As many as twenty three Nigerian citizens have been apprehended during the last couple of months in India’s frontier region of the Northeast for unlawfully crossing the border from Bangladesh.
The foreign nationals were apprehended by police at different places in Meghalaya and Assam after they entered India through a porous stretch in Tripura in the Northeast, which borders Bangladesh.
“We are taking this case very seriously. All ramifications and possibilities are being probed,” Meghalaya police chief R Chandranathan said. The probe has unraveled vital leads, but nothing conclusive so far that would reveal the real purpose of the mission undertaken by the Nigerians.
According to sources in the Meghalaya government, all the Nigerian citizens who were travelling in groups hail from the southern zone of the country, which is Christian dominated. Their travel and itinerary had been fixed by Bangladeshi agents at the Nigerian capital of Lagos who might have also arranged the touts to help them cross the border into India. They arrived in Dhaka through a meandering route via Addis Ababa and Bangkok while one of the groups also landed in Istanbul before proceeding further in the journey.
All the groups had plans to board the train from Guwahati to New Delhi where a large community of Nigerians live in the southern districts. Many nationals have also been convicted for drug peddling in India, but police believe the visit of these men to India was motivated by the prospect of earning money through cyber crime.
Nigerian nationals have earlier been convicted in India for drug peddling. The latest report of Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) revealed that Nigerians constituted about 40 percent of foreigners arrested for drug crimes in India during 2017.
However, Nigerians have also been arrested in past few years for cyber crimes, which some officials describe as the new modus operandi of the criminal gangs among the community. Two years ago, six nationals were arrested by a combined team of Meghalaya and Delhi police from the capital in relation to a Facebook fraud that robbed a victim.
There were two cases last June resulting in the arrest of four Nigerians for cyber crime from Mumbai and New Delhi. In one of the episodes, the gang hacked over 2,000 bank accounts and transferred millions of rupees after creating a fake web page resembling the income tax department. Occasionally, these gangs were also found to collaborate with local criminal groups for choosing the victims.
“If they are able to earn money through fraud, they might return through the same route to Bangladesh after making provisions for the transfer of the amount. And if they are convicted for crimes, then they would serve the jail sentence and then get deported. It’s a risk worth taking for them,” claimed a middle-rung official of Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI).
The case of the Nigerians also raises serious doubts over the government’s claims of improved surveillance of the India-Bangladesh border which totals a long distance of 4,056 kms. A decision has also been taken recently to deploy thermal imagers and Israeli drones along the border in Assam’s Dhubri to check for infiltration and smuggling.
But the Nigerian nationals were able to cross the border and travel unnoticed for more than 200 kilometers before being apprehended in Assam and Meghalaya. The first two groups might as well have succeeded in reaching New Delhi if the Meghalaya Police had not decided to check the identity of all travelers coming to or passing through the hill state after the publication of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam on August 31. Civil society groups had resorted to similar activities after the publication of the draft NRC last year fearing that illegal immigrants would take refuge in Meghalaya.
Above all, the flight of the Nigerians also establishes the existence of safe routes that facilitate the movement of people and commodities across the border. It may not be far-fetched to conclude that many gangs might have already passed through the highways to different destinations in the country without being detected.
The Nigerians apprehended in Meghalaya have also been quizzed by the security agencies to unearth details of the network that facilitate the unlawful entry of people from Bangladesh which has already raised a storm in India’s Northeast and in other parts of the country in recent times.
Rajeev Bhattacharyya is a senior journalist in Assam, India.