The Nigerian government has embarked on massive deportation of illegal immigrants from Chad, Cameroun and Niger due to suspicion that Islamist sects in Nigeria might be using imported mercenaries from neighboring countries to perpetuate violence and rebellion. Some argue that the exercise is to prevent illegal immigrants from casting votes in next year’s presidential election.
According to reports, hundreds of illegal immigrants in northern Nigeria have already been deported, in a backdrop of tight security and military patrols across Nigeria’s borders with Chad, Niger and Cameroun. The crackdown began on Wednesday and would continue throughout the northern Niegrian state of Borno.
“We have so far repatriated almost a thousand illegal immigrants from neighboring Niger, Chad and Cameroon who have been in Nigeria without valid documents. This becomes necessary in view of the approaching elections and the current security situation in Borno state,” Head of Immigration for Borno state, Babayo Alkali was quoted by reporters.
Northern Nigeria in recent times has witnessed a host of violence including attacks on police stations, a prison raid and shootings of police officers by motorcyclists. Much of the violence has occurred in Borno state, whose capital Maiduguri was the centre of last year’s uprising.
“We can’t leave anything to chance. The current security threat is not something we can just take for granted. Anybody could be involved in it, and illegal immigrants who are a bit more difficult to trace can easily be used to perpetrate criminality,” Alkali added.
The series of violent attacks has been attributed to cells of an extreme Islamist sect known as Boko Haram. The extremist sect had launched an uprising last year- denouncing democracy, western-styled education and showing no regard for other religious belief in Nigeria. However, the rebel group was trampled by a brutal military and police assault.
While some analysts believe this massive deportation is directly connected to the recent series of violence in northern Nigeria, others believe the deportation exercise is to prevent illegal immigrants from casting votes in next year’s presidential election.
Arguments have also been made that illegal immigrants were used by Boko haram, and by politicians for political thuggery. And according to the Head of the northern area of Nigeria’s Christian Association, Mr. Saidu Dogo: “Many people come into Nigeria under the pretext of being pastoralists; they are mercenaries [from Chad, Niger]. They follow pastoralist routes to gain entrance, carry out their activities and then leave”.
Howbeit, many immigrants come to Nigeria for opportunities lacking in their countries near the Sahara Desert, where many areas now suffer from a food shortage. Many work as servants and in construction, while others engage in petty trading.