New Telegraph

February 26, 2024

Tunji-Ojo: Efficient manning of our borders’ll reduce security threats

Your first few weeks in office was filled with excitement as you cleared a backlog of passports held down at the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS). How were you able to do that?

Well, all we have trying to do is to implement the Renewed Hope Agenda of President Bola Tinubu. I’ve said it a couple of times; the President has instructed us as ministers or other appointees that we were not appointed to make excuses but to bring solutions to the table. So, coming on board and inheriting a backlog of 204,332 passports was something that we needed to resolve quickly and we are grateful that we were able to energise the team, mobilise our men and women at the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) to provide the leadership and necessary support to achieve it. Today we have zero backlog of passports.

What other reforms are you likely to bring on board to ensure that the Nigeria Immigration Service performs more efficiently?

The issue of passport is the least of the responsibilities of the NIS. The service is the lead agency when it comes to our border control as it is in charge of both entry and exit within our space as a country. So, we are looking at enhancing our border control mechanisms. For instance, we are looking at our unmanned entry points. We are looking at the ability to be able to use technology to secure our border space more efficiently. We have about 1,800 entry points out of which we have only about 700 that are manned. So, it means that there are over 1,100 entry points that are not manned and that calls for great concerns. Of course, we are also looking at our five international airports and we are planning that by February next year, we are looking at the possibility of having what we call the E- Gate System. The E-Gate System gives a more seamless experience and will simply eradicate human contact between customers and the service. This will help automate the whole processes and bring about its efficiency. So, what we want to see is that when people come in with their passports, they simply tap the E-Gate, and of course, with their biometrics, the system will automatically register their entry into the country. That gives us a more convenient travelling system and of course give us a back-up data system. We are also looking at the Advanced Passenger Information System (APIS), which is part of the border control management system. It is like a cocktail and part of the cocktail is the APIS, which will entail us having data and detailed information of all passengers coming into Nigeria from the point of purchasing their tickets. This will help our security agencies to do what we call pre- profiling. When you preprofile these people, you will be able to know people of interest and know those we need to dig further at the point of entry and perhaps know people that we might need to refuse entry based on their antecedents, criminal records and whatever. This will further enhance our border control policy. You cannot expect that people will come into your country and in one minute or two you look at them and be able to digest who they are without background check. The APIS will give us that opportunity and it will start by February 2024. As I speak, the Command and Control Centre is presently being built at the Nigeria Immigration Service here in Abuja. Also, by next week, the E-Gate will be delivered to Nigeria and the installation will start almost immediately. This is aimed at putting in place a robust border control system. We are also looking at a revised Visa Policy. Visa is a security document anywhere in the world and of course we want a system where we issue visa on arrival based on the principle of reciprocity. This will enhance our security and ensure that the people that are not supposed to be here are not here. Yes, we want ease of travelling, we want ease of doing business but we must not do these at the expense of national security. We also want to review the way we issue what they call CEPAC, which is the Work Permit. We want to be sure that the jobs expatriates will be doing are jobs that Nigerians cannot do. Our population is increasing hence we also need to create more jobs for our people. In the short time that I’ve been here, I’ve seen applications for various categories of work permits. For instance, I’ve seen applications for work permits that involves truck drivers, mechanics, electricians and even store keepers. I don’t know why a country has to issue work permit for somebody to come and be a store keeper. You want an expatriate to come and be a store keeper in Nigeria, when we have people who can do it. I have also received dozens of applications for accountants. Even if the qualification is FCA, ACA or whatever, we have them in Nigeria. Why must certain oil and gas companies or telecom firms insist that the only person that they can trust with their accounts is the expatriate they want to bring from abroad? So, we are looking at all the policies that allows the issuance of work permits regardless of qualification. We want to ensure that if we are issuing a work permit, it must be for a job that a Nigerian cannot do. We must also understand that the law says that for any expatriate to work here, he is meant to be understudied. We need to find out if these expatriates really have understudies and if these understudies are actually doing what they are supposed to be doing. The essence of this is for knowledge transfer. There are some expatriates who have done three years, five years and some 10 years in Nigeria, yet they are still asking for renewal of their work permits. The question is this: What us the need for the understudy? If you have an understudy for 10 years, I believe the understudy should have known the job. This is a matter of knowledge transfer. Our population cannot be increasing at a geometric progression and the few jobs that are available which Nigerians can do, we are busy outsourcing and exporting them.

