Tag Archives criminalisation

Border communities in Nigeria continue to remain unsafe: Are border security forces to blame?

Imeko border town remains a significant border area in Nigeria, due to the sizeable economic activity that is carried out there, which contributes to the country’s revenue base. However, despite the economic benefit that the border area provides Nigerian states, it remains marginalised and in a state of heightened insecurity. This article argues that the large presence of various Nigerian security forces, has in no way, ameliorated the security situation in the border area. However, this anomaly can be addressed if proper monitoring of the border area is carried out by relevant authorities. 

Marginalisation of border communities in Nigeria: the case of Imeko

Globally, border communities have a long history of marginalisation. These are communities situated on the edge of formal states. Inhabitants of these communities continue to remain the victims of various forms of criminality that occur at the borders, mostly because of a lack of police presence or failure of the security personnel posted to such locations to perform their duties. In Nigeria, border communities have faced various forms of marginalisation, which results mainly from the lack of basic infrastructure like schools, hospitals, health care facilities, potable water and, importantly, protection. Border regions in Nigeria are notoriously dangerous due to cross-border criminalities ranging from smuggling and trafficking activities to the presence of terrorist organisation i.e. the Boko Haram mainly found in the North-Eastern region of the country.

A case in point is the border town of Imeko in Nigeria. Imeko is a traditionally recognisable Yoruba town densely populated  in southwest Nigeria, close to the country’s border with Benin. Most of its inhabitants are farmers, hunters, and traders who take part in predominantly informal cross-border trade (ICBT) activities, otherwise viewed by the government as smuggling, which hence serves as a justification for the deployment, by the government, of a Special Force, known as the Joint Border Patrol, at the border town to curtail such activities.

When I visited Imeko in April 2021 and interviewed inhabitants for my study on the perpetual marginalisation of Imeko border town, it became evident that this border area has been challenged in many ways, ranging from a lack of basic infrastructure to failure to protect the citizens of the border communities. Aside from the fact that they are neglected by the government, there are instances where projects are being approved in the community’s name at the national level, without the community leadership even being informed. As revealed by a local, who was also my guide, the majority of the few schools in the town were built by the community itself before the government took over their management. Yet, these schools are not in good shape, and are short-staffed. An example is the Nazareth High School, where the current Oba[1] of Imeko taught before he became a traditional ruler.

The double burden of marginalisation and violence in Imeko

However, what is perhaps most concerning is how insecure the border area is. Given that Imeko is foremost an agrarian community, the presence of nomadic or semi-nomadic Fulani[2] herdsmen, who roam the region with their cattle, has been a curse according to farmers I interviewed, who claimed that the cattle had destroyed their farmland. Complaints from the people to the security forces stationed in the community about this, and other issues, have fallen on deaf ears, even after the traditional ruler’s interventions. In fact, there have been accounts of complainants being arrested by police officers instead, on the grounds that they are not being accommodating of the Fulani herdsmen, and have also been made to pay for their release from police custody.

While the traditional ruler plays an important role in ensuring that the community mobilises its local resources and strategies to address issues facing the community, the constant state of insecurity puts a strain on the limited resources, given the failure of the police and other security forces, deployed in the border town,  to ensure the security of life and property, and  the prevention of various forms of cross-border criminalities. For example, Figure 1 and 2 below, show burnt vehicles and motorcycles, often used by the local guards when on a search mission for kidnapped persons in the forest.

Figure 1: Motorcycles burnt by their attackers

Source: My Guide, April 12, 2021(Imeko Town)

Figure 2: Cars burnt by their attackers

Source: My Guide, April 12, 2021 (Imeko Town)

Without sufficient protection from the police and other security forces in the area, these acts of violence are likely to continue. It is also worth noting that such violence continues even though this border area is heavily securitised by the government due to cross-border activities that are carried out along the borders such as importation, smuggling, and human trafficking. In fact, at the time of my visit, there were more than fifty checkpoints manned by heavily armed security officers along the stretch of road between Kara (an area known for cattle market in Abeokuta), some 90 kilometres away from Imeko border town. This further confirms the assertion by various researchers of the entrenchment of the border guards and security personnel in the potent mix of poverty and corruption that plagues the border areas.

