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Buhari’s registration of illegal migrants – Punch

Buhari’s registration of illegal migrants – Punch

What was expected to be a robust response from the Federal Government to the lingering menace of illegal aliens in the country turned out to be a curious call last week by the President, Muhammadu Buhari, for the registration of foreigners under a so-called migrant e-registration programme of the Nigeria Immigration Service. After the registration programme, which is expected to last for a period of six months, the government will then go ahead to declare any foreigner that fails to register an illegal alien, Nigerians were told.

This is quite a bizarre, if not outright disappointing, approach to resolving this issue, especially in a country facing the level of insecurity currently confronting Nigeria. The situation requires a drastic response from the government, which in the past had attributed most acts of terrorism and banditry that have resulted in thousands of deaths to the activities of foreigners. Rather than adopting this attitude of appeasement, should this not be the time for the government to look critically at the leaky borders that allow undocumented people to just stroll in and out of the country unchallenged?

Significantly, the government should not forget that, bar the 1967 to 1970 period when the country fought a bitter civil war, Nigeria’s security situation has never been so desperate. Hardly a day passes without reports of people being killed in their dozens in one part of the country or the other. In a recent report, the Nigeria Security Tracker, a project of the Washington-based Council of Foreign Relations, said 25,794 people had encountered violent deaths in Nigeria since Buhari mounted the saddle in 2015. But many believe that even that mind-boggling figure is understated. While the NST said that it did its compilation based on reports, it is important to note that there are thousands of other Nigerians who are murdered in remote villages, but whose accounts of misfortune do not grab the newspaper headlines.

Surprisingly, when confronted, the government has always found it convenient to blame foreigners for the unacceptable scale of bloodbath the country has been experiencing, especially in recent years. Last year, at a meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, the President reportedly said killings in Nigeria were fuelled by gunmen from the Sahel region, who were trained by the late Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, but found their way into Nigeria.

If that is the case, is it the six-month amnesty asking foreigners to voluntarily submit themselves for registration that will solve the problem? Although the government wants Nigerians to believe that if at the end of that period the foreigners failed to register, they would be labelled illegal aliens; it will be interesting to know what would happen if they are so designated. If for years the government had identified foreigners as those responsible for Nigeria’s security woes and no action was taken to stop them, is it now that they would be stopped?

Nigeria’s borders over the years have remained among the most porous and leaky anywhere in the world. This was corroborated in 2014 by the then Comptroller-General of the NIS, David Parradang, who disclosed that the country had over 1,400 illegal border crossings as against the 84 that were official. While the official ones are manned, the others are open to free entrances and exits of all manner of people, including criminals. There was a time when criminals used to come from Benin Republic into the country to steal cars, until the Nigerian authorities temporarily closed that border. Such an action can be taken now.

Aside from the implications for security, the impact on the economy of unrestricted movement of goods and people across the porous borders cannot be overemphasised. That manufacturing has practically died in Nigeria is due partly to smuggling across the unmanned borders. Smuggling is also threatening Nigeria’s self-sufficiency bid in rice production. This is why the government, through its agencies responsible for border policing, should be more diligent and ensure that the borders are not just thrown open to plunder by soldiers of fortune.

Serious countries ensure that their borders are closely and jealously guarded. In the case of Canada, only skilled workers that can contribute to national development are allowed into the country. Australia has a strong policy of turning boats carrying illegal immigrants back even before they set foot on the country. Such immigrants are sent to camps in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

In the United States, President Donald Trump made immigration a major campaign issue and has been fighting the Congress, which has refused to approve the money needed for his pet project of building a wall to fence off illegal immigrants entering through the Mexico-US border. He promised to send out undocumented immigrants and even restrict legal immigration. His battle with the Congress led to the longest shutdown of government in the history of the US. The US Border Patrol says it has made 688,375 apprehensions at the South-West border since October 2018, according to a BBC report.

Although the American president seems to be taking it to the extreme, it only emphasises the importance that countries attach to their border security and immigration enforcement. Nigeria should start doing the same.

As a first step, there should be increased vigilance at the border to ensure that only those who have business coming into the country do so. Then, those who have already entered should be weeded out, especially those who do not have anything positive to contribute. Nigeria already has a large population, which is not being adequately provided for. There is no need to further invite more people into the country. What the country needs right now is strict border control, not the registration of illegal immigrants.

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