What is the level of cooperation between your ministry and the Ministry of Police Affairs given the fact that you’re both strategic in internal security matters?

We have been working together to enhance internal security of our country. It is the same government and we are working together for the benefit of Nigeria and the benefit of Nigerians. In fact, we have no choice but to work together in harmony because that is what Nigeria needs at this time. We need all the handshakes we can get to make sure that the problem of insecurity in our country would be a thing of the past.

What are you going to do to ensure that those who find themselves in the prisons or correctional centres come out from there better than they were, when they got there?

I can tell you that I’m more passionate about the correctional centres than any other place. I was at the Kuje Correctional Centre recently to flag off the release of the 4,058 inmates with options of fine and I can tell you that Kuje was built for 530 inmates but now has about 763 inmates. Out of the 763inmates, about 560 of them are awaiting trial. What that tells you is that not all the people you find in the facility are guilty or condemned criminals, and not all of them are people, who have done anything wrong because in the eyes of the law, you are presumed innocent until proven guilty. So, we have to understand the difference between awaiting trial inmates and those who have been convicted. In the area of those that have been convicted, there is a lot we are trying to put in place, starting with a complete Correctional Service Reforms Scheme. This will entail skill acquisition. At the Kuje event; the chair or sofa that I sat on was built by the inmates. We also saw soaps, sandals and other things made by them. We have a good skill acquisition centre right there which we can build upon. Also, a lot of these inmates are improving themselves by sitting for the WAEC/GCE/SSSCE and NABTEB examinations. We are also planning to introduce what we call Operation Adopt a Correctional Centre to be able to pick about 10 correctional centres out of the 253 Correctional Centres in Nigeria. When you pick these top 10, you would have taken care of about 60 per cent of the burden. When you talk about the correctional centres, you can talk about five in Lagos, namely the Kirikiri Maximum, Kirikiri Medium, Kirikiri Female, Badagry Prisons and of course, Ikoyi Prisons. We can talk about Agodi Prison, Ibadan, Kuje Medium Security Prison in Abuja, Suleja Prison. Enugu Prison, Port Harcourt Prison Maiduguri, Bauchi Prison and Calabar Prison. Once you take care of these ones, you have taken care of more than 60 per cent capacity of our correctional centres. We are planning on renovating these facilities and making sure that these inmates have their dignity and fundamental rights because under the law, the only fundamental right a citizen loses while in incarceration is freedom of movement. They should have access to good food, good health, association and what have you. So, we have to make sure that these people do not lose their basic rights while in custody. We want to make sure that they undergo skills training, psychological evaluation and integration. We want to be able to fund all the skill acquisition schemes because some are barbers, some are carpenters and shoemakers. We want to make sure that they go through refresher courses before we release them. We want our correctional centres to be places of hope and not places of hopelessness. We want our correctional centres to be reformatory and truly corrective in nature. We want our correctional centres to be places where people can have an opportunity for a second chance in life. We hope that with the transformational plan and by the grace of God under the Renewed Hope Agenda, in the next one year, Nigerians will begin to see the difference in infrastructure development and capacity of our correctional centres.

About a year ago, the Kuje Correctional Centre was attacked by armed men suspected to be members of ISWAP and hundreds of their members were released. A panel was set up to investigate the alleged complicity of some officials of the facility but up till now, Nigerians have not been told what really happened. Would you be reopening that inquiry to fish out culprits and punish them?

I can assure you that we have already called for the report and we have already studied it. But don’t forget that these are security issues that cannot be discussed in the public. One of the essences of setting up the panel was not to make the report public because if you make the report public, then you would expose the facility to more danger. We have to understand that but I can assure you that what we had was not a jail break but a jail attack and a lot of measures are being put in place to ensure that we have zero tolerance for jail attacks in the future.

