Nigeria shares its borders with several neighboring countries, and one of the challenges it faces is the porosity of these borders. The Nigeria-Niger border, which spans over 1,400 kilometers, is largely unpatrolled, according to Small Arms Survey. This has made it a major route for smuggling, illegal migration, and the movement of arms and militants.
Similar border situations exist with Nigeria’s other neighboring countries, including the Nigeria-Chad border, the Nigeria-Cameroon border, the Nigeria-Benin Republic border, and the Nigeria-Atlantic Ocean border, each facing issues of smuggling, illegal migration, and more, due to their unpatrolled nature.
In response to the recent military coup in Niger, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) initiated a transborder crackdown in the Niger Republic, aiming to restore democracy to the troubled nation. Nevertheless, local smugglers have found a way to bypass the sanctions by collaborating with border guards in Niger, taking advantage of many points of entry and exit of Nigeria and Niger.
Jibya, a town bordering the Niger Republic in Nigeria’s Katsina State, has become a hub for these activities. Some of the residents exploit the lack of border security on multiple fronts, between Nigeria and Niger to smuggle in goods.
Kabiru Aliyu, one such smuggler, has operated for decades in Jibya town, often crossing over to Niger from Katsina, Humangle’s Ibrahim Adeyemi reported. At different checkpoints, border guards in Niger turn a blind eye as dozens of vehicles packed with goods drive past, and smugglers move without checks once they pay off the officers. The extensive, unpatrolled borders provide the perfect conditions for these activities to persist.
“The Niger officials extort us, but we don’t mind it because at least we can move despite the border closure. If you don’t bribe the officials, they’ll arrest and maltreat you, but when you do the needful, they treat you like a king,” Aliyu said.
Furthermore, Adeyemi wrote that the background to the Nigeria-Niger border closure involves the coup in Niger, which occurred on July 26 when armed soldiers ousted President Muhammad Bazoum, citing issues such as insecurity and economic stagnation. President Bola Tinubu, the ECOWAS chairman, warned against further coups in West Africa but was challenged by Niger’s junta officials. ECOWAS, under President Tinubu’s leadership, issued a July 30 deadline for the restoration of democracy in Niger, threatening military action as a consequence.
Despite the apparent impact of the border closure on transborder commerce, local smugglers have devised a “bribe and pass scheme.” Several checkpoints exist along the route to Niger, each requiring a bribe. Aliyu and other smugglers reveal that they typically pay 8,000 CFA francs (West African CFA franc) or ₦ 9,880 to border guards. This practice has become crucial for their survival amid the ongoing crackdown.
In addition to the challenge of bribing officials, Nigerian smugglers face dangerous and insecure routes when crossing into Niger. Terror attacks on these routes are frequent, making the journey even riskier. Despite these challenges, the economic incentives for smuggling drive these individuals to continue their activities.
The closure of Nigeria’s borders with Niger has resulted in substantial economic losses, especially for northern Nigerian states. Perishable goods such as onions, tomatoes, pepper, potatoes, and livestock have rotted away. Businesses have reportedly suffered losses totaling $226.34 million, with northern traders losing up to N13 billion weekly due to the border closure.
However, the smugglers have adopted creative methods, including using donkeys and camels to transport goods into Niger, avoiding scrutiny by law enforcement agencies. These animals provide a low-cost alternative to traditional vehicles for smuggling.
While ECOWAS appears to have imposed a strict border closure, Nigerian officials on the ground seem unable to fully enforce it. The vast number of illegal routes leading to Niger allows smugglers to circumvent border drills and continue their operations. Despite commitments to enforce the crackdown, the Nigerian Customs Service has struggled to halt the flow of smugglers. As a result, the porous border and bribe system continue to thrive, allowing goods to pass into Niger, despite the official sanctions.