Nigerian Ports Authority, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency to the foreground.

What is so irksome about this failure is the tragic inability to hold anybody directly responsible for this failure. Nobody has ever been indicted and charged for this criminal failure. The border closure has revealed the institutional weaknesses of our security and quasi-security agencies, weaknesses that have been responsible for the failure to discharge their statutory responsible expected of them.

Their rigidities and venalities have finally been exposed by the border closure itself. Indeed, it may be said that Nigeria has been largely lucky to be surrounded by countries that are militarily weak themselves. Otherwise, the situation would have been more worrisome if not dangerous. If Nigeria was to be invaded from across any point in our borders, the situation would have been a huge disappointment as most of these institutions if not all would have been completely clueless and helpless in preventing such an invasion since their rigidities and venalities have completely blinded and weakened them beyond redemption.

Government officials neatly side-stepped this aspect! These institutions and administrative bodies were never asked questions as to why our national borders have become so porous over the years that emergency measures such as border closure have to be undertaken for sanity to prevail along the national borders, and what might have been responsible for this massive failure.

If the various institutions and administrative bodies have been doing their duties as expected of them, then there would have been no need for this ad-hoc emergency measure of border closure and all the corollary ill-feelings generated as a result of it.

The very institutions and administrative bodies responsible for this massive failure are the same seen running helter-skelter to carry out the order of the President on the border closure. It is a perfidy of the highest order. The scapegoats or guinea pigs are unfortunately few illegal immigrants allegedly arrested and few bags of fertilizers impounded so far.

There is no actionable intelligence to the effect these illegal immigrants constitute a direct threat to our national security or can be so considered – but most probable they are people looking for greener pastures in Nigeria. Nobody also knows what has happened to these hapless lots: deportation back to their countries of origin or prosecution in the Nigerian law courts.

But if illegal immigrants have been having leeway to enter Nigeria, the Nigeria Immigration Service should be held responsible, the same way that Nigeria Custom Service should also be held responsible for the ease with which goods and services are smuggled into the country. Most tragic here is the lack of readiness of the Federal Government to address these two important bodies with the aim of reforming them to better position them for enhanced performance expected of such critical bodies.

While government officials were railing against so-called illegal immigrants, President Muhammadu Buhari, in what has been considered as another controversial move, announced a policy shift in issuance of visas to African nationals wishing to come to Nigeria. President Buhari announced that visas would now be issued on arrival in Nigeria – rather than securing such visas from Nigerian Embassies or Consulates in other African countries.

The new policy would most probable take effect from January 2020 precisely when the border closure is expected to come to an end. President Buhari made this announcement while attending a peace and development summit in Egypt in mid-December.

According to Quartz Africa “Nigeria’s relaxed visa rules come with a tinge of irony at this time as while Africa’s largest economy is looking to open its skies to all Africans, its land borders remain controversially remain closed—a move the government claims is targeted at stopping the influx of smuggled goods” (“Nigeria’s president Buhari promises visas on arrival for all African visitors in 2020,

Nobody knows how the Nigeria Immigration Service would be able to cope with the expected influx of the various African nationals into Nigeria – in a situation where its institutional capacity has been called to question. With this new policy posture, the danger of all manners of African nationals with criminal background flooding into Nigeria is now very real.

While government said it would continue to engage the nation’s neighbours through diplomatic channels to agree to comply with the ECOWAS Protocol on Transit, it is not known that precisely what has been done or is being done on the security plane as regard the security pact that Nigeria cobbled together in 2015 with her immediate neighbours to combat Boko Haram insurgency in the Northeast part of the country including herdsmen killers that were later alleged to have come from the northern neighbouring countries.

Indeed, there are so many of these multi-party security frameworks to which Nigeria is a party and signatory that one begin to wonder why there is so such a massive failure of these security arrangements. Despite all these claims, there is nothing to show that Boko Haram insurgency has ever abated. Government has not been able to show concretely that all the illegal immigrants so far arrested or the arms and ammunitions so seized were in any way directly connected to Boko Haram insurgency.

