By Kunle Adedoyin
The Federal Government has foreclosed the immediate 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.
Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture, who reaffirmed government’s stance on closure of the borders against importation of foreign goods and illegal immigrants, also said about 296 illegal immigrants had so far been arrested.
Mohammed stated this at a joint inspection of Exercise Swift Response, ESR, at Seme border, in company of Interior Minister, Rauf Aregbesola; Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama; Minister of State for Finance, Budget and Planning, Clement Agba; Comptroller General of Immigration, Assistant Comptroller General of Customs, traditional rulers and other dignitaries.
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.
He said the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) and Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) in collaboration with the Armed Forces of Nigeria as well as the Nigeria Police Force and other security and intelligence agencies, commenced a joint border security exercise, code-named ‘EX-SWIFT RESPONSE’ in four geopolitical zones of the country, including South South, South West, North Central and North West on August 20, 2019.
Mohammed explained that the exercise is 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.
“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.
“Meanwhile, the preference for foreign goods, especially food items such as rice, has continuously impoverished our farmers and adversely affected domestic government policies supporting the agricultural sector to enhance food security.
“It is, however, disturbing that some neighbouring countries circumvent the ECOWAS protocol on transit. For clarity, the ECOWAS protocol on transit demands that when a transit container berths at a seaport, the receiving country is mandated to escort same without tampering with the seal to the border of the destination country.
“Unfortunately, experience has shown that our neighbours do not comply with this protocol. Rather, they break the seals of containers at their ports and trans-load goods destined for Nigeria,” Mohammed said.
The minister, who expressed satisfaction with success so far recorded by the joint task force, said the singular decision had reduced importation of foreign goods, increased revenue generation and enhanced security.
He said the partial closure of the borders has curbed the smuggling of foreign rice into the country, in addition to other prohibited items.
“Our series of interactions and engagements with Rice Miller Association of Nigeria since the commencement of this exercise, has shown that the border closure has enhanced more production and milling of Nigerian rice.
“Patronage of Nigerian rice has increased and farmers are expanding their farms as well as engaging more hands. Furthermore, the border closure has impacted positively on revenue generation of the Federal Government which in turn will be used to build more infrastructures and develop critical sectors of the nation’s economy.
“The border closure has also curbed diversion of petroleum products from Nigeria to neighbouring countries.”
Mohammed said the ongoing exercise has recorded a number of seizures and arrests that would have had grave security consequences. He said about 296 illegal immigrants had been arrested, listing items seized to include 38,743 bags of 50kg bags of parboiled foreign rice; 514 vehicles; 1,012 drums filled with PMS; 5,400 Jerrycans of vegetable oil; 346 motorcycles; 10, 553 jerrycans of PMS and 136 bags of NPK fertilizer used for making explosives.
He stated that the estimated values of the seized items amounted to about N3.235 billion.
“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,” he said.
He said the government, through diplomatic channels, would continue to engage the nation’s neighbours to agree to comply with the ECOWAS Protocol on Transit.
“Goods that are on the prohibition list to Nigeria, such as rice, used clothing, poultry products and vegetable oil should not be exported to the country.
`“As a result of this closure, Niger Republic has already circulated an order banning exportation of rice in any form to Nigeria. In addition, the National Assembly has supported the executive directive on the border closure and the efforts of security agencies in executing the task,” Mohammed said.