The Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) often prides itself as one of the best, if not the best immigration outfits in the African continent. At several public fora, it had cited its ability and commitment to leverage on the use of the ICT innovation in the delivery of its mandates as the secret of its acclaimed feats.
Not a few will disagree with that assertion. Over the years, there have been significant improvements in the delivery of its service to Nigerians and foreigners alike. Gone are the days when international passport seekers wait endlessly to obtain the essential travel document. The continuous upgrade of the e-passport and such other transformations in the Nigeria Immigration Service, especially in the past decades, stand as undeniable testimony. Specifically, the Nigeria Immigration Service has been flaunting its high reputation as the first African country to introduce the e-passport in 2007.
However, what is still conspicuously lacking in the Nigeria Immigration Service is professional confidence and firmness. The Nigeria Immigration Service management certainly cannot boast of these essential ingredients that could be a boost to its service delivery. Investigation has revealed that the continuous interference by the top officials of the Federal Ministry of Interior in the day-to-day matters that affect the Nigeria Immigration Service without recourse to its advice is largely responsible for this ugly state of affairs.
According to our investigation, the supervisory ministry has failed to limit itself to its mandate of being the policy organ of government on immigration matters only, but has been exerting prolonged and persistent control in the statutory and operational duties of the Nigeria Immigration Service.
This has dampened the morale and affected the capacity of the Nigeria Immigration Service staff, resulting in high level of Indiscipline, unbridled corruption and the resort to godfatherism.
Accordingly, experts have suggested that if not quickly addressed, the development will continue to constitute a big threat to the future of the Nigeria Immigration Service as it is already eroding public confidence in the agency.
To be sure, the statutory mandate of the Federal Ministry of Interior is to render to Nigerians and foreigners alike, diverse internal security and other ancillary services that are highly qualitative, efficient, courteous and transparent. It has undergone several structural changes both in functions and nomenclature and today the Ministry is responsible for: Granting of Nigerian Citizenship; Consular and Immigration Services; Granting Business Permits and Expatriate Quotas; Establishment and Maintenance of Federal Marriage Registries in Nigeria; Licensing and renewal of Places of Worship for the celebration of marriages; Issuance of Secured Federal Marriage Certificates in all the Federal Marriage Registries; Co-ordination of National/Independence Day Celebration; Reformation and re-integration inmates; Security of lives and properties; Management of National emergencies; Recruitment of officers and men of the Prisons Service, Immigration Service, Fire Service and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps; and Managing the retirement benefits of retirees of Paramilitary Services under its supervision.
The Nigeria Immigration Service on the other hand, according to the Act establishing it, is saddled with the following roles: The control of persons entering or leaving Nigeria; The issuance of travel documents, to bona fide Nigerians in and outside Nigeria; The issuance of residence permits to foreigners in Nigeria; Border surveillance and patrol; and Enforcement of laws and regulations with which we have been directly charged.
Both the Federal Ministry of Interior and the Nigeria Immigration Service have undergone several structural changes in nomenclature as well as in functions over the years.
For instance, the Federal Ministry of Interior was created in 2015 following a merger between the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Police Affairs. As a federal government organ, it evolved from the Federal Ministry of Internal Affairs which was created in 1957. It came as a result of the merger of various Departments and Units of Government over the years. Some of its components like Prisons were pulled out from the defunct Native Authorities of the Federation; its other arms, like the Immigration Service, came from the old Nigeria Police Force while other units were previously in the office of the Secretary of State in the Colonial days.
The then Federal Ministry of Internal Affairs was created, among other things, to supervise the Police, Magistrate Courts, Fire Service, employment and selection of administrators of states, issue license for Pool Betting, etc. However, over the years, there had been some adjustments in its roles. Thus, the Federal Government Gazette no. 63 Vol. 70 of 6th December 1983 assigned the following statutory roles to the Ministry: matters on control and strengthening of the entry and exit points across the national borders and preventing of undesirable elements from entering into Nigeria. Other Functions of the Ministry included: registration of voluntary organizations and Marriage Registration, Civil Defense and Private Security guards which are in broad terms very crucial to the security in Nigeria.
All the Departments and arms of the public service, that were merged to form the Ministry, are security related. As a result of improved economic and social well-being of the country in the last couple of decades, societal demands for the services of the Ministry on rational lines by the Government, so as to facilitate convenient administration.
However, with the establishment of the Nigeria Immigration Service through an Act of the parliament, some of the functions earlier assigned to the Interior Ministry were ceded to the NIS. Such roles included the monitoring of entry and exit of persons from into and from the country. Accordingly, the Nigeria Immigration Service is currently charged with the sole responsibility of migration management in the country.
Like its parent ministry, information from the archives suggested that over the years, the Nigeria Immigration Service has witnessed series of changes since it was extracted from the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) in 1958. The Immigration Department, as it was known then, was entrusted with the core immigration duties under the headship of the Chief Federal Immigration Officer (CFIO) and the first to sit on that chair was Mr. EH Harrison. The department in its emergent stages inherited the Immigration Ordinance of 1958 for its operation. At inception, the department had a narrow operational scope and maintained a low profile and simple approach in attaining the desired goals and objectives of government. During this period, only the Visa and Business Sections were set up.
However, on August 1st, 1963, Immigration Department came of age when it was formally established by an Act of Parliament, Cap I71, Laws of the Federation Nigeria. The head of the department became known as the Director of Immigration. Thus, the first set of Immigration officers were former NPF Officers. It became a department under the control and supervision of the Federal Ministry of Internal Affairs (FMIA) as a Civil Service outfit.
Following some structural reforms and Government white paper on October 1st, 1992, the designation of “Director of Immigration” was changed to “Comptroller General of Immigration Service”, thereby granting the Service a para-military status.. Thus the last Director of Immigration became the first Comptroller General of Immigration (CGI) in the person of CGI Garba Abbas.
Subsequently, the Service has come a long way in its march towards reformation and restructuring to be better positioned for the implementation of modern migration management. This period saw changes in the organizational and operational structure of the Nigeria Immigration Service and which were inevitable towards accommodating the added responsibilities as well as emerging regional and sub-regional political alignments. These included the introduction of the ECOWAS and African Affairs division, Aliens Control and Border Patrol Management and such other added responsibilities for the Nigeria Immigration Service.
Furthermore, in 1988, the Nigeria Immigration Service was saddled with the responsibility of the issuance of all Nigerian travel documents which included the Nigeria Passports.
The Nigeria Immigration Service embraced