As at early October, the statistics of Inmates on Death Row (IDR) stood at 3,325. Are you not worried over this development?

Of course, I have to be worried and we all have to be worried. I want to appeal to those whose responsibility it is to take a decision on the situation to do so.

Do you mean the governors?

Yes! They just have to take the decision. Whichever way you want to look at it, they must take a decision. It is about congestion of our faculties. We have 263 correctional centres; the entire capacity is about 50,000 but at the moment, we have over 80,000 inmates. So, if there is any way we can further decongest our facilities without threat to national security, we must do and this is a critical part of it. What are you planning to do to ensure that our correctional centres have adequate buffer zones that enable security operatives to detect and counter any attacks on them? This is arguably the best question you have asked so far because correctional centres are not meant to be in urban centres. We have to understand the impact of urbanisation on our correctional centres. It is not just about Kuje because the location of the Kuje Correctional Centre is much better than that of the Ikoyi Correctional Centre, which is just behind the Polo Club. It is not acceptable anywhere in the world for a prison to be in such a location. The much talked about Kirikiri is in Apapa. The one in Enugu is in a Government Reserved Area (GRA) and the one in Agodi, Ibadan, is within the market. Under an ideal situation, you can’t have all these facilities in such places. The key issue is that even when there is a jail attack, it means that the people in the neighbourhood would be at risk because there could be a cross fire. It also limits the response of the security agencies. So, location of correctional facilities within urban areas is a major risk as far as I’m concerned. The Kuje Correctional Centre, for instance, shares a fence with a school. This is not acceptable. So, these are part of the things we are already working on. We have done our own report, what is remaining is to do a SWOT analysis of all our 253 correctional centres to come up with a position based on individual centres and I think that the President is really interested in making sure that we have safe custodial centres. The military and other security agencies will not risk their lives to capture these terrorists and then keep them in places where they can easily escape. It makes the war on terrorism a bit difficult. So, to solve this problem, we must also ask ourselves; how many correctional centres do we have and how many federal correctional centres do we actually need in this country? What is the total prison capacity? We have to understand that from independence up to the last amendment of the constitution, correctional centres were on the Exclusive List and therefore the exclusive right of the Federal Government. But with the last constitutional amendment, correctional centres are now on the Concurrent List. What it means is that state offenders are supposed to be in state correctional facilities, while federal offenders, especially those charged with terrorism and other violent crimes will now be in federal facilities. If you check the records, more than 70 per cent of our inmates are state offenders, while the remaining are federal offenders. So, if you look at the statistics, we might not have up to 27,000 federal offenders. Now the question is: Is it healthy for us to maintain 253 correctional centres in view of coordination? My answer is no. Is it reasonable for the Federal Government to be managing all the correctional centres alone even when the constitution now says it is on the Concurrent List? The answer is no. So, what do we need to do? These are some of the issues we have to look into and maybe hand over some of these correctional centres to the state governments, so that they can take care of their own offenders and inmates. Don’t forget that today, the Federal Government is feeding all the inmates in all the facilities across the country. As far as I am concerned, that is not federalism. There are a lot of interactions going on and soon we shall be meeting with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) at the UN House to be able to debate some of these things and agree on some of them. We want to be able to look at best practices, so that we can work something out, something that can work for the system. In my own personal opinion, the state governments should take responsibility for their own inmates, while the Federal Government takes care of its own. In that way, we will ensure that the federal facilities are also well fortified. If we decide to guard only a few federal centres, it means we would have more men to do the job. We can even have courts in these federal facilities, so that we don’t need to be moving people to court far away from the prisons. All federal offenders can be charged anywhere and tried anywhere because there is federal jurisdiction in all Federal High Courts. You can be here but they can transfer your file to Kano. We can also possibly look at areas of industrialisation by being able to create certain industries or farms in these places. These business units are where these people can work, make some money and be useful to themselves and the society. That someone is in a correctional centre does not mean that one cannot work and make some money, which they can keep for you until you regain your freedom. What normally creates problems for these people is that when they leave the correctional centres, they have no money, they have no career, they have no skills and their family members may not be willing to take them back. So, we are working towards knowing the exact number of the inmates, so that the states can take responsibility for their own, while the Federal Government takes care of its own. What exactly are you going