Pesidents of border communities team up with smugglers to thwart efforts of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to curb illegal entry of contraband into the country, Comptroller-General of the service, Col. Hameed Ali (retd.), has alleged.
Ali told the House Committee on Customs and Excise yesterday that the indigenes feel they owe the country no allegiance because of the absence of government presence in their communities.
The absence of government presence, according to him, makes them to hate Customs and its operatives.
Ali also explained that the long stretch and porous nature of the country’s borders make it almost impossible for Customs to operate optimally.
He said the NCS was not present in some parts of the Northeast, especially the area covering Yobe and Adamawa states.
According to him, the Army has requested all para-military personnel to withdraw from the area to allow the military take charge, pending the return of normalcy.
He said: “We are currently taking some steps to make sure that those who are able to smuggle rice and other prohibited items do not profit from them. That is why on an occasional basis, we carry out raids on warehouses and market stores where these illicit things are stored.
“I must say this: the borders of Nigeria are long and porous. From Badagry to Mfom, there is no way 15,536 officers will block those entrances, even if we deploy everybody in the service. During the dry season, from Seme to Mfom, it is porous and motorable and motorcycles can move freely. There is no way we can eliminate smuggling.
“Secondly, most of these communities do not have any feel of government. We have used our resources to sink boreholes and build clinics for them, even though there is an agency created to ensure that these people get a feel of government. These people (communities) do not feel they owe allegiance to the country.
“Our biggest problem is that these border communities gang up with smugglers to fight Customs officers. They burn our vehicles, kill our officers because they don’t have any feel of government. So, they believe that they owe allegiance to those smugglers because they give them employment.”
Also, President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday directed the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) to improve surveillance and control around the nation’s borders to secure the country against foreigners who want to make Nigeria their operation field.
President Buhari gave the order at the virtual inauguration of the NIS Technology Building in Abuja.
The President also instructed all security agencies to raise their performance in protecting lives and property with a mandate that the country’s Global Security Index be improved.
“It is imperative that our ranking in the Global Security Index improves, and I am using this medium to call on all security agencies to step up their activities towards achieving this goal. I assure you that the administration will give the much needed support to you in your operations,” he said.
President Buhari urged the NIS to collaborate with international security organisations, such as the INTERPOL, in securing the borders.
“As a security agency, I charge you to be relentless in carrying out your statutory duties of keeping our borders safe while you ensure that criminal elements don’t find Nigeria as a safe haven to hide and perpetrate their criminality.
“I urge you to actively collaborate with International Security Organisations, like the INTERPOL, in safeguarding our borders. Remember that a safe border is a prerequisite for a safe Nation.
“You must develop strong working relationships and ties with the international community and friendly nations as it relates to migration management; adopt and implement workable strategies from them while also sharing your best practices.
“Frontline workers and operators should remember that they are our windows to the world. They must show the best face of Nigeria at all times,” the President added.
The President hailed Interior Minister Rauf Aregbesola for consistently pushing for the completion of the Technology Building, which will serve as the Command and Control Centre of the NIS, as well as the repository of personal data of Nigerians and expatriates resident in Nigeria.
Aregbesola assured the nation that the security challenges facing the country were temporal and surmountable.
The minister said the “weakest link” had been the land borders, assuring that the Technology Building would play a pivotal role in control of illegal migration.
He said the Visa-on-Arrival policy of the Federal Government gets proper documentation of all entrants and sharing with international security structures to ensure tight surveillance and compliance, while announcing a review period of stay from 90 days to 30 days.
He said 50 per cent of all immigration personnel will henceforth work at the nation’s borders.
NIS Comptroller General Muhammed Babandede said the Technology Building remained the best project the service had ever initiated and completed since it was established in 1958.