Challenges of Nigeria Borders and Frontier Security – Jadesola Tai Babatola

9 min read

Summary: Since independence, security threats have plagued the Nigerian borders resulting in diplomatic disputes and near-war experiences with its neighbors. These security threats have resulted in the emergence of a religious-inspired terrorist group which has undoubtedly become the country’s greatest challenge today. Nigeria’s porous borders play a huge role in the growth of crimes and insecurity experienced across the country. Tackling these concerns would require addressing the factors and challenges hampering border security personnel’s competence in curtailing border crimes and illegal migration.


This study is to highlight the challenges in the Nigeria’s international borderlines and its implications for national security at the cross-borderlines. This is because the layers of frontier and cross-border activities of Nigeria and her Neighbours since independence in 1960 has been bedevilled by controversies and worrisome security challenges that sparked diplomatic rows and near-war experiences.

The greatest challenge facing Nigeria today is international terrorism that is aided by religious extremism, porosity of borderline and cross-border security challenges and crime. Indeed, the existence of porous borders and cross-border and frontier activities in Nigeria has aided crimes and security challenges across Nigerian borders for long without any specific solutions.

It is therefore crucial to highlight the challenges of political authorities and security apparatuses in addressing the implications of cross-border activities at Nigeria’s frontier. By so doing, the researcher can contribute to knowledge by identifying issues of boundary questions and its implication for Nigeria’s security and territorial integrity. Moreover the study would be an opportunity to highlight political and diplomatic steps taken or required to resolve border questions between Nigeria and her neighbours to foster regional integration and economic cooperation with intervention strategies.

The study therefore identified some of the issues that can result to or prevent escalation of war and reduction of border conflicts on Nigerian soil and any incursion from neighbouring States towards stemming the rise of insurgents and continued influx of illegal migrants from neighbouring countries. Finally, the study is necessary in order to highlight the possibility of catastrophic consequence of war between Nigeria and her neighbours arising from border issues and the implication for the nation’s political stability.

Observations and Findings

Borders concept in Africa changed from traditional perspectives to international (universal) concept with colonial acquisition of territories and independence of modern African states. The concept of border relations, migration, inter-state relations and border trading in Africa however did not result into any major crisis until various Governments of independent African States began to deal with issues related to boundary management, claims and counter-claims over national territories in the determination of crossing lines or borderlines in frontiers of new African states. Neighbours and land occupiers who easily migrate from one land to the other occasioned by needs and circumstances and without any specific limitations in traditional African settings, other than to understand and fulfil the requirements for use of the land in any specific location or society, now finds it difficult or impossible to do so. This is because the state policy regulating migration, relocation and cross border activities within the region were determined by Governments of each independent African States and not by their people despite the often visible traditional and cultural relationship existing across the lines of the borders.

No one could easily move from one location in one independent state to the other without official permission. Hence, Africans became aliens of each other by colonial experience and the new nations born at their independence from colonial rule. They were therefore compelled to manage their citizens’ aspirations for cross border and inter-state activities within their borders and dictates of the law. The damage done to traditional mode of life, migration, economic cooperation and regional integration was vividly recounted as one of the major challenges of inter-states relations and cross-border activities while looking at the traditional relationship between Ghanaian sedentary farmers and Burkina Faso nomadic pastoralists within the context of cross- border relations.32 The crisis generated by state centric perspective of border controls and reactions of the national governments involved in resolving the boundary conflicts suffice.

A good illustration of the above indicated that Ghanaian sedentary farmers were age-long partners of their neighbouring Burkina Faso pastoral groups in the border areas. The two groups cooperate for mutual benefit to the extent that sedentary farmers entrusted their cattle herds to nomadic pastoralists who possess better knowledge of livestock herding and whose nomadic life style facilitates the utilisation of pastures and waterholes in distant locations. The Burkina Faso nomads provide cow milk and help Ghanaian farmers to spend less times and energy in search of pasture and water.

