The federal government recently appointed Mohammed Babandede to mount the headship of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) amidst criticisms. CHRISTIANA NWAOGU was there when he recently spoke with journalists on major challenges confronting the service and why he stopped the collection and submission of returns to senior officers. He equally expressed his support for the anti- corruption war against the nation’s saboteurs, and decries the plight of under promoted officers among other disturbing issues.
You gave a marching order that all ex governors, former ministers, lawmakers and other public officials who are still in possession of their diplomatic passports and other official documents be arrested, don’t you think that this is rather embarrassing?
Really?, you would recall that government had before my appointment ordered all ex-officials to submit those documents to the Nigeria Immigration Service(NIS).
Prior to my resumption, I received several ‘ save us calls’ from friends i met both as ACG, Passport and DCG, operations but I made them understand that since they were no longer serving, they had no right to hold unto those documents.
On resumption, I wrote a memo to my minister and got his approval to write to state and federal governments to let official and diplomatic passports be part of the things to be returned before retirement and payments of benefits.
I’ve already sent the circular out. Secondly, I warned them never to cross our borders with diplomatic passports at the expiration of their tenure, threatening to seize and photocopy it to attest I have collected it. We ‘ ve also told state governments and parastatals that henceforth, renewal for a governor will be subject to the deputy governor who didn’t return his diplomatic passport.
For civil servants, it will be more serious that they have to return it otherwise we will go to their houses to get them. You may ask why can’t we just deactivate it. If you do , they can use it in countries where they don’t read the passport so, we need the physical passport collected from them. It is an offense to hold onto the passport when you don’t deserve it, once you are caught, you will serve two years jail term.
A lot of people have started returning it by themselves. I go for private trips with my private passports. If I am going for an official assignment, then I can go with my official passport. They are using their diplomatic passport to carry money and God willing I will be able to give statistics of the diplomatic passport.
On effective service delivery and changing vital information in passports
I made a promise to Nigerians to deliver certain things within two months, especially as it concerns women that intend to change their names on account of marriage, divorce, widowhood or other reasons. I have made it easy as they have to do such in their state of origin or residence instead of coming to the Abuja.
We have also developed a system for those with cases of misplacement and we have issued directives that those ones be done manually. We have decentralised the system and the comptrollers are happy because they have little power and it will make the headquarters less attractive.
This strategy will also in a way reduce refusal by officers to embark on transfer . Some people will die to stay in the headquarters but now that there is no business, they will now run away.
On border control
We are aware that majority of our businessmen carryout illegal business at the country’s porous borders and to arrest this trend, i have commenced the installation of surveillance equipment that are simple, durable, easily repaired as well as easily maintained.
Aside this, I monitor and inspect projects before releasing funds to contractors and to a large extend, this policy has yielded so much result by cutting cost and reducing abandoned jobs. I want to leave very good record and you can’t achieve that with corrupt staff. I will build the capacity of our officers and things will work out well.
I don’t want to jump into technologies. The Chinese government offered us a control panel alongside a machine, when I asked how much was required to purchase the system? They said we needed service providers to maintain the communication system which was to cost about N50million or more. My argument always, as a professional is that, machine does not solve problems.
Expensive machines plus inefficient system is equal to expensive inefficient system. We have border patrol vehicles that we don’t know how to use and there are no spare parts for them in Nigeria.
I don’t want to rush into technology that we cannot sustain; I want to start from small to big. I want to work on officers’ accommodation by constructing barracks for them, provide patrol vehicles, communication gadgets so that they can talk to each other.
The border problem is much. I am not ruling out people coming from outside to do this job. What I am working out is a machine that will register every non-Nigerian in every local-government.
I have also drafted a legislation which the legal adviser is working on to make a regulation that will mandate every person who is not a citizen of Nigeria staying for a period more than 90days to register in the local government of his residence.
When you come to the border we will take your biometrics. There are three points of control in immigration. Control before entry, control on entry, and control after entry. Control before entry is the visa you issue to people before they come to the border, control at entry are at the borders if people escape the border you get them after they have entered.
If we make our borders attractive with good highways, roads and check points, petrol stations and shops no one will want to follow desert.
If the government roads are bad, it is better to pass through the desert. I listened to presentations where deactivated equipment could be buried in the sand and if people pass, you will see the alert, the question is, after seeing the alert, where is the vehicle to hunt them. Next year, I may put that item as a priority and it will take all of us to do this job.
On staff welfare
Talking of welfare, when somebody has nowhere to sleep , no proper allowance nor motivational incentive, you tell him to catch an offender, he will just collect money from the person and let him go. These are the issues which I am trying to address before I can go to the bigger areas.
I have introduced so many things to bridge major challenges faced by our staff. We instituted a compulsory one month briefing involving every command. We gave staff the immunity that allowed them lay their greviances without molestation.
We have issued circular to commands who are not cooperating to commence the heart – heart forum. I have instructed them to allow the staff unburden their minds to reduce the volume of rumours and leaking of information.