My vision for Nigerian Immigration Service, by Babandede
Muhammad Babandede, was recently appointed the new Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), by President Muhammadu Buhari. In a chat with the Deputy Abuja Bureau Chief, MOHAMMED ABUBAKAR, he outlines his vision, including reduction in time spent in processing passports, plans to update the curriculum of Immigration Training School, among others.
What new ideas are you bringing to bear on your job as the new CG of NIS?
I have had the opportunity to address my senior and junior staff and clearly outlined my vision to them. My dream is to make the Immigration Service modern, effective, efficient and also to be manned by officers, who are well motivated and trained.
The idea of being modern is that we must stop doing things in the old way. We must automate many of our operations so that they can be more efficient. Files must be treated online; we must ensure full compliance with online payments, as well as, other correspondence. We must reduce the period we take to produce documents to serve the people.
In a recent SERVICOM analysis, we discovered we were producing passport in about 75 hours. Our new target around is 48 hours. If we automate the system, we will reduce the period for production of the booklets. I have already identified the bottlenecks. We are doing things manually, which has to do with physically carrying files from one place to another and so on, which makes things very difficult.
But if we are able to automate the system, we will reduce the period for the production of the booklet. We are worried about the facilities we give to expatriates like CERPAC cards; it takes longer time. We had three months temporary CERPAC cards before permanent ones are produced but the cards would have expired in some cases without new ones being produced. This is because the process is not automated.
So, we believe that if we were able to automate the system, cards would be automatically renewed. This cannot be done when you have staff that are not well trained and motivated. I’m committed to ensuring that our staff receive training and these trainings are done in blocks.
We used to waste training opportunities. We have a training school, which has obsolete curriculum; it runs on curriculum of the 1960s and 1970s, which are not in line with the present system we are running. We need to modernise the curriculum and also introduce intimate training, so as to able to cope with pressing challenges. When members of staff are not motivated to do the job, you can reward those who have done well and punish those who have erred. Then you can get a lot of opportunities for growth.
My commitment therefore, is very clear. I want to increase revenue by next year. I want to increase the speed at which we provide services to members of the public with due respect to human rights of Nigerians. I always say that people in uniform are only citizens, who are merely privileged. So we cannot use the opportunity to harass ordinary Nigerians.
We are decentralising in the next two months. We will decentralise the re-issue of passport due to loss, that is, anybody, who has lost their passport, can get it reissued in their states.
How do you intend to address complaints of delays in passport renewal, especially in Nigerian embassies abroad?
Many Nigerians are having difficulty in renewing their passports abroad due to name changes, especially those who crossed the desert and now reside in Europe. If it is the normal passport renewal, there will be no problem. But the issue is that majority of those in the Diaspora, who cross the desert, have problems with renewal.
Those, who have difficulties traveled across North Africa through the desert and Libya. They crossed the Sea and then got to places like Malta or Italy and subsequently found themselves in Central Europe. These people often declare asylum with different names.
Biometrics is not of great value to them. They got a biometric passport with their names, but have declared asylum in another country with another name. They want the passport to be issued with a changed data and this is not possible. They want a change of identity in Europe, which is why they will continue to face difficulty in renewing passports. We can’t accommodate those, who changed their name in Europe. We know them with the name they submitted when they travelled.
But ordinary Nigerians, who want to renew their passports, don’t have problems. They get their passports renewed very easily. We even go to nations, where we don’t have machines. We have machines in 39 countries in the world. In countries where we don’t have embassies, we send intervention teams to assist Nigerians there. So it’s not true that Nigerians have problems with renewing passport. Those that have problems are the ones, who want to change their data.
What message do you have for Nigerians and your officers?
Nigerians should change the way they go about immigration matters. A typical Nigerian would not come to Immigration Office to follow the normal process and get the passport. They would like to get somebody they know to do it. And those they know could be touts, even among the immigration officials. It is also better to get your passport facilities renewed early enough. Some people would prefer to wait till the eve of the expiry date to reapply. That kind of approach can create corruption.
Also, applicants shouldn’t talk to anybody but go to official offices to initiate the process. They should make payments online. You don’t need to carry look for somebody who will process the payment. Applicants should pay fees at www.immigration.gov.ng. They will be guided on how to pay with credit and debit cards.
But when you go to the office to look for whom to pay to, prices are added.
We will ensure we are more transparent and make sure prices of passports are fixed in all our offices so that people would know what to pay.
It is important I emphasis that immigration is everybody’s business. This comes as a surprise because we have not been able to tell the people how much of their business it is.
Nigeria is facing a huge challenge of labour. For instance, according to the International Office of Migration (IOM) estimate, in the next 10 years, Nigeria must export its labour, if we must live comfortably. This is because every year, we churn out a lot of graduates. So if immigration does not look internally to protect Nigerian jobs, we are in for a big problem.
Our strategic thinking is that, in administering the Expatriate Quota regime, each expatriate quota approved by the Ministry of Interior must be accompanied by someone to understudy the expat. A Nigerian must understudy any expatriate that is allowed to work in the country. We want to insist on that. With such policy you can only imagine the number of jobs that we would be freeing up for Nigerians.