It is on record that both the Burkina Faso nomads and Ghanaian farmers socialized and integrated into each other daily subsistence living, culture and economy. The specialisation of average African workers and their traditional interrelationship were worked out for communal benefits among both sides. There were also evidence of age-long relationship of inter-marriages and shared cultural affinity among the two border populations. 33 However, when conflict broke out between the two inter-states border settlers over land and water in borderlines, the consequences was a restriction of the activities in both ends. To avoid a breach of national integrity, age-long fulbe nomads who were seasonal migrants, were expelled as intruders back to their countries. The expulsion invariably affected the development of livestock and herding and the cordial relations among these Africans at the borders. This scenario therefore represents one of several cases of consequences of modern African boundaries, cross-border activities, inter-state relations, migration and boundary disputes.

Though a good element of border for national security lies in the non- interference in the domestic affairs of other nations and the survival of any modern state nation, a guarantee of non-interference and independence could result in dwindling population and social crisis arising from poor economic growth and non- cooperation between neighbouring states where both sides can benefit from sharing of resources and expertise, trade and other sources of economic cooperation. The key factor of national security which rest squarely on territorial integrity and the non- violation of borders and borderlines can only create a culture of territorial sanctity and effective occupation within a defined territory of a State in the attempt to stabilise the citizens without improving on the economy of areas whose geographic resource can be drawn from the neighbouring states without placing heavy burdens on other citizens within their areas of existence and location in the country. The above position is canvassed and highlighted in view of occasioned displacement and migration of restricted people in different localities to other parts as advanced in the case of migration of several Igbos and Igbirra of Nigeria from their ancestral homes to other parts of Nigeria either to farm or to trade.

John Foster Dulles (a former US Secretary of State) highlighted the features of a recognized nation-state under international law as inclusive of possessing laws that reflect the moral judgment of the community, having a superior force to deter violence by enforcing the law upon those who defy it and providing for the sufficient well- being of the citizens so that people are not driven in desperation to violence which can affect world peace, security and regional stability.

Border disputes often arises from challenges of territorial allocation which are evident in terms of border claims or relevance of borderland to neighbouring states in term of its historical, geographical, ethnic or cultural, economic and military or strategic importance.36 In effect, a good understanding of a nation’s border and its security challenges is tied to the relevance and role of the border (frontiers) in its national life and economy. The importance of Nigeria’s territorial integrity in securing and sustaining the political independence of a modern African state cannot be compromised or literally abandoned to serve the needs of the neighbouring states or be negotiated as a palliative measure in resolving challenges of cross-border activities. To do so is to put the national security and regional cooperation in jeopardy or to dismember the Nigerian State from its original size. Hence, the need to examine the issues in Nigeria Borders and its implications on the nation’s security and how to address its security challenges.

Furthermore, the sustenance of territorial integrity of any modern nation-state within the atmosphere of international laws and convention remains an influencing and critical factor in managing the nation’s security activities and defence strategies. Existence of modern boundaries helps several nations to appreciate the extent of their territorial exploration and political jurisdictions over their citizens and citizens of neighbouring countries including allowance of passages on land and waterways and by air. The study of nations’ boundaries helps to identify and examine issues of national security, socio-economic development and cultural advantages within the border zones with its attendant implication of border issues and politics. Modern African States will continue to witness challenges of border issues arising from traditional claims and counter-claims to territories pre-dating colonial era, which had to be abandoned and left as it is.

Nigeria is facing a lot of security challenges particularly at the Northern  borders arising from influx of separatist and terrorists groups with the uprising of the Maitasine in the early 80s and the Boko Haram since the early part of the millennium. This is the rise of a newer challenges and cross-border activities that extends to other parts of the region with intent to destabilise Nigeria and the entire continent, unless steps are taken to arrest the emerging situation. Hence, the failure of the State in Congo and the Central African Republic as well as the continued fighting by rebels in South Sudan, Angola, Uganda and parts of Kenya, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Libya and Somalia has spread to Nigeria’s neighbours and invariably threatening Nigeria’s peace and security.