to do about the porous borders? We have to use technology. Of course, there are some areas where we really need to define our borders because you can’t defend what you don’t know. This is why we have set up a committee under the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Interior. Also in the committee are the Border Community Development Agency (BCDA), National Boundary Commission, Office of the Surveyor General, Nigeria Immigration Service, National Identity Management Commission and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps. I think that they should submit their report in the next three weeks. Luckily for us, we share land borders with only four countries – Benin Republic, Niger, Chad and Cameron. We have to understand that the one that is very tricky is the border between Nigeria and Benin Republic. That border has been a bone of contention for over a century. A lot of work needs to be done on it by the National Boundary Commission and I think that they are working on it already with the Surveyor General Office to establish the boundary. The last agreed border, which is neither here nor there was agreed to in 1906. It was not neatly done because it was more spatial than linear. But the good thing is that Benin Republic has been very peaceful if not we would have had more disturbances than we have had on the other borders. But that does not mean that we shouldn’t define it. Of course, it is not something we can do alone. We are working with the Beninois authorities and under the supervision of the United Nations. In the North-West and NorthEast, our major challenge is that our borders are very fluid. There are a lot of people in Nigeria but believe that they belong elsewhere and there are also people who live elsewhere but believe they belong to Nigeria. So, we have more of contiguous communities on our border space than integral communities. It is a major challenge and a lot of enlightenment is needed. A lot of infrastructural work is needed because anywhere in the world, you invest on infrastructure to keep the patriotism of people within your border space. In a scenario, whereby, in some of these border communities, they don’t have schools and children go to the neighbouring countries to attend primary and secondary schools, these children cannot even write in English but they can write well in French because that is what they are learning in school. These children cannot recite Nigeria’s National Anthem but they can recite the Nigerien or Chadian anthem. These children do not understand what it means to say: ‘I pledge to Nigeria my country to be faithful loyal and honest’ but they can always recite the pledge of the other country. Actually, it is a psychological thing, so their loyalty will not lie here, it lies on the other side. In some of our border communities, there are no hospitals and the women who are pregnant and want to give birth go to the neighbouring community, which might be in another country. Everything they need for their living, lies in the other country. Of course, he who pays the piper dictates the tune. That’s where their loyalty lies. Even in Katsina State, there are places that once you get there, you don’t get MTN, you don’t get Glo, Etisalat or any Nigerian network. What you’ll see is Orange Mobile which is of Niger Republic. So, this is a major issue and we need to reactivate the Border Communities Development Agency, which was established under President Olusegun Obasanjo to develop these border areas, make them more integral and earn their loyalty. The border communities have very important roles. They are the biggest source of human intelligence when it comes to national security along the space. So, you need their cooperation, and of course, you must take into consideration that the conflict along the borders today is more asymmetric than symmetric. People come in, attack communities and mix up with civilians. You need the cooperation of your citizens to be able to police the borders and you can only get their loyalty by showing that you love them and care about them. There are two things I always tell people you don’t demand in life. You don’t demand for respect and you don’t demand for loyalty. You earn respect and you earn loyalty. So, if we want the loyalty of these people, which we need in the pursuit of our national security, we also need to put in our best. I think the President, in line with the Renewed Hope Agenda is hell bent on securing Nigeria. We cannot secure our nation without keeping our borders. A secured border is a safe nation. If you cannot control who comes in and who goes out of your country, then you cannot control what happens within your country. So, I think there is a lot of work to be done at our borders. We need to increase the number of our manned posts, and in doing so, increase our surveillance mechanisms in terms of technology and human intelligence. We must also increase the level of development in these border communities, knowing that every contiguous community is a threat to national security. We have to reduce such threats and make them as much as we can an integral part of our dear nation. You can only defend people who want to be defended and you can only protect people who want to be protected. So, we have to invest well in our border areas, make sure that they have good life, make sure that they feel secure, make sure that they can trust us as a country and they do not see themselves as a product of a mistake by being part of Nigeria. They must see it as a privilege, they must see it as the best thing that has ever happened to them. I always say that being a Nigerian is my biggest asset and I also want others to say the same. It is only when you see Nigeria as your biggest asset and see your fatherland as the biggest of motherlands that you will be ready to sacrifice and give your all to the country even at the expense of your own comfort.

