Nigeria: What Could the New U.S. Border Control Program Include?

During a state visit to Nigeria in early September, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Linda Thomas-Greenfield announced that the United States was preparing to launch a major border security program to help Nigeria and its neighbors combat the growing Boko Haram threat. She added that “Cameroon’s military is [also] increasingly forced to fight Boko Haram within Cameroon, and that the insurgents flee back into Nigeria without fear.” While the specifics of the U.S. border program have yet to be unveiled, U.S. border control assistance to Kenya provides a window into likely elements of a U.S. border security program for Nigeria.

Similar to Nigeria, Kenya is concerned with terrorist movements across its border and piracy off its coastline. In response to Kenya’s border challenges, the United States has been assisting Kenya with at least four goals: 1) enabling border control officials to identify and stop suspect travelers; 2) increasing aerial surveillance capabilities; 3) enhancing sea port and maritime security; and 4) strengthening border security at the sub-regional level. To assist Kenya with the first goal, the United States has provided “computerized screening systems” to allow officials to quickly identify suspect persons attempting to enter or leave their countries.

In late January 2011, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection also provided a five-week course on rural border patrol unit tactics to Kenya’s police and wildlife services, some of which could be applicable to Nigeria’s situation. The course instructed 30 officers on topics such as “patrolling and formations, small-unit tactics, escalation of force, land navigation, tactical tracking, weapons handling, safety and maintenance,” among other topics. At the end of the course, the Kenyan officers simulated how to handle Somalis smuggling in al-Shabaab terrorist operatives and weapons into Kenya.  

Although it is unclear if the United States will provide Nigeria with the same type of assistance it gave to Kenya, there are a host of challenges the U.S. government may face in assisting Nigeria. The U.S. aid comes at a time of intense conflict with Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, particularly along the border with Cameroon. Nigerian border guards must grapple with an increasingly large refugee crisis as Nigerian refugees flee into Cameroon. The Nigerian government also has severely limited capacity to effectively monitor its northern borders, and corruption is rampant within Nigerian’s security forces.

As the United States pursues border control assistance to Nigeria and continues with Kenya, it will be critical to conduct extensive monitoring and evaluation of such U.S. assistance. As part of President Obama’s April 2013 directive on security assistance, he has indicated that the administration will “introduce common standards and expectations for assessing security sector assistance requirements, in addition to investing in monitoring and evaluation….” Thoroughly conducting these investigations with qualified staff will be essential to ensuring U.S. security assistance is used effectively and responsibly.