Are border security forces to blame?

Thus, this also raises the question about the role of the security forces towards addressing the issue of kidnappings of innocent civilians in the border area. Can their presence make a difference? Or are they complicit in the kidnappings? On various occasions, community members, traders, and skilled workers have been kidnapped. While some were released after paying huge sums as ransom, others were found dead.

Based on the interviews I conducted, I concluded that despite the presence of security forces, they are not likely to make a difference, as they are only focused on cross-border activities, while completely neglecting the problems that face communities in the border region. One would assume that the presence of the police and other security forces on the long stretch of road, and in the border town, should have brought some level of safety to the people, however, the opposite has been the case, as the border communities see the deployment of the security forces as part of the problem. Instead of protecting them, the security forces are perceived as aiding and engaging in smuggling activities themselves. According to some locals, while the locals who go to buy items such as rice, cereals, and vegetable oil for personal consumption across the border are stopped by security operatives and their items are confiscated, smugglers are known to offer and pay bribe to the same security forces, sometimes right in the presence of the locals, and are then allowed to drive off with impunity.

Moreover, most robbery and kidnappings happen on the road which is manned by heavily armed security operatives. According to one kidnapping victim, who had been kidnapped in 2019, he was not only dispossessed of huge sum of money which he went to withdraw in Abeokuta, but he was also a witness to women being sexually assaulted, by those he identified as Fulani herdsmen. Therefore, the people in the border communities feel that if this has been happening over the years, and it has not been addressed, then the presence of the security forces manning various check points on the road is futile.  During my time in Imeko, I also observed that as you move into the border town, immigration officers who check foreigners, mostly Fulani, were willing to take bribes from those who did not have any official identification. Even at the checkpoints for items such as rice, cereals, and vegetable oils, officers demanded bribes from the drivers and traders, and if they were unable to pay the bribe, their items were confiscated.

The way forward: what can be done?

The role of security agencies in border communities, therefore, cannot be overstated. As it stands, the communities have lost hope in the ability of the police and security forces deployed in their communities to secure life and property as they are perceived to only come in and engage in activities for personal gains. It is important to note here that this feeling is in no way different from what has also been documented in Nigeria cities. The people do not feel safe as police officers continue to extort money from them. This shows that there is a fundamental structural problem vis-à-vis the salaries/ wages of security personnel, which if paid on time and are a liveable wage, might also motivate them to do their job diligently and objectively. Security experts and concerned citizens have in the past, and continue to this day ,raise and stress this issue for the government to investigate and address.

It is in this light that I would equally add to their voices to say that it is imperative for the federal government to address this concern, as it is the common populace, and often those most vulnerable, who are bearing the brunt. The government, through coordination and leadership of various security organisations, must strictly monitor the activities of officers posted in the border area. In the case where special forces are deployed specifically for curtailing smuggling activities, they must be utilised and enforced to maintain and ensure security and order in the community, rather than waiting for special intervention from the state whenever there is a case of violence and kidnapping. Only when such measures are implemented with urgency, will the border communities, such as Imeko, be safe, and their confidence restored in the ability of the government to protect them.

[1] An Oba is a traditionnal ruler who rules over a Yoruba town or city in southwest Nigeria.

[2] A nomadic tribe found in Northern Nigeria.

Opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the ISS or members of the Bliss team.

About the author:

Samuel Okunade is a borderlands scholar who researches on borders and migration most especially as it concerns human trafficking and migrant smuggling in Africa. He is also interested in thinking through ways in which social and ethnic cleavages in border communities could be used for economic integration and social cohesion in Africa. He equally advances the course of border communities that have an age long history of marginalisation and neglect by the government.

Are you looking for more content about Global Development and Social Justice? Subscribe to Bliss, the official blog of the International Institute of Social Studies, and stay updated about interesting topics our researchers are working on.

