Nigeria and representatives of four other neighbouring West African countries yesterday gathered to form a common front against the increasing menace of insurgency, terrorism and illicit trade across their common borders. At a meeting of Directors-General of Customs of proximate countries of Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, they were unanimous in their determination to put an end to terrorism and other criminal activities across borders as well as in the maritime sector.
The need for a roundtable over the problem of cross border terrorism, particularly that of Boko Haram insurgency, was conceived by the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Alhaji Dikko Inde Abdullahia, during a previous meeting of the Directors of Customs in Yaounde, Cameroun, to map out a joint response to the development. The proposed collaborative initiative at fighting terrorism would come as a reprieve to Nigeria given that her neighbours, particularly Cameroun, had recently been accused by the Nigerian government of scuttling the efforts of security agencies to tackle insurgents who often escaped into the Camerounian territory after carrying out attacks in the country. Speaking in Abuja at the opening of the meeting, he said the current initiative was unprecedented as it is a new innovation "we believe it is going to work with the assistance and support of our heads of governments."
The comptroller general said although the Customs administrations have a pivotal role to play in trade facilitation and promotion, trade could only exist in an atmosphere of peace and security.
He said as gate-keepers of both economies and borders, there was need for countries to resolve and come together to jointly confront cross-border crimes along their shared demographic interests.
Abdullahia said: "We are today as a region faced not only by the challenges of insurgency that is destabilising our nations, but of illicit trade in small arms, drugs and narcotics, human trafficking, endangered species and prohibited goods."
In tackling the problems, he said there was need to seek the mandate of respective governments to establish joint patrol teams along common borders to promote security; resolve to share timely intelligence among Customs and other cross border security agencies regarding cross border crimes; resolved to implement the protocol on Transit Trade between common borders as well as to deepen and facilitate trade between countries in the region.
Speaking to journalists shortly after the opening, the Customs boss said:"We are thinking beyond the smuggling of arms and ammunition, the problems are being compounded. There are issues of insurgents who are Nigerian citizens and running away to these neighboring countries."
"We have smuggling of drugs and narcotics, small arms, human trafficking. At the 19th meeting of the Directors of Customs in Yaounde, I conceived this idea that we have to sit with the directors-general of our neighboring countries to discuss issues that are really of concerns to our nations and region.
"Why we had to do that is that today, it is Nigeria, tomorrow it may be another country, and if we are harbouring criminals in our various countries, attacking our neighbours and runing away to haven in other countries, then I think we are not being fair to ourselves.
"I think Cameroon had the pinch when President Goodluck Jonathan sealed the border and I was there and I saw how bad the economy was. I think they are here in full number of delegations to make sure they contribute their quota so that peace can reign in Nigeria and all the neighbouring countries."
Also speaking at the occasion, National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki, said given the challenges posed by the Boko Haram insurgency and terrorism in the northern Nigeria, Customs officers had added responsibility to be extra vigilant and provide security at the borders to ensure terrorists and perpetrators of illegal activities do not have freedom in the sub-Saharan and West Africa.
He said ships in the Gulf of Guinea have come under increased and profound attacks including piracy and hijacking leading to higher costs of shipping and insurance of goods as well as loss of confidence in trading with individual countries.
The NSA said the Federal Government of Nigeria was keen to fostering close and enduring collaboration with its neighbours to the mutual benefits of the respective countries.
He assured the participants that recommendations at the end of the meeting would be useful in combating the current security challenges at the borders. Also, Chairman of House Committee on Customs, Sabo Mohammed Nakudu, said the intervention as a bold and timely initiative came at a time when the country was besieged by insurgency and terrorism.
He said the initiative should be given all the necessary support by all the governments concerned adding that discussions and resolutions should go beyond mere talk shop to timely implementation.
He said the National Assembly would be ready to give it all necessary support to whatever decisions reached including relevant legal backing where necessary to make the proposed collaboration succeed.
Meanwhile, the Cameroonian Director-General of Customs, who is also the incoming Vice Chairperson of the World Customs Organisation(WCO), West and Central Africa, Mrs. Minette Libon Li Likeng, expressed confidence that jointly, governments of respective countries would be capable of reinforcing security at the borders.
She commended the efforts of the Nigerian Customs comptroller general who is the outgoing chairman of WCO and promised to build on his immense achievements.
She also vowed to ensure that all countries within the region achieved modernisation in order to stand the challenge of the 21st century.
Comptroller General of Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Mr. David Paradang, also expressed hope that in no distance future, all borders would be secure while issues of security challenges would be put to an end.
He said:"We have the will to secure our borders but we need help to work. At the same time, you will notice that if we do it alone as NIS, we don't have what it takes, but if we work together with other security agencies, we can make appreciable impact and secure our borders."