The border between the Nigeria and Niger divides a zone with many cultural, religious, ethnic, and linguistic linkages, and under normal circumstances many people cross back and forth on a frequent basis. The uprising in Northern Nigeria by the Boko Haram sect has brought attention to the porousness of the border and its regional security implications: for example, some suspected Boko Haram members were arrested in Diffa, Niger in January/February 2012. Around the beginning of the year, Nigerian authorities imposed a state of emergency in the Northeastern states of Yobe and Borno that included international border closures. The closures have had a substantial economic impact, hurting agricultural and livestock trade between Nigeria and its neighbors, elevating food prices in southern Nigerien towns like Diffa, reducing trade to Cameroon and Chad, and contributing to economic devastation in Nigerian cities like Maiduguri and Potiskum.
Earlier this month, Niger’s government announced its desire to form joint border patrols with Nigeria, mentioning its concern not only about Boko Haram but also about Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Yesterday, with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in Niamey for the meeting of the High Authority of the Nigeria-Niger Joint Commission for Cooperation, he and his counterpart President Mahamadou Issoufou agreed that joint patrols should begin immediately. As Vanguard writes, they took several other steps as well:
The two countries also agreed to equip their National Boundary Commissions with requisite logistics to ensure fast re-demarcation of the Nigeria-Niger International boundary.
President Jonathan also signed bilateral agreement on Defence and Security with the Nigerien government.
In a communique issued at the end of the session yesterday, the two Heads of States expressed worries over the danger of terrorism in the region and emphasised the need to jointly tackle the security challenge in the sub region which is a big threat to peace and stability in the West African sub-region.
Vanguard quotes from the communique at length.
The border issue concerns not only the national governments of Niger and Nigeria but state and local authorities as well. Accompanying Jonathan to Niamey were the governors of Jigawa, Katsina, and Borno states, all of which lie along the northern border (map of Nigeria’s states here). Borno State has been the epicenter of Boko Haram.
The details of how the governments implement these patrols will matter greatly, of course. This Day notes that authorities have not yet specified which portions of the border they will patrol, and that the border is some 930 miles. This Day also reports that the US State Department may provide some technical assistance for closer border control.
The issue of borders goes beyond just Nigeria and Niger. The rest of Jonathan’s itinerary for this brief trip through the region is a reminder that Nigeria has more than just its immediate neighbors on its mind. Vanguard (see link above) also discusses Niger and Nigeria’s support, as expressed at the meeting yesterday, for the deployment of foreign soldiers to Mali in order to reunite that country. Jonathan is supposed to stop in Mali today an Economic Community of West African States/African Union/European Union/United Nations meeting on Mali.
For Niger, meanwhile, the issue of border security has multiple complicated components: not only is there the threat of Boko Haram to the south, there is Mali to the west and Libya to the north. Border security for northern Niger falls under the rubric of its recently announced Security and Development Strategy; between the new joint border patrols with Nigeria and the new Strategy program, Niger has plans in place for improving security along much of its border. We’ll see how effectively those plans are implemented, and how security developments in Mali and Nigeria affect Niger.