COVID-19 | Sex workers driven further to the margins by the coronavirus crisis by Jaffer Latief Najar

Despite inroads having been made in recent years to improve their rights and reduce precarity, sex workers are still shunned, struggling to shift negative attitudes toward this age-old occupation. The coronavirus crisis is placing further pressure on sex workers, not only leading to a loss of income, but also pushing them further to the edges of society. Jaffer Latief Najar argues that states have the responsibility to ensure the acknowledgement of sex work and its entrepreneurs so that they can enjoy the same benefits as other employees or entrepreneurs during and after the crisis.

Sex work is a centuries-old global occupation, yet sex workers have always been marginalized. The sector has historically been regulated to keep tabs on the social, racial, political, and economic mobility of its workers. The regulation of the activities and bodies of sex workers worldwide and their marginalization are predominantly a colonial legacy. In the contemporary age, sex work is approached in binaries, seen either as legal (but regulated) labour or conflated with sex trafficking, which encourages its illegalization.

Concerning the radical changes enacted worldwide due to the spread of the coronavirus, including lockdowns and the temporary halting of high-risk occupations, it appears that the livelihoods, financial mobility, and health situation of sex workers are at risk. Some sex workers have used social media platforms to point out the decline of clients, income, and increasing health risks following the outbreak of COVID-19. For instance, one sex worker used a chain of threads and tweeted that,

“There’s no clients! Nobody in their right mind is having sex with a stranger during a pandemic. So often we’re not even given the option of seeing clients! Which means we’re BROKE. ”

Some sex workers are even offering extra unpaid services to continue drawing clients during the crisis. For instance, a number of sex workers are offering services such as ‘pay for 12 hours and get 12 free’. Indeed, sex workers in the Global South, in India for example, are struggling to make temporary arrangements to make ends meet, even fearing possible starvation if the current crisis endures. It explicitly speaks to the severity of coronavirus crisis and the strategies for survival employed by sex workers themselves. More so, sex workers’ communities and collectives have also come forward to raise funds to support sex workers who are suffering from financial stress during the time of this coronavirus pandemic. But is it their responsibility to ensure their survival? What role should the state play in helping sex workers stay afloat financially?

The precarity of sex work

Policies and feminists have contesting views on approaches to sex work. Some view it as a form of ‘exploitation’, while others see it as a form of work, framed in relation to individuals’ agency. The contestation is further complicated by the global anti-trafficking discourse, which largely conflates sex work with sex trafficking and encourages the criminalization of sex work. The United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (UN TIP Protocol) clearly promotes such a criminalization framework, which, after acknowledgement by the majority of nation-states, is shown to have a strong negative impact on the lives and livelihoods of sex workers. Indeed, within such a dominant frame, institutional support largely reaches sex workers when they represent themselves as victims of trafficking rather than as independent agential sex workers. My personal field engagement in India’s largest red light district in Sonagachi has provided ample evidence that the criminalization framework encourages the incarceration of sex workers who resist being framed as victims of trafficking and the dismissal of their basic human rights.

The tensions are also embedded in an intersectional system that supresses sex workers socially, politically, economically, and as individuals. During interviews conducted as part of my ongoing fieldwork on the research topic ‘Locating marginalized voices in human trafficking discourse: learning from the experiences of urban subalterns in India’ in Asia’s biggest red light district in Sonagachi, Kolkata, sex workers often noted the issue of exclusion from or discrimination in public healthcare services and in trying to access welfare benefits due to their occupation. Moreover, a majority of  sex workers are working with concealed identities and are using surrogate jobs titles to deal with social stigma and tensions in the family.

