Nigeria is under threats from immigrants. Unlike the thinking in most quarters, the challenge is not only from illegal immigrants. Most of those who pass for legal immigrants have little business, if any, in the country.
The Nigeria Immigration Service, which should manage these issues, is at the centre of expatriate quota abuses, the platform on which thousands of expatriates live in Nigeria legally. Expatriate quota is a cesspool of fraud through which expatriates flood the country to take up positions that Nigerians should occupy.
No society can develop without external expertise. Nigeria needs high doses of expertise in certain areas to develop. Those who can provide it are welcome. However, dubious officials of the Service have for years exploited expatriate quotas as business. Their activities account for unqualified expatriates taking jobs off Nigerians.
Immigrants seen as the real threats are those who cross the borders without documents. They also enter Nigeria without any reason, but in most instances they constitute high security risks. They arrive without skills, work mostly as security guards and are open to recruitment as criminals. They live in uncompleted buildings and set up their own communities where they are the law. As they settle, they invite more relations, who are seeking safety from the ravages of the deserts.
The porous borders are not the main reasons for the number of immigrants in Nigeria, many of whom are technically not illegal. Under the ECOWAS protocol on free movement of persons, nationals of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d'Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo can live in Nigeria for 90 days. They can come and go as they will. Even nationals of Mauritania which withdrew from ECOWAS in 2001 can assume nationality of any of these countries and benefit from the free movements.
With the ECOWAS protocol, migration is a major security challenge and the feeble efforts to address them through deportations cannot work. Those deported can return in weeks. Porous border routes are used mostly for smuggling not movement of people. Once anyone has a passport of any ECOWAS country, he does not need a reason to migrate to Nigeria.
The challenge should be tackled from various angles but an oft-neglected one is climate change. Nigeria should lead in addressing climate change in ECOWAS. As desert encroachment hits harder, inhabitants of the Sahara, which runs across the entire ECOWAS northern belt, would naturally migrate southwards to areas, where life has more prospects. Nigeria is the major target.
It is in our collective interest, for national survival, to proactively manage immigration. To do that, we have to think beyond border post management.