ECOWAS: Nigerien Military Junta Bows To Pressure, Reopens Borders With Nigeria

 By Suleiman Umaru

When President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who incidentally is the Chairman, of the  Economic  Community of West Africa states, ECOWAS, on March 13, 2024,  agreed with other Heads of State and Government of member countries  of the Economic Bloc to reopen the Land and air borders with the neighbouring Niger Republic , closed since August 2023,  over the  forceful removal of a Constitutionally elected government of Mohamed Bazoum many had expected Gen. Abdrahamane  Thiani, the country’s military Leader to reciprocate the gesture.

  Compt. Kamal Mohammed, Area Controller, Sokoto/ Zamfara Command had hinted    during a working visit to the Illela border Community between Nigeria and Niger Republic, that with the lifting of the ECOWAS sanctions   on Niger and subsequent restoration f power supply by the Nigerian government to the West African country, the reopening of the Land border Aeas with the country will follow next.  True to his words, the Nigerian Government reopened the closed borders with the Niger Republic.  

Many had expected that with the Nigerian government reopening of the International border in Kamba town in Dandi Local Government Area of Kebbi state to promote trading between the two West African countries, the Nigerien military Authorities, will reciprocate the gesture. They got it wrong as they were said to have bluntly refused to reciprocate the ECOWAS Leaders gesture, insisting that the country’s entry points must remain closed to Nigerians.

Wale Adeniyi: CG, Customs

Recall that the Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS, under the close watch ofKemi Nandap,   and Bashir adewale Adenyi, MFR, led Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, had mobilized their officers and men on site   to ease   the   movement of goods and services,   along the Borderline routes.

Going by the international boundary road  map, between  Niger-Nigeria  border,  it has a  1,608 Km, distance,  stretching from the north western state of Sokoto  through Zamfara, Kebbi, Katsina,  Buhari home state,  Jigawa to the north eastern states  of Borno and Yobe.

This may have informed why the former Katsina state born Nigerian President had said that given the porous nature of the Land borders between the two West African countries due to the long distance, only the Almighty God can effectively man the borders as the NCS, NIS, and the country’s other security agencies may find it difficult to effectively police the borders.

Take for instance in Illela, border route between Nigeria and Niger, Vice President Kashim  sHettima, who was a former  governor of Borno state, had said that due to the border closure and economic sanctions imposed on the neighbouring West African country, there 32 illegal border routes used by the 3,0000, smugglers operating  in the area to carry out their nefarious  activities.

Illela, A border Community between Niger Republic &Nigeria, described as home of smugglers

The Nigerian Vice President had cited the 45 trucks load of maize which were intercepted by the NCS, with the support of other security agencies personnel while making their way into Niger Republic and other neighbouring West African countries and the Central African country of Cameroon.

 Indeed, the continued seizure of  Contraband  along the border routes between Niger and Nigeria , may have encouraged  the NCS, NIS , and other security agencies  personnel, stationed at strategic locations at the border routes across the country   to tighten up the securities to forestall illegal  movements of goods and services.

 The situation in the border community of Dole, situated in Kbbi state, Nigeria and Dosso region of Niger Republic, bear eloquent testimony to the tight security that had been mounted in the border Community which had made it difficult for any cross-border smugglers to have their way as the roads are deserted.

The effects of the border closure between Niger and Nigeria, has become so telling on the economy of the two countries that the desperate smugglers were determined to take the Law into their own hand to anything, including attacking Customs personnel carrying out their Legitimate duties at the country’s entry points to smuggle Contraband, particular, Premium Motor Spirit, popular, petrol, into the Niger market, to sell.

Given the Comptroller General of Customs matching order to the Area Controllers of the Interventionist Units at the Land Border Areas including the officers of the Federal Operations Units, FOUs, across the country, to tighten up security at the border routes may have sent a message to the smugglers that it is no longer going to business as usual.

 It is not surprising why the smugglers had resorted to the use of plan B, in engaging in their smuggling activities: attack Customs personnel on legitimate duties.

The smugglers may not have found out that the effective management of the  border routes across the country   including  the  Adamawa /Taraba states by Customs personnel have  become  difficult to penetrate  that they have adopt  option B, to emain relevant in the smuggling business.    

The agile –looking Customs officers of the Adamawa/Taraba Command on March 17, 2024, were said to have   sighted some suspected smugglersand pursued hem down the road of Mubi- Sahuda road within its area of Jurisdictions   to prevent smuggling across the border between Nigeria and Cameroun.

Given an insider information, Naomi Titus, the Admawa/Taraba, Command spokesperson, had said that during the operation, three motorcycles loaded with petrol suspected to have been smuggled out of Nigeria into the Republic of Cameroun were promptly intercepted by the officers, amid stiff resistance from the smugglers.

The aggrieved smugglers who were said to have lost their 45 gallons of petrol, 25 litres each, to government, but had Launched a violent attack, against the officers to set them and their patrol vans on fire.  She stated that both not for the call for reinforcement and the quick intervention of the   military personnel it would have been very bloody, as the officers were not ready to allow the smugglers cross the Nigeria border to Cameroun with the smuggled gallons of petrol, 25 litres each.

The Adamawa /Taraba Command, Public Relations Officer, noted that despite the tough resistance put up by the smugglers to frustrate the Command patrol Team officers, they were said to have managed ‘’to secure and evacuate the 45 gallons of25 litres each of petrol  to the Command premises at Yola, amid tight security.

Many believe that with the reopening of the Land border areas between Nigeria and Niger, in the recent time, the usual hostility between Customs personnel and smugglers on the road will reduce to the barest minimum.

 The jubilations that had greeted the reopening of the Land   borders between Nigeria and Niger, by the later, on Friday, March, 22, 2024, speaks volume, meaning that the people had long expected it to improve on  the commercial  activities between  traders from the two countries. .

The people were optimistic that  the Nigerien Government’s decision to  reopen the land and air borders with Nigeria  which had affected the trading public  of   Diffa, Maradi, Dosso and  Zinder regions and their Nigeria Customers between August , 2023 and now , would boost the Commercial activities  and Cordial relationship between Niger Republic and Nigeria, particular.

In spite of the fact that  the Nigerien military Leadership had had informed   the governor of the  border regions  with Nigeria of the reopening the close borders,  they were said to have  urged the  border governors to take all necessary  measures  ‘’to strengthen  the control system  upon entry and exit  at border postings’’.

The Leadership of the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland, CNSP, of Niger Republic had closed  the Land borders shared by Niger and Nigeria   since July 30, 2023,  following the coup d’etat in that West African country, described  as the one of the poorest in the world by the International Monetary Fund, IMF,  on July 26, 2023.

Note that the Nigerien military Leaders had closed the Land borders with Nigeria after   the ECOWAS Leaders   had imposed sanctions on the country over the ouster of former President Bazoum. As at the early morning of Saturday, March, 23, 2024, road traffic, was said to have resumed in both directions on the medaled road in   the border Communities between Niger border regions and Nigeria, as Customs officers and Immigration personnel from the two countries were found working.    

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