The current coronavirus pandemic creates a situation of hardship for them as they avoid working in streets and brothels and lose a share of income, which they present to their families as a salary from surrogate jobs, in addition to their crucial need to earn money to support themselves and their families. During my recent telephonic conversation with sex workers in India, after the outbreak of coronavirus pandemic, it appears that some of the sex workers are migrating back to their native villages as they can’t afford the expenses and possible risks in Sonagachi. Besides, it appears that the situation has become more risky and harsh for those migrant sex workers who stay back or even can’t go back to their native villages, especially undocumented migrant sex workers from outside states and outside national boundaries. It highlights that institutional support during such crisis situations is essential.

State support essentially needed

In pandemic situations, states largely comes forward to support those who are suffering from a loss of income (for example, see how the United States is responding). But due to the illegality or precarity of the occupation in many contexts, sex workers often are not seen as entrepreneurs who qualify for government subsidies or financial assistance. In such cases, there would be no mandate or institutional responsibility to offer financial packages, healthcare services, or relief benefits to sex workers. Industries and several unorganized work sectors suffering losses due to the coronavirus pandemic have been offered financial packages or healthcare benefits by several government agencies or employing institutions. But if sex work is not a commercially acknowledged industry, sex workers will be further cornered and will suffer further marginalization. Also, being a non-acknowledged industry, sex workers have no option of benefitting from other government support systems that have made several provisions to protect employees and companies alike. Indeed, those states that regulate sex work as work have imposed a recent ban on the commercial activities related to sex work due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has the potential of encouraging financial instabilities and further precarities among sex workers if no institutional support is provided.

The system of non-acknowledgement of sex work in established policies therefore excludes sex workers from entitlements or rights and invisiblizes sex workers during a pandemic situation, as the current coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated. It also holds back the political, social, and institutional responsibility of the state and other actors, including civil society, towards marginalized communities of sex workers. The onus, on the contrary, is indeed forcefully and irresponsibly imposed on sex workers to manage their situation, survive, and take high risks for the fulfilment of their basic human needs. Changes in the global socio-political landscape due to the coronavirus pandemic are hence leading to further burdens and precarities in the lives of sex workers, whereas an institutional system is failing to show any sign of support. But it is also a learning lesson for sex workers’ collectives and their allies in preparing responses to future pandemic situations. Last but not least and importantly, the crisis also puts in the spotlight the desirability of the criminalization approach toward sex work that exists in dominant anti-trafficking models.

This article is part of a series about the coronavirus crisis. Find more articles of this series here.

IMG_20181117_193035 (1)About the author:

Jaffer Latief Najar currently works as a researcher in the Vital Cities and Citizen Program at International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in The Hague, Netherlands. He can be reached on Twitter or LinkedIn.


Image Credit: Matt Zulak on Flickr. The image has been cropped.

Counter-terrorist legislation is threatening independent humanitarian relief, and is set to get worse today by Dorothea Hilhorst and Isabelle Desportes

The Netherlands has recently joined a handful of other Western countries in developing counter-terrorism legislation with the hope of stifling terrorist activity and threats. The new legislation on counter-terrorism recently passed by the Dutch Parliament (Tweede Kamer) will be discussed in the Senate (Eerste Kamer) today. Thea Hilhorst and Isabelle Desportes warn that the effects of such legislation should be examined critically, in particular implications for humanitarian actors whose work risks to be criminalized when they operate in areas with high levels of terrorist activity.

The formulation of counter-terrorist regulations has proliferated ever since the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York that served as a major wakeup call on the potential impact of terrorism. Aiming to prevent terrorists’ mobilization of new members and resources, such regulations forbid any form of direct or indirect support to armed groups designated as terrorist organizations. Although legitimate in themselves, the regulations can come with negative political and human rights implications, in particular for humanitarian aid.

A key historical example there is the worst drought in decades that hit the Horn of Africa in 2011. In Ethiopia and Kenya, state, non-state and international actors managed to respond in time to prevent mass casualties resulting from a lack of water and food security. In Somalia, however, the drought resulted in an estimated 260.000 deaths. This was partly down on the long-time conflict that rendered Somalians extremely vulnerable to drought, and the ongoing operations of Al Shabaab, that restricted people’s mobility to migrate to safer areas. However, it is now becoming apparent that the death toll was also exacerbated by donor counterterrorist measures, especially from the United States. Fearing that aid would fall into the hands of terrorist organizations, restrictions were put on international agencies that wanted to come to the rescue of Somalians in need, leading to lower humanitarian financing, non-access to people in need, aid delays, suffering, and death. Similar developments are now happening in Yemen.

