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How fragile border fuels terrorism, economic sabotage, others, by Buhari

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.’Digital economy sector most successful, saves FG N45.7bn’

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Obiora Ifoh, Abuja

Nigeria and her neighbors must place higher premium on the effective policing of borders, as the fragile nature of entry points into various countries enhance terrorism, economic sabotage, and illicit flow of arms, President Muhammadu Buhari has said.

The President spoke Thursday at State House, Abuja, while playing host to Dr Kunio Mikuriya, Secretary General, World Customs Organization (WCO), who is in Nigeria for a Global Conference on Fragile Borders.

Commending Mikuriya for his 4th visit to the country, President Buhari said this current one was coming at a time we were preparing for general elections, and “I have made it a cardinal commitment to ensure each Nigerian is able to exercise their franchise by participating in a free and fair election, in true practice of our relatively nascent democracy.

“It is our objective to ensure this takes place in a peaceful and conducive atmosphere, despite all the usual excitement and gamesmanship that is known to occur during election campaigning.”

Theme of the conference is ‘Enabling Customs in Fragile and and Conflict Affected Situations,’ which the President said is of “critical importance for us as a country as we go to the polls, but equally important to most countries on the continent, and dare I say the world. In fact, it is quite frankly the singular most concerning sub-issue in our national security agenda. The fragility of our borders has been a major Achilles heel in our fight against terrorism, economic sabotage and illicit flow of small and light weapons.”

President Buhari said it gladdens his heart, that the WCO has dedicated an entire conference to the subject and theme, “thus recognizing not only its importance, but dedicating working sessions and brainstorming around it and inviting great thought leadership to dissect the issues and explore how nations in Africa can address this problem given our unique set of circumstances while also pursuing our joint and collective idea of an interconnected continent via trade and movement of goods and services.”

The Nigerian leader briefed the WCO Secretary General and his team on a number of efforts in combating the challenges of fragile borders, which include:

“Our National Security strategy 2019 which promotes close inter-agency cooperation and the National Counter-Terrorism strategy which mandates Nigeria Customs Service to support other Agencies of government on fighting terrorism;

“Support for the armed forces in launching operations to secure our borders;

“Demonstration of a strong political will to support Nigeria Customs Service, as a critical agency of state in the discharge of its security and revenue mandates;

“Approval of the Federal Executive Council for a new Customs Modernization Project that actively promotes the integration of technology into border operations;

And “the ongoing effort to review the Customs enabling law to strengthen the Nigeria Customs Service and provide stiffer sanctions against smuggling and other criminal acts.”

President Buhari hoped that the conference will seek to understand the operating environment that exists around countries who struggle with fragile borders, and see how comprehensive and exhaustive solutions can be proposed that deal with the multi-faceted nature of the issues.

Dr Mikuriya described WCO as a 184-member worldwide organization, in which Nigeria plays an active and vibrant role.

He said Customs services must now go beyond mere revenue generation, and delve into security, as “without security at the borders, we cannot effectively collect revenue.”

Mikuriya lamented that Customs officials are often targets of terrorists and armed groups, “and so we need to have collaboration with other security agencies, share intelligence, and deploy technology.”

However, President Muhammadu Buhari has said that the digital economy sector has been most successful in the diversification of the nation’s economy, saving the Federal Government over N45.7 billion in IT projects clearance.

The President stated this Thursday at the State House, Abuja, when he unveiled and launched two new policies developed by the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy.

Linking the two policies to the diversification and prosperity of the economy, President Buhari said the National Policy on the Nigerian Government Second-Level Domains and the National Data Policy, are central to accelerating the development of the nation’s digital economy sector, adding that this administration would continue to develop policies and programmes in furtherance of the diversification of the economy:

“In the last three  and a half years, we have intensified the development of policies, design of programmes and implementation of projects in the digital economy sector and the impact has been very impressive.

“For example, we have succeeded in diversifying our economy to a large extent and this is obvious when we consider the contribution of the ICT sector to our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the second quarter of 2022 which stood at 18.44%, compared to the contribution of the oil sector to the GDP which was 6. 33% in the same period,” he said.

The President noted that Nigeria’s strides towards a thriving digital economy started on October 17, 2019 with the redesignation of the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy and the restructuring of its mandate, stressing that the changes have been phenomenal.

“We are proud of the great strides of our digital economy sector and the impact it has had on the different sectors of our economy and I commend the Honourable Minister for being committed to the implementation of the digital economy mandate.

“As part of our commitment towards ensuring the sustainability of our gains in the digital economy sector, we have taken steps to institutionalise the process by developing relevant policies and strategies,” President Buhari further stated.

According to him, a total of 21 new national policies and strategies have been developed by the Federal Government since 2019, adding that ” the policies and strategies are national instruments to support Nigeria’s digital economy at the national and sub-national levels. The national policies have led to significant development across all sectors of our economy.”

On the issue of digital identity for the country, President Buhari declared that the present administration has actively promoted it as key to a sustainable and secure development of our digital economy which will ultimately promote the use of the right identity by all Federal Public Institutions.

While noting that “the National Policy on Nigeria Government Second-Level Domains is a welcome step in this direction,” he directed that all government officials should refrain from using private emails for official purposes and Federal Public institutions (FPIs) must migrate their websites to the relevant government domains.

On the recent deployment of Starlink services by SpaceX in Nigeria, first of its kind in Africa, the President expressed his delight, declaring:

“We are glad that Starlink services are already deployed in Nigeria. This has made Nigeria the first and only African country to have this link. With the deployment of Starlink services in Nigeria, we have 100 percent broadband penetration in Nigeria.”

Earlier, Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Professor Isa Ali Pantami said that the two policies being launched were outcomes of compliance with the President’s directive to come up with a National Policy that was earlier approved by the Federal Executive Council, noting that the policies were targeted at consolidating on the gains achieved so far in the digital ecosystem.

Enumerating the benefits to be derived from implementing the policies, the Minister said the Ministry relied on relevant provisions of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 as amended, and the NITDA Act 2007, with the belief that they would go a long way in consolidating the achievements in the digital economy sector.

On the National Data Policy, Prof. Pantami reiterated the indispensability of data in national life, emphasizing that data was critical and could be leveraged on for the development of other sectors of the economy.

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