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Nigeria Gives 700,000 Aliens Week To leave

May 4, 1985

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) _ About 700,000 illegal aliens were given a week to leave Nigeria after the government told them the borders, closed for a year, are now open for their departure.

The government action is Nigeria’s second mass expulsion of aliens, most of whom are migrant workers drawn by an oil boom or refugees fleeing drought in their native countries. Two years ago, Nigeria drove out 2 million people.

The Interior Ministry announcement Friday appeared to result from falling oil prices and a widespread impression that foreigners have stolen jobs from Nigerians. Authorities also blame foreigners for high crime rates in the cities.

The announcement said the border will be open until May 10, the deadline for illegal aliens to obtain residence permits or leave.The nation’s frontier has been closed for a year during a crackdown on corruption and currency smuggling.

Nigeria had announced the expulsion on April 15, but had given no date for it.

The treaty between Nigeria and its neighbors on freedom of movement allows foreigners to remain in the country only for 90 days.

Interior Ministry vehicles will drive the aliens to the borders, or they will be allowed to buy airline tickets with Nigerian currency, the official Lagos radio said. The government requires other foreigners to buy tickets in foreign currency.

About 300,000 of the aliens are migrant workers from Ghana, according to Ghanaian authorities. An additional 100,000 are from Niger and most of the remainder are from Chad and Cameroon. Most of the non-Ghanaians crossed the border into Nigeria to escape drought and threatened famine.

The government appeared to be planning carefully to avoid the instances of violence that marked the 1983 expulsion.

Alhaji Saidu Barde, permanent secretary of the Interior Ministry, met with envoys of 11 West African countries Thursday to explain the plan.

He said ministry offices would be open 24 hours a day to enable aliens to arrange orderly departures and obtain permits for buying airline tickets in Nigerian currency.

Barde appealed to Nigerians to show ″every courtesy and understanding, and to avoid taking advantage of the present situation to exploit their brothers and sisters who are leaving the country.″

Nigeria closed the borders with its four neighbors - Benin, Niger, Chad and Cameroon - in April 1984 when a new currency was introduced as part of the campaign against corruption.

A primary objective was to render worthless the large sums of the old currency believed to have been smuggled out to escape taxes.

The anti-corruption drive was launched by the military regime that overthrew the civilian government Dec. 31, 1983. Military tribunals have convicted former government officials of corruption and sentenced several to prison terms of more than 20 years.