Both counter-terrorism legislation and International Humanitarian Law are aimed at protecting people, especially civilians. Yet, counter-terrorism legislation, as well as accompanying donor requirements, can stand in the way of impartial life-saving humanitarian assistance. Humanitarian action should always be needs-based and non-discriminatory. A humanitarian doctor’s first question to a patient should be “Where does it hurt?”, not “What group are you from?”. Counter-terrorism laws can shift the focus in the humanitarian sector to the labelled identity of those in need, resulting in the refusal to help victims who are extremely vulnerable and whose survival is dependent on humanitarian assistance based on their (religious) identity and the fear of ‘supporting terrorist organizations’.

A 2018 survey of aid agencies conducted by the Norwegian Refugee Council identified numerous problems resulting from counter-terrorism legislation. This includes difficulties in channelling funds to areas requiring humanitarian assistance because banks fear being seen as supporting terrorist organizations. In addition, humanitarian actors feel restricted because negotiating with terrorist organizations controlling specific regions could be viewed as an act of support. Last, international agencies find themselves cut off from local implementing partners because of the possibility that they might have been in contact with terrorist organizations, whether knowingly or unknowingly. The ultimate consequences are that humanitarian actors risk being detained and held personally liable for doing their job, and that impartial care for people in need gets blocked.

Blanket bans on presence in entire geographical areas

Most recently, we are seeing a new wave of legislation that steps away from only branding organizations as terrorist and criminalizing support to these groups. Instead, new counter-terrorism laws are applied to entire geographical areas. Such bills, covering humanitarian action as well as independent journalism and academic research, have been passed in 2018 in countries including Australia and Denmark.

The new legislation is an answer to the situation of people who travelled to Syria to join IS. But experience in Syria also shows how assistance is affected by these types of measures. The Assad government has been criminalizing aid since 2012, and aid workers report in the above-mentioned Norwegian report that this meant, for example, that banks were not allowed to transfer their money and that they sometimes had to travel with more than half a million Euros in cash through difficult areas, which was of course much more risky than wiring the money.

Yet, another route can be taken. An EU package of measures that proposed restrictions for travelling to designated terrorist-dominated areas adopted in 2017 therefore made an exemption for humanitarian action. Following advocacy efforts of INGOs amongst others, similar exemptions were made in the UK’s Counter Terrorism and Border Security Bill in January 2019.

Dutch legislation needs to exempt independent humanitarian action

Today (12th November), the Dutch Senate will discuss a law already passed in Parliament that does not make exemptions for independent humanitarian action, apart from the Red Cross. Its proponents argue that exemptions would be too complicated, not least because wannabe terrorists often pose as humanitarians. However, it would be possible to incorporate more nuance and make sure that exemptions are extended to humanitarian agencies who operate following International Humanitarian Law and humanitarian principles, as done by the EU and argued by international law specialist Piet Hein van Kempen. As academics working on humanitarian issues, we call for a more engaged and thorough discussions between policy-makers, practitioners and scientific experts from the fields of both counter-terrorism and humanitarian aid. We call for counter-terrorist measures to ensure that they avoid hurting some of the world’s most vulnerable people, thereby creating further grievances in areas already under the influence of terrorism.

This post was simultaneously published at From Poverty to Power.

Image Credit: European Union 2018 (photo by: Peter Biro). The image was cropped.

TheaAbout the authors:

Dorothea Hilhorst is Professor of Humanitarian Aid and Reconstruction at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam. She is a regular author for Bliss. Read all her posts here. isa

Isabelle Desportes is a PhD candidate working on the governance of disaster response, in particular the interplay between humanitarian and local actors.