Apart from the reforms you have initiated at the passport offices and the correctional centres, which other areas should we expect changes?

I can assure you that we will initiate reforms in the area of citizens identity management. I have always believed that if there is an agency that is key to the development of any nation, it is the National Identity Management Commission. The whole financial system depends on identity, the whole consumer index depends on identity and the whole security sector depends on identity. You need to know the identity of the criminal; you need to know the identity of those you are protecting. The security of a nation depends on the identity of citizens of that nation. The implication of multiple identities for citizens is very serious. For instance, I don’t see why you should have a Bank Verification Number (BVN), National Identity Number (NIN) and also Voter Identification Number (VIN). You see, there is too much duplication of identities. I think what we need to do is to harmonise all these identity platforms in such a way that government will be able to act faster and better to the yearnings of the average citizen. I’ll give you an example. If you want to apply for an international passport; all we need to do is to get your BVN from the system which automatically brings out your date of birth and other details. You don’t need to fill another form again. All we need to do is just to get your biometrics for the sake of verification and not for the sake of enrolment. So, we are looking at having an SPOC (Single Point Of Contact) for all identity data base in Nigeria. It will make the country more efficient and enhance the ease of doing business. It will also make the process of identification much easier and seamless. In the United Kingdom, when you want to obtain a passport, nobody bothers to ask for your biometrics because they know you have a National Insurance Number. If you go to the United States, nobody asks for your biometrics again because they know that all your particulars are tied to you Social Security Number. So, for the government, this harmonisation is important for the purpose of planning and for the purpose of economic deliverables. If we harmonise, we will through your NIN be able to know your financial status and when we are giving grants to the low-income earners in the society, we can easily track that segment of the community and eliminate the corruption associated with cash grants to citizens. So, working on this harmonisation will go a long way to bring about the Nigeria of our dreams. I am also looking at how NIMC and NIS can also work together. In Ghana, they have their Travel Card, which is just like our NIN. You can use it in Dubai and so many other countries. If you are travelling within the ECOWAS region, you should be able to use your NIN card. The era of having a mono card is over. We should be able to get a multipurpose card, which can be your Travel Card and Debit Card. Of course, in the next couple of years, you won’t see people travelling with international passports. We are still thinking about it. We want to see how we can make our National Identity Card also a Travel Card, so that you don’t keep carrying multiple identity cards. The NIN will then become a General Multipurpose Card (GMP). The Fire Service is also very key to the nation. For me, the Fire Service should be my biggest employer of labour because it can generate over two million jobs. At the rate at which the population is increasing, soon Nigeria may become the third most populous country in the world after India and China. If that becomes a reality, where would Nigeria find the jobs to give to her people? Are we creating jobs the same way our population is increasing? The answer is no. So, we must find a way to bridge the gap otherwise we are building a ground for insecurity. The jobless man becomes a tool in devil’s hands. So, we are looking at how the Fire Service can help in creating jobs. In the city of New York alone, the Fire Service employs thousands of people. All over the world, the Fire Service is one of the greatest employers of labour. Why is Nigeria different? The only reason why Nigeria is different is because we are yet to conceptualise and interpret the real essence of the Fire Service. The Fire Service is not just to go and fight fire, the Fire Service all over the world is called the Fire and Rescue Service. If there is any emergency whether it is a road traffic accident, earthquake, or whatever, the first responders are usually men of the Fire and Rescue Service. So, how do we do that? We believe that government can play the role of a regulator, while the private sector is brought into the sector. Today, we see many markets, malls and other public places being razed by fire. A lot of these things could have been thwarted if there had been timely intervention from the Fire and Rescue Service. Why is that you have a security guard in a commercial plaza and you don’t have a Fire and Rescue Service officer? There