The unfolding global migratory trends are gradually assuming worrisome dimension. Nations, critical stakeholders, regional and global organizations are daily expanding discussions and collaborations on how best to contend with the unfolding realities of global migration. Migration issues are today defining global alliances and in some cases impacting heavily on political leaderships. Migration has become a great issue for political campaigns and how it is handled has led to the enthronement or defeat of regimes.
In Nigeria, the agency responsible for managing migration matters is the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS). Established by the 1st August 1963 Act of Parliament now repealed by the Immigration Act, 2015, the Nigeria Immigration Service has remained a key player in global efforts at managing migration.
It has come a long way from just a Unit in the Nigerian Police in the 1950s to a Department in the Ministry of Internal Affairs and headed by a Director to a full-fledged paramilitary agency of government with structures and formations across the 774 Local Council Areas and 40 locations in Nigeria Missions abroad.
There is no denying the fact that managing migration in our contemporary times demand huge deployment of modern automated structures and equipment as well as massive upgrades of the skills and competences of the workforce to deliver on mandate. Some of these critical structures would include a reliable and effective Passport/identity administration platform, high-tech Border Management System as well as robust logistics and communication facilities including Patrol vehicles, aerial surveillance equipment, radio communication gadgets and conducive office and barracks accommodation facilities for the workforce.
On the issue of Passport administration, some critics have struggled to deny knowledge of the massive reforms that the NIS has enabled particularly by ensuring that the country migrated from the era of manual Passport administration and issuance to the current electronic platform. For those of us who were either resident or Nigerian students abroad in the 1980s to the dawn of the Millennium, we can still remember the inconveniences we went through while trying to acquire Nigerian Passport or renew expiring ones. The situation got so bad to the extent that sometimes we could be without Passport for months and even up to one year because the renewed or freshly acquired Passports we tried through the Nigerian Missions abroad were not sent from Nigeria. Some of us went through tough experiences in those countries to the extent that a sizable number lost their studentship or residency due to inability to renew our residency or admission status for lack of Passport.
However, the story changed sometime in 2007 when the NIS migrated to the electronic platform in line with the requirements of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). This period ushered in several developments in the NIS especially the evolution of e-Immigration project. The Service became ICT-driven in the discharge of its responsibilities. Online applications, processes and issuance of facilities such as Resident Permit and Visas became a norm. The automated Border Control Solution, e-Passenger Registration System (e-PARS) and auto-gate became operational in the Service. Today, Visa application processes are electronic-based as NIS liberalized application for Visa on Arrival and TWP via e-mail. No doubt these revolutions required huge financial outlay to drive and sustain. This was at a time when government was calling for private public partnership in running some of its agencies that were becoming financially burdensome.
This was the time the ministry of Interior, the supervising ministry, considered it necessary to enter into some agreements on behalf of the Service with some companies that had the competence and capacity to deliver on the nation’s electronic Passport platform. A decade down the line critics cannot deny the fact that indeed a great deal of sanity has been restored to the Nigerian Passport platform. Today, apart from the fact that the Nigeria Passport has met up with all ICAO’s requirements it has continued to aid the detection of cases of identity theft, multiple acquisition and restoration of the dignity of the document. Genuine holders now pass through national frontiers abroad with minimum checks unlike when some of our nationals were subjected to humiliating travel experiences at Border Points abroad.
Some public affairs commentators have continued to allege that the NIS’ Passport platform is in the hands of foreign companies insisting that the socio-political and security implication of such arrangement could be very huge. Apart from the fact that this is far from the truth as my search showed that Irish Smart Technology, the firm that is partnering with the NIS on the Passport platform is indeed a registered Nigerian company, all the operators of the Passport system across all the NIS Passport offices I have visited are NIS officials.
Beyond that, contemporary global developments especially in our webbed-world is depicting clearly that no nation can truly and singly claim to have all its scientific, economic, technological and even political arrangements under absolute control. There exist massive interdependence of platforms, systems, processes and procedures across the globe. It is the reality of the world we live in today. The revolutions in mobile communication, aviation, banking and even security sectors are to the effect that each country needs the others to truly survive. For instance, many of the mobile communication firms in UK, France and other European countries are owned by some Asian investors.
Furthermore, some components of important financial documents and cards such as bank cheques, ATM cards, money transfer documents, softwares and machines used in the very important financial and banking sectors in many countries are all imports from other lands. Also only very few countries in the world including the USA, UK among others can boast of absolute ownership of all their military/security armaments and equipment. Today most of the automobiles and computer systems and equipment used in countries such as USA, UK and some European countries are products from Japan and China.
Genuine calls for enhanced local efforts and technology in our national development are not only apt but germane; however a belief that a single country such as Nigeria can acquire all it needs locally without relating with other parts of the world is simply very pedestrian in the present global environment. Take the electronic Passport Booklet for example; it is certainly not possible for a country to singly produce it. The chips, the various inks used, the thread and other security materials in the Booklet are products from different countries.
This is where some of us would not agree with the argument of some persons who opined that the integrity of our national security is at stake simply because of the unfounded allegation that the Nigeria Passport is produced by a foreign firm abroad. If we are to go by this narrow line of thought one then begins to wonder why the same critics would agree to subscribe to MTN, Airtel, 9mobile networks where they willingly volunteered all their personal information and/or even keep their money in some foreign affiliated banks in Nigeria. It is in the light of the above that one would enjoin the NIS to continue to emplace processes and procedures to deliver best practices especially those that would check sharp practices in all its service windows.
The current reforms going on in the NIS under the leadership of Muhammad Babandede should be encouraged especially the decentralization of the Passport issuance process to the states, the massive infrastructural upgrades across formations and the revamping of the Border Patrol activities. A regular user of any of the nation’s international airports and some land borders will not but appreciate the new dawn in robust passenger clearance process courtesy of the introduction of the harmonized arrival/departure card, the auto-gates platform and the Visa on Arrival (VoA) facility that has impacted greatly in the drive for enhanced Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs).
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