The only means of ensuring that Nigeria is salvaged and protected from the threats from its neighbours lies in its capacity to contain the growing security threats across the continent. Moreover, there is need for national cohesion to prevent the splitting of such threats into Nigeria through religious connotations and tribal tendencies across borders. This is owing to the fact that level of development achieved by Nigeria as a modern African State and the vast resources available and untapped can be of great benefits to the use for the nation’s development and its huge population, as the most populous Black and African nation. It could also be of blessing to Africa along the way through regional cooperation and integration. Any attempt to split Nigeria would risk a total disintegration of political stability and development in West African region and invariably Africa.


Border issues or boundary politics remains integral part of citizens’ livelihood, economic activities, movement of goods, regional cooperation and territorial integrity (sovereignty of any nation) and every approach to its management and proper settlement should take all the risks and benefits into accounts. Though it has been observed that interstate disputes may occur with or without reference to border disputes and that border disputes may occur as a result of border clashes without contention over border demarcations or as a result of conflicts over jurisdictions and control of off-shore islands which are not land boundaries, the fact remains that border activities has a great implication on a nation’s integrity, even when it has little or no economic implication on its citizens.

Existing works on international boundary shows how geographical proximity of states, interstate interactions and perceived threats results to interstate disputes, conflict and war though it has been further adduced those interstate wars are more often facilitated by boundary disputes. Boundary disputes are therefore territorial claims over demarcation of a territorial boundary between two bordering states or a land area between their borders of questionable ownership though it was argued that Border disputes may be territorial or boundary claim existing between a state and the neighbour based on the challenge of territorial allocation requiring adjustment and arising from historical, geographical, ethnic or cultural, economic, military or strategic reasons.

The Nigeria and Cameroon borders dispute and its implication on national security easily come to mind here. Nigeria and Cameroon as modern African states evolved through British and French colonial enterprise, a situation which left many ethnic groups and their territories partitioned to both sides of colonies. Boundary disputes between the two countries after the attainment of their independence began from the economic and agricultural angles in terms of location of water and farmlands while discovery of oil in Bakassi region triggered the final phase.

The foregoing notion indicates that boundary issues in Africa cannot be addressed with a light-heart because of its overall implication on the space,  population, resources and need of each State to survive in the modern world. Many protocols have been applied to trans-border security and cooperation and the level of cooperation achieved at resolving boundary issues by securing interventions and applying non-violent approaches have helped some countries, just as Nigeria and Cameroon resolved their differences at the ICJ. However, the need to ensure that national sovereignty is sustained within an atmosphere of regional cooperation and peaceful co-habitation as well as diplomatic engagements for good brotherliness and accessibility between Nigeria and her neighbours constitute a justification for the study.

There is the need to harmonise findings and existing positions in researches to advance knowledge by directing them as initiatives to correct any wrong premise or notion existing in border management and conflict resolutions as well as security challenges within the perspectives of local initiatives for regional cooperation, despite the political independence of African States. Though, it has been argued that phenomenon causing boundary disputes in modern States is difficult to explain, the factors needed to inhibit or resolve it challenges should be advanced within the context of promoting harmonious interstate relations, regional cooperation and world peace.


  • There is a need to harmonize research findings and existing views to promote knowledge by directing them as efforts to correct any incorrect assumptions regarding border security managment.

About the Author:

Jadesola Tai Babatola – Ekiti State University, Ado Ekiti | EKITI · Department of History and International Studies. B.A (Hons) History, M.Sc (Political Science/Public Administration), Ph.D (History & International Studies)

Source: Research Gate

Keywords:  Boundary disputes, Territorial integrity, Boko Haram, Nigeria  Borders

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