There are no confessional statements by the arrested illegal immigrants showing they are members of Boko Haram movement or the arms and ammunitions seized were being transported for Boko Haram usage. Indeed, it may be argued that the security pacts referenced above are a resounding failure and it is logically its failure that partly explained the rationale for the border closure as a desperate or extreme measure to curb the growing menace to national security from across the borders as well as economic consideration.

Interestingly enough, the border closure also provide a window peep into the broad canvas of painted picturesque of inter-agency collaboration involving national security and economic issues, an inter-agency cooperation that has become a proverbial forbidden fruit to be consumed by individual security agencies and/or economic agencies. It is indeed a novel situation.

This writer is still researching into the depth of this inter-agency cooperation among the security agencies against the background of the well known silent hostility among the security agencies. But so far, there is no indication from any quarter that the ongoing cooperation would lead to emergence of a national security policy and/or strategy based upon the current empirical situation.

Sheriff Folarin, a Professor of International Relations. Covenant University, Ogun State, Nigeria, was of the view that the Nigeria’s action was “cowardly” (Folarin, S.: “Closing borders with its neighbours isn’t the answer. Nigeria can do better”, October 29, 2019, “It should rather be using its weight and political influence to persuade its neighbours to comply with the regional trade treaty agreed by ECOWAS. This has provisions for maintaining decent and legal businesses within neighbours’ boundaries. One such mechanism is the joint border patrol.

“Second, Nigeria should exercise tighter control of its borders. The government should be dealing with corruption among its security agencies, particularly Customs and Immigration. If officials did their jobs, there would no need to close the borders. The Nigerian authorities should be purging the agencies of corrupt elements and inculcating professionalism in the agencies” (Ibid).

Folarin was further of the view that “To defy the ECOWAS protocol without any recourse or agreement with member states before the border closure amounts to a rogue act. The shutdown was sudden, leaving immigration and customs agencies in Nigeria as well its neighbours and other ECOWAS member states unprepared.” He pointed to the moral question that the closure is hurting Benin Republic who is “a major ally and partner in the war against Boko Haram”.

He also argued that “The border closure is obviously a protectionist policy of the Nigerian government. The essence is to secure and grow its local industries, including agriculture. But it would not need to close borders if its customs, immigration and other security agencies at the frontiers were doing their job well. “The problem of illegal importation of rice, smuggling of firearms and growing insecurity in the country is not a function of open borders. It stems from corruption, negligence and lack of due diligence. Closing the borders is thus an admission that Nigeria has not done enough to raise professional security architecture. And that corruption litters our porous and filthy borders (Ibid).

“Finally, Nigeria should not forget how its foreign policy principle of good neighbourliness has helped it over the years. Examples include the Biafra War, anti-terrorism and counter-terrorism initiatives, including the fight against Boko Haram. “This underlines the urgent need to review the border closure. According to Murtala Abdullahi, “Border closures are counterproductive for Nigeria’s security, regional influence and interests”. (Murtala Abdullahi: “How border closure impacts Nigeria’s security and regional interests”, November 13, 2019

“The Nigerian authorities believe the temporary border closure will curb the smuggling of rice, drugs and small light weapons. They also hope it will reduce kidnappings and worsening insecurity in the country. While these concerns are legitimate, the current approach towards border security as a tool to protect local farmers and national security doesn’t address the underlying factors sustaining smuggling or provide a sustainable and effective border security approach. It also fails to provide incentives through trade deals and subsidies or improve productivity to give local producers the capacity to compete with foreign counterparts or achieve national self-sufficiency (Ibid). “Nigeria has 4,470 square kilometres of international land borders with Chad, Cameroon, Benin and Niger.

