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Weekly Trust: What are you doing about Nigeria’s porous borders?
Alhaji Rilwanu Musa: I visited Gamboru, Banki and Gaidam. The issue at Gamboru is a little bit easy, in the sense that there is a bridge dividing it from Cameroun, and there is a river in between. So, by the time we are able to put some structures, our surveillance cameras, which go round 40 kilometres radius, we have somebody monitoring, and he sees anything that goes on within the 40 kilometre radius, by the time we are able to put that in place, I think that place would be secured. By the time we put a good number of these, we will be through. We also need things like motorcycles to can make follow-ups easy. With the little money we had before the release of the budget, we bought some motorcycles and took them to Gamboru, Banki and Gaidam. I realized too that at some of the borders our officers live in temporary accommodation. So, I bought some tents, camp beds and mattresses for them. They were very happy. By the grace of God, before this year runs out, with the money given to us by government, we are going to build barracks all over these places. By the time you put up some structures that accommodate at least 50 officers, the place would become habitable. With the surveillance system on ground covering about 40 kilometre radius, I believe people will be scared to come close to that place. This will tackle at least three quarters of the problems.
What are you planning to do in the long term?
You know it is not something that you will do within a day, because security is a matter of money. If you don’t have money, there is no way you would secure these places. We have already written our report to the government and it is working on it so that these places can be secured within the shortest possible time.
Recently there was a report from the Ministry of Interior that there are over 1,000 existing illegal entry points into Nigeria, what is Immigration doing about that?
You see there is something very important. For example, even going by American style, America has not yet secured its border completely right now. So we are trying our best. And by the time we put the necessary structures in place, people will be forced to steer clear.
How many approved borders do we have now?
We have about 147.
Are they not too many?
No, they are not too many, taking into consideration the length of Nigeria.
Many Immigration officers are said to be more interested in being posted to the passport office than the borders. What do you say to that?
You know anytime I hear something that will improve the service I try to take interest in that. I just came back from London, because I was made to understand that in the London office, the passport office in particular is as secure as anything with less people. I was sincerely amazed because the Immigration office in London doesn’t look like an Immigration office of Nigeria. It has changed completely from what I knew it. It has become an exemplary office that anybody who goes there will appreciate. It is a situation whereby you come in and you don’t need anybody to direct you. You know what to do to get what you want and go out. It’s fantastic. They took me round. Whether you are an applicant for passport or visa, you just go to the window and pick a ticket, find a place and sit, and you will see your number on the screen and asked to go to a counter for whatever you came for. It’s wonderful. And the applicant goes and does his thing within the shortest possible time and gets out of the place. And I felt if I could replicate this in the Nigeria Immigration headquarters in Abuja and other missions across the world, I think I would have achieved a lot by the time I am able to do that.
How many staff are there in the London office?
The whole staff in London are not more than 10/11 people, yet they issue about 100 to 200 passport daily. But in Ikoyi passport office, for instance, there are about 190 officers. We don’t need them there. We need to retrain these people and send them to the borders where we need them more.
How has the e-passport helped in curtailing fraud in Nigerian passport?
The new e-passport system we have is the best passport in the world. Even the ICAO made mention of that, because it is only our e-passport that you can marry with biometrics. And there are no two biometrics. Your biometric is your biometric and it is tied to your data. So, there is just no way can you do things twice like it was with the old passport. But now, when you do a passport, for example in Nigeria and you come to London, throw your passport away, got to London office and say you want a new passport. By the time you put your finger on the system, your data comes up and it will show that you were given a passport. So, to be honest with you, we are moving ahead as far as passports are concerned.
What about the idea of public private partnership in the borders?
That is the Plaza. When you look at may be developed countries they have the plazas. By the time you come you have the way when you take biometrics and then pass and so on. This is what we are trying to introduce at these borders, but this is private partnership. We want to do it in Seme, Jibiya, Ilela and Idi-Iroko, these are the major borders where many people pass through daily. Whatever you call it, public private partnership is something that you have to pay back. With the vehicles passing, buying tickets and so on, these people who will sit down and construct these things will get their money back.
Will this not affect the security in a negative way?
No, it has nothing to do with security, because Immigration officers will still be there and they will still operate in these places. It is the Immigration officer who will screen you before they allow you entrance or departure.
What is the Service doing to address the security challenges in many parts of the country?
We have been sending people for security training, and at the same time we have officers at the 744 local governments. We are bringing all of them together for workshop on intelligence gathering. The moment you do that, you take proactive measures for securing the place. So this is one of the most important things we are doing now. Again we have training schools, you know it is not only theoretical aspect, you need the practical aspect too. So, by the time we take them to training school and put them there for 1, 2 to 3 months, they will get something that they were not having before.
A committee set up by the minister to investigate recruitment crises in the Immigration Service was given two weeks to file, as we are talking now it is month now…
I do not have the jurisdiction to talk on that committee.
What about the in-house committee set up by you?
The in-house committee is to review the mode of recruitment done, but I want you to understand that the minster’s committee supersedes my committee, because he is the supervisor of the Service.
A lot of arms are reportedly coming into the country, what are you doing to address this problem?
The Immigration Service works hand in hand with the Nigeria Customs Service. Whereas Immigration takes care of human beings, Customs take care of goods, but no goods come in without human being bringing it, so we normally work hand in hand with them. Where they are not there we search, but when Customs officers are there, we allow them to do the searching. Where we do the searching and recover something we refer them to the appropriate agency. I want you to appreciate one fact, unlike advanced countries where everybody has an identity number that you can easily get him, in this country we do not have. That is why we are trying to put one single database for the country, so that at the end of the day everybody will have his personalized number, whatever he does is easy to pick him.
It is alleged that politician do interfere with foreign posting of your officers. How do you react to that?
Well, I have not experienced that. Honestly, you need to be a good ambassador to this country before you are posted out. And even if you are posted out and within a short time or whatever we have a story that you have become something else we will bring you back. As I am talking to you we are going to have a nomination of profile officers on that and we go through your secret files first, find out your attitude before we propose you for the posting. So, I don’t think there is interference from the politicians.