The directive given by President Muhammadu Buhari on February 1, 2023, to the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) to tighten border security once again brought to the fore the fears that have been raised over time regarding the threat of foreigners from neighbouring nations coming into Nigeria to vote illegally.
Buhari had, ahead of Nigeria’s 2023 elections, ordered that the country’s borders be made impenetrable to foreign bodies who might want to come in and manipulate the election process or engage in other nefarious activities.
Rauf Aregbesola, Minister of Interior, conveyed the president’s directive while inaugurating the Katsina State NIS Command office and roll-out of the enhanced e-Passport in the state, according to a statement by Sola Fasure, the minister’s media adviser.
“The order from the President is that between now and the time that we conclude all the elections, please make our borders impregnable. They should still remain impregnable even after the elections. We don’t want a situation whereby those who are not qualified to vote in Nigeria will come into our nation to illegally participate in the process,” he said.
The same day this directive was given, the NIS arrested 516 Illegal immigrants with permanent voter cards (PVCs) and national identity cards (NIMC) in Kaduna State.
Investigation revealed that the illegal immigrants were from Niger Republic, Chad, Cameroon, Togo and Senegal. The Kaduna State comptroller, Liman Sani Kila, while parading the illegal immigrants at the command’s headquarters, said those arrested were undergoing profiling and would be deported.
Kila explained that in the last year’s mop-up operations, the command retrieved 1,000 PVCs from illegal immigrants arrested within Kaduna Zone only. Further investigation showed they were invited into Nigeria by those they did not really know, but mostly for the purpose of election rigging.
Although the Nigerian government has undertaken some measures to mitigate illegal inflow of foreigners, such as the introduction of the PVCs and the National Identification Numbers (NIN) scheme, some unscrupulous Nigerians have been hell-bent on not letting these schemes succeed for personal gains.
The issues with Nigeria’s porous borders have been there but have taken a frightening dimension in recent times, especially for the purpose of terrorism and election malpractices.
Years ago, a retired senior immigration officer raised the alarm in a letter addressed to the Presidency and others.
In the letter dated December 14, 2014 and titled ‘Citizenship Acquisition and Identification’, the retired officer said, “The failure to create a full-proof Nigerian National Identification Scheme that can clearly tell and identify a Nigerian easily has the consequence in the low rating for our fight against insurgents, terrorising Nigeria today.”
This was sequel to issues raised on November 27, 2014 at the National Press Centre, Radio House Abuja, where Abdu Bulama, a former minister of science and technology, had a ministerial briefing on the activities of his ministry titled ‘Contribution of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) in achieving the Transformation Agenda of the Federal Government of Nigeria’.
“As it is today, our constitutional provision on who is a Nigerian citizen is foggy. We need to properly define who is a Nigerian citizen in a very clear and definite manner. Until we are able to solve the legal riddle of who a Nigerian citizen is, harvesting individual data I think is a mirage and a colossal waste of the scarce national resources,” Bulama had said.
Apart from the election-related matters, the infiltration of non-Nigerian terrorists into the country has been aided by the homogeneous nature of the country’s border communities and the near total neglect in infrastructural provision for border settlements, which demoralises many members of the border communities into developing some soft spot for viral elements in their settlements.
To Bulama, these issues, along with the extreme discretion without clear-cut uniform criteria given to security agencies at the border posts, who are saddled with the responsibility of securing Nigeria’s territorial integrity but with flawed citizenship laws, create a monumental problem for national security in Nigeria.
In most cases, criminals incubate at the borders, which seem to be a haven for anti-social activities, many of these persons operate from these places conveniently against the rest of Nigerians. These account for the terrorist camps around the border areas. They attack and retreat or slide across the borders unnoticed to their homes living behind pain, shock and national anguish. This cycle is repeated often today, resulting in national distress and embarrassment in Nigeria.
Despite the improvements brought about by the measures introduced by the Federal Government in recent years, what Bulama said in 2014 is still relevant today.
“It is therefore time to get the Nigerian citizenship laws correct and pay more attention to the borders, creating the consciousness of being a Nigerian citizen in the body, soul and spirit of Nigerian settlers at the border towns, making them feel that they are part of Nigeria as a whole. This way, they can get involved to contribute meaningfully to the peace, progress and general wellbeing of Nigeria.
“It is also time for the fortification of Nigeria’s citizenship acquisition and identification scheme through proper legal framework, reducing excessive discretionary powers of security agencies within the border towns.
“We equally need to have a proper legal framework for our security agencies, especially at the border posts whereby the provision for excessive discretion in the enabling legal provision is replaced with a clear concise regulation standardising and having a uniform functions or duty regulations around the country in line with the constitutional regulations and global best practice.
“This area of law needs to be fortified before we can effectively harvest citizenship data for identity card management scheme as being done by the National Identity Card Management Commission now,” he said.
This national discussion is necessary because Nigeria must protect its sovereignty against domestic, foreign terrorist and criminal entities and further protect it jealously against those who wish or are intent on breaching its border laws out of envy, which is a common attitude of insurgents, sometimes promoted by some nations or their nationals towards Nigeria, especially in these border communities.