It is connected with other parts of West Africa and the Sahel through centuries-old ties. These complex cross-border relationships come as a result of geographical, socio-economic, historical and cultural factors (Ibid). “Nigeria’s borders are largely unmanned and in 2016 the former Comptroller General of the (Nigeria) Immigration Service, Mr. Martin Kure Abeshi, revealed that Nigeria has almost 1,500 identified land border crossings. Of these only 114, covering about 4,000 square km had approved control posts manned by immigration officials and other security agencies (Ibid). Map surveys indicate that Nigeria has the longest land border with Cameroon, 1,975KM to the east, followed by Niger Republic, 1,608KM, to the north, Benin Republic 809KM to the west and lastly, Chad with 85KM to the north-east. In addition to these, Nigeria is a link through the old trans-Sahara trade and pilgrimage (Hajj by road) route. It has maritime borders with Equatorial Guinea, Ghana and Sao Tome & Principe. (“Nigeria, border closure and national security”, October 23, 2019, It is nearly impossible to sustain the current ad-hoc border security and unilateral closure of borders, but the negative effect on Nigeria’s regional reputation, perception and influence will have a longer negative effect on her interests in the region. Furthermore, it’s important for Nigeria to build a sustainable and efficient border security system which is capable of improving capabilities and capacity of security agencies in charge of protecting and securing the borders (Abdullahi, Ibid). While it’s difficult to physically secure the thousands of miles of the border, improving tools and training for border agents and investing in border security technology are important. To do so will help address the underlying factors driving smuggling such as Nigeria’s inefficient and congested port terminals, drug abuse and poor enforcement of drug regulations, weak criminal justice and law enforcement system. Poor law enforcement is partly responsible for the rise in self defense groups and rise in criminality. Unemployment also makes young people vulnerable to recruitment by smugglers (Ibid). Extending Nigeria’s border security outward is vital so that the borderline is made the last line of defence, not the first. To effectively fight the multiple and cross-border security threats today is through investing in regional and transnational security cooperation, building better global partnerships and enhancing intelligence gathering, processing and dissemination to provide the information needed for policymaking and response by border security agencies (Ibid). Improving bilateral agreements between Nigeria and countries where these contrabands and harmful items originate is important. Multilateral security agreements are precisely what the Programme for Coordination and Assistance for Security and Development (PCASED) was set up at the request of the ECOWAS heads of state and government to achieve. And to effectively enforce a moratorium on small and light weapons proliferation through providing technical support for a multinational, multidimensional and multi-institutional approach to curbing arms proliferation and insecurity (Ibid). Through monitoring of weapons circulation, centralization and establishment of a weapon database and regional arms register, depends on stable – strategic foreign and trade policy, trust and commitment (Ibid). Unilateral border closures disrupt centuries-old trans-Saharan relationships and corridors for the movement of people, animals and trade. These are crucial for food and economic security of states in Nigeria’s immediate vicinity, and the ripple effect will be felt across the region (Ibid). This has the potential to create hostility towards Nigeria’s interests, commitment to regional security partnerships and diminish the country’s trustworthiness and threaten alliances built over decades of sacrifice to ensure stability in the region. Nigeria can’t afford to be isolated or relegated at a time of great power competition in the region and build-up of foreign security and economic interest (Ibid). Conclusion By the time this write-up was being concluded in late December, the border closure was no longer hitting the front pages of newspapers. The news has entered into the inner pages where they are treated desultorily. There is no doubt that closing the borders might have played a very vital role in national security protection. But the way the Federal Government has presented its list of achievement leaves very much in doubt on the basis of logic and chain of events. However, borders include land, territorial waters and airspace and the degree of their importance to national security differs from one another. In addition, borders cannot be closed forever. Closing the borders play perhaps a small role in counter-espionage especially in the era of technically advanced telecommunication systems.

Yes. Human intelligence (humint) still play key role in the general framework of strategic intelligence (such as agents-in-place). But this is also being eroded by open-source intelligence (opsint) especially in the era or context of multimedia environment and other similar channels. This is why the Nigerian security establishment must proactively find better modern ways of protecting our national security. The national security establishment must be reformed itself.

The national security architecture must be redrawn using modern parameters. Border closure cannot be fulcrum of such national security protection. If the Nigerian security establishment thinks closing the borders is the answer, then it better set forth at dawn to start building a Chinese or Trump Wall around our country! In our view, the Nigerian security and intelligence community might probably be looking in the wrong direction for sources of threats to national security.

Of course, there are both internal and external threats. But internal threats to national security are more preponderantly larger in scope than external threats in our own judgment based on critical taxonomical assessment of national security threat spectrum. It is the cracks in our internal firewall of security that provide the leeway for external agents to infiltrate our ranks and cause whatever damage they may have done over the years.

There is no doubt that the decision to tighten security around Nigeria’s land borders is in line with its needs of ensuring national security, economic and overall wellbeing of its citizens. This is a welcome development necessary for Nigeria to assert itself as a regional powerhouse that does not just bark, but can also bite.

Nigeria should not in the name of big brother, be seen as a country where anything goes – a dumping ground for everything injurious to Nigeria and Nigerians. The exercise, as acknowledged by the services, has also brought out the best in interagency cooperation. (“Nigeria, border closure and national security”, October 23, 2019,

Beyond this spur-of-the-moment approach, however, the federal government must take a more holistic stance in owning its borders and occupying the open space by investing heavily in infrastructure in border communities; getting the buy-in of border communities on every government strategic decision; empowering security agencies and strengthening border posts from being mere revenue collection centres to strategic security areas that are also considered as strategic national assets (Ibid).

The ongoing border closure is apparently structured to tackle smuggling of goods including petroleum products, arms, and drugs leaving out such problems as organized crime, human trafficking and most important of all, foreign aspect of campaign of terror in Nigeria by Boko Haram and ISWAP. Indeed, the way the border closure exercise is being carried out cannot achieve the ultimate desired results.

It looks more like the Federal Government is entertaining the public in a comedy and not as part of growing national security consciousness of the germane issues involved. There is need for concrete information and actionable intelligence on proliferation of small and medium-scale weapons, production and export/import of illegal substances that endanger the health of the citizens, criminal syndicates/mafias, human trafficking and corrupt practices within the security and intelligence agencies themselves – and finally the degree they individually impact negatively on national security.

On the intellectual plane, the doctrinal evolution of our porous national borders into threat to national economic woes and security is indeed a new development in our national security bureaucracy. There is need to thoroughly debate this evolution to establish its empirical validity or otherwise. There is no doubt that the threat spectrum has enlarged in scope and even deepened in depth over the years mainly as a result of the failure of our national security leadership.

There is also no doubt that porous national borders are one of the this broad canvas of national security threat spectrum and has contributed significantly to national security crisis – again as a result of the historic failure of the very institutions and administrative bodies saddled with the responsibility for keeping our borders safe from smugglers and other criminal elements. But this must be put precisely on the pedestal where it belong – and not arbitrarily in the ossified imagination of incompetent national security leadership.

While we are not advocating for a Trump Wall along our national borders, there is need for a new Strategic Security Concept. Our borders need permanent multidisciplinary, multidepartmental and multinational cooperation. Nigeria need to address the ECOWAS protocol on free movement of persons, goods and services in the region signed with 14 other West African countries who are members of ECOWAS in Dakar, Senegal, to provide a legal framework for member states’ citizens’ right to enter, reside and engage in economic activities in the territory of other member states.

The protocol’s primary purpose was to abolish visa and entry permit requirements, extend the right of residency and the right of establishment. It also grants nationals of member states the right to reside in another country for up to 90 days before obtaining permission for an extension of stay.

There is also a supplementary protocol of 1985 which included the rights of citizens of member states to seek and hold employment in host states in the region once the citizen had obtained an ECOWAS residence card or permit. With the unilateral border closure by the Nigerian Government, it has pitted itself against the host of treaties and protocols that ordinarily if they have been enforced over the years would have eradicated the very host of problems Nigeria is now facing today and using as pretexts to close the borders.

The border closure also shows clearly that the various security arrangements, treaties and protocols have collectively broken down due to lack of implementation or enforcement over the years. But it also present the opportunity to review all the security treaties and bring them into line with the need to have a national security policy and strategy that is capable of ensuring the sustainable safety of all Nigerians.

Without such a broad or overarching national security policy framework or strategy, ad-hoc efforts like border closure cannot be effective on a sustainable basis.

Alex Ekemenah is Chief Analyst, NEXTMONEY magazine


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