Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A deep look at Nigeria Immigration Service

The Nigeria Immigration Service has come a long way since it was carved out of the Nigeria Police Force in 1958. The Immigration Department, as it was known then, was entrusted with the core immigration duties under the headship of the Chief Federal Immigration Officer. During this period, only the Visa and Business Sections were set up. However, on August 1, 1963, Immigration Department was formally established by an Act of Parliament (Cap 171, Laws of the Federation Nigeria). At that point, its operations and control were moved from the Nigeria Police to the Federal Ministry of Internal Affairs. Since then, the functions and responsibilities of the NIS have been expanded to include introduction of the ECOWAS and African affairs/bilateral division; aliens control and border patrol management; and the issuance of all Nigerian travel documents.
Among the successes the Service had recorded in its over five decades of operations include the introduction of information communication technology applications in its operations. By moving from analogue to digital or manual operations to computerisation, the Service introduced the Combined Expatriate Residence Permit and Aliens Card. It also announced online payment for its facilities while also establishing a website to promote its activities.
Furthermore, according to the organisation, “The introduction of Machine Readable Electronic Passports in 2007 was a landmark achievement by the Service in that Nigeria became the first country in Africa to introduce the e-passport and among the first 40 countries in the world to do so. The embrace of the e-passport has become a major tool in the fight against transborder criminality as the e-passport contains the biometric details of holders thus making it easy for detection of persons travelling under false identities or compromised travel documents…” The Nigeria Immigration Service equally claims to have established a well-equipped forensic laboratory for the examination of travel documents and monetary instruments.
However, it is training a special border patrol corps to help fight terrorism and other crimes at the nation’s borders. During an event in Kano in April this year, the 13th Comptroller General of Nigeria Immigration Service, Mr. David Shikfu Paradang, was quoted by the News Agency of Nigeria as saying that, “Apart from the training, the initiative has so far seen the purchase of 60 additional patrol vehicles, communication gadgets, increased control posts from 84 to 114 and border patrol bases from 45 to 72 …”
Among the feats the NIS tells everyone who cares it has achieved is the newly introduced 64-page electronic passport which was launched by President Goodluck Jonathan on July 30, 2014. This is to complement the 32-page e-passport currently in use and is targeted at frequent travellers. The new passport is said to be “gender-friendly, forestalls identity theft, cheaper for the aged and low income earners.” The service also boasted that in recognition of its giant strides, “the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the global body that regulates standards for travel documents, admitted Nigeria into its board as the sole African representative.”
With all the above, readers may think one is talking of a saintly organisation that is efficient, effective and faultless. Far from it! Instead, the Nigeria Immigration Service is a cesspool of corruption, nepotism, and primordial sentiments. Before the advent of e-passport, incidences of fake passports being churned out by some unscrupulous members of staff of the Service in cahoots with some undesirable elements in the society who are master forgers were very alarming. Also, before the advent of e-passport, it was possible for an individual to have multiple passports bearing different names, much as it was easy for non-Nigerians to get the country’s green passport. It is noteworthy that the e-passport has only significantly reduced these fraudulent practices but has not eliminated it.
Corruption still thrives at the NIS. It is practically impossible to get the e-passport at the official rates. Many who want express service still go through touts and middlemen who help to speed up the acquisition process even though one has to go physically to have one’s biometric details captured. Anyone who wants to follow laid down rules and procedures to the letter should be ready to wait indefinitely. The process of getting the e-passport is painfully slow and can take weeks and months unless you’re ready to “play ball”. Even getting one’s passport renewed is no less tedious as only about four persons are doing the biometric capturing at the NIS headquarters in Abuja and here you have hundreds of people turning up every day to make requests for the passports. The NIS has also on several occasions been rocked with “job-for-sale” scandals where prospective applicants are made to illegally pay hundreds of thousands of naira to a syndicate in exchange for limited job vacancies.
Nigerians in the Diaspora, like their compatriots in the country, also face daunting challenges when they want to renew their travel documents. Although the Comptroller General of the Service, David Paradang, said on a Nigerian Television Authority interview programme, “On the Spot” on Saturday, September 13, 2014, that the Service has increased the passport issuance centres from about nine countries to 24 with a total of about 40 renewal centres, this is still grossly inadequate to service more than 10 million Nigerians overseas. On the programme, the head of the Immigration also explained that the Service is conducting certificate verification of its staffers because of some “rogues” who in a bid to get promoted, particularly from the Inspectorate to Superintendent Cadre, resorted to presenting forged certificates.
The NIS is also faced with the challenge of the influx of illegal immigrants into the country. Many of these aliens come through illegal routes while some who gained entry through the designated border posts possibly bribed their way in. The Comptroller General also mentioned the challenge posed by the Economic Community of West African States’ free movement protocol. It is however noteworthy that much as ECOWAS guarantees free movement of persons and free trade within the sub-region, the protocol does not say such persons should not have genuine travel documents.
By far the greatest challenge facing the NIS today is the porous Nigerian borders which the CG preferred to call extensive and expansive boundaries. The Minister of Interior, Abba Moro, in February 2013, said Nigeria had 84 regular borders and over 1,487 irregular routes into the country. Policing this huge number of entry points when the Service has only 22,000 workforce, many of whom are doing other duties apart from border patrols, is Herculean. Unfortunately, twice now, attempts to recruit new members of staff into the organisation had ended in a fiasco. First was in July 2008 when 17 persons reportedly died during the nationwide recruitment to the NIS and Nigeria Prisons Service. The second and more recent tragedy occurred on March 15, 2014 when another 15 applicants were also confirmed dead in stampedes during the Service recruitment exercise. Scores were also injured. Unfortunately, last Saturday on NTA, the CG said six months after the heart-rending incident, the committee set up to look into the remote and immediate causes of the disaster had yet to conclude its work. What an efficient way to work! Most painfully, the man under whose watch the tragic incident occurred, Moro, has neither resigned, been redeployed nor sacked. What a country!
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