should be a Fire and Rescue Service officer. Just like the way you hire private security guards; you should also hire from Fire and Rescue Service companies. In many places, you may see fire extinguishers but they are merely a piece of furniture. Many people don’t even know how to use them. How many fire service officials do we have in the whole of Wuse Market? This is why a whole market will be burnt down completely whenever there is an outbreak of fire. Look, in the last one month, there had been many fire outbreaks. Imagine the impact on individuals and the economy. But if we reform this sector, we can create the much-needed jobs and of course impact positively on the economy. We can establish a private sector for the Fire Service such that it becomes a commercial thing. These commercial Fire and Rescue companies can begin to run as private companies renting out their ambulances to whoever needs them. So, there is a lot of work that we are trying to do around the Fire Service. We want to also improve the response time for the Fire Service. Presently we are looking reducing the response time to five minutes. Once we are able to put this plan in place, then the Fire Service will become more responsive to its rescue service. So, we are thinking of how to bring the private sector, license them and regulate the sector to be more useful for the society. We need to monitor them, and of course, give those in the sector the required skills to do their jobs. couple of years, you won’t see people travelling with international passports. We are still thinking about it. We want to see how we can make our National Identity Card also a Travel Card, so that you don’t keep carrying multiple identity cards. The NIN will then become a General Multipurpose Card (GMP). The Fire Service is also very key to the nation. For me, the Fire Service should be my biggest employer of labour because it can generate over two million jobs. At the rate at which the population is increasing, soon Nigeria may become the third most populous country in the world after India and China. If that becomes a reality, where would Nigeria find the jobs to give to her people? Are we creating jobs the same way our population is increasing? The answer is no. So, we must find a way to bridge the gap otherwise we are building a ground for insecurity. The jobless man becomes a tool in devil’s hands. So, we are looking at how the Fire Service can help in creating jobs. In the city of New York alone, the Fire Service employs thousands of people. All over the world, the Fire Service is one of the greatest employers of labour. Why is Nigeria different? The only reason why Nigeria is different is because we are yet to conceptualise and interpret the real essence of the Fire Service. The Fire Service is not just to go and fight fire, the Fire Service all over the world is called the Fire and Rescue Service. If there is any emergency whether it is a road traffic accident, earthquake, or whatever, the first responders are usually men of the Fire and Rescue Service. So, how do we do that? We believe that government can play the role of a regulator, while the private sector is brought into the sector. Today, we see many markets, malls and other public places being razed by fire. A lot of these things could have been thwarted if there had been timely intervention from the Fire and Rescue Service. Why is that you have a security guard in a commercial plaza and you don’t have a Fire and Rescue Service officer? There should be a Fire and Rescue Service officer. Just like the way you hire private security guards; you should also hire from Fire and Rescue Service companies. In many places, you may see fire extinguishers but they are merely a piece of furniture. Many people don’t even know how to use them. How many fire service officials do we have in the whole of Wuse Market? This is why a whole market will be burnt down completely whenever there is an outbreak of fire. Look, in the last one month, there had been many fire outbreaks. Imagine the impact on individuals and the economy. But if we reform this sector, we can create the much-needed jobs and of course impact positively on the economy. We can establish a private sector for the Fire Service such that it becomes a commercial thing. These commercial Fire and Rescue companies can begin to run as private companies renting out their ambulances to whoever needs them. So, there is a lot of work that we are trying to do around the Fire Service. We want to also improve the response time for the Fire Service. Presently we are looking reducing the response time to five minutes. Once we are able to put this plan in place, then the Fire Service will become more responsive to its rescue service. So, we are thinking of how to bring the private sector, license them and regulate the sector to be more useful for the society. We need to monitor them, and of course, give those in the sector the required skills to do their jobs.

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