A. WHAT ARE BORDER COMMUNITIES?
By virtue of the Border Communities Development Agency (BCDA) Act of 2003 (amended in 2006), there are over 2000 border communities located in 105 Local Government Areas (LGAs) in 21 States of the Federation. These states share international boundaries with our neighboring countries.
For proper administration, communities lying between 15 kilometers to the international borders in the Border States and 25 kilometers in Oyo State are classified as border Communities. By virtue of their location, a lot of these communities are far from city centers and are almost inaccessible due to bad roads, broken down bridges etc, therefore development is absent or nonexistent in these areas making their situation very pathetic.
Nigeria shares international land borders with Benin Republic( 773 Km), Niger Republic (1,497Km)Chad Republic (87 km) and the Republic of Cameroon (1690 km) This stretches over a total land distance of approximately 3,053 km from the Gulf of Guinea to Lake Chad, Borno to Sokoto and Sokoto to Lagos. This is quite apart from the maritime (coastal) boundaries in the South-West to South – South.
It is also important to note that because of the identifiable challenges and in recognition of the strategic importance of these communities, the Federal Government set up BCDA with the aim of addressing the lapses of the three tiers of Government in providing socio-economic infrastructure to these communities.
BCDA is therefore an interventionist Agency set up principally to provide the much needed infrastructure in these areas thereby bringing development to the people and making their lives more meaningful.
It is to be noted that poverty, illiteracy, disease, unemployment and violence are rife in these areas, there is an apparent lack of most of the basic socio-economic infrastructure such as potable water, hospitals, schools, security posts etc. It is a fact that the people do cross over to the neighbouring countries to obtain the basic necessities of life. In fact a lot of our children in the border communities speak French because they attend schools in our French speaking neighbouring countries.
The challenge is daunting, the needs are numerous, unfortunately the Agency cannot cope with the burden due to paucity of funds. However, despite this situation, the Agency has been able to provide some infrastructure such as schools, health centers, potable water, hospital equipments etc to a few border communities across the nation.
B. WHAT ARE THE STRATEGIC POTENTIALS OF THE BORDER COMMUNITIES?
World over, it is the trend for border communities to provide a strong indication of what obtains in the country in terms of development, infrastructure, trade, economic and commercial activities.
Being the gateways to the country, these communities can be made solid economic bases if legitimate economic activities are encouraged.
International border markets can thrive in these communities where the exchange of various goods and services from various countries can be carried out. Examples are the proposed international market at Okerete, Oyo State, Banki and Maitagari Borno State, Imade Dura Benue State and Jibia Katsina State
When economic activities thrive, it will promote the collection of various tariffs, smuggling will be reduced and the people in the area would be gainfully employed. Instead of being sleepy ghost communities, these areas will be transformed into veritable commercial centers thereby boosting their economy and by extension that of the State. When the people are engaged they will be less prone to violent activities.
(ii) Foreign Direct Investments (FDI)
Closely linked to the above is the potential for other countries to invest in the economy of the nation. We all agree that the nation needs FDI to grow our economy. If economic activities thrive and the enabling environment is provided and available, the country can attract FDI necessary to boost our economy. It must be noted that these investments need not be only in the city centers, rural communities can also attract these investments if the necessary opportunities are available.
The Federal Government has been in the fore front of the campaign for diversification of the economy of the country and the need to reduce our overdependence on crude oil and its by products.
An excellent sector where Government can achieve this objective is agriculture. Nigeria can produce enough food to feed its citizens and to export to other countries. This is possible because of the vast area of arable land that is available in these border communities.
With the Federal Governments renewed focus on agriculture, a lot of the cash crops that was the mainstay of our economy before the discovery of oil can be resuscitated thereby increasing our economic base and making the country to rank tall amongst the agricultural giants in Africa.
(iv) Rural –urban drift
For all the above listed potentials to be translated into reality and made sustainable, the populations’ resident in these areas must be willing and available. If all these potentials are realizable therefore, it would be a strategic indicator in the fight to stem the rural –urban drift of most of the people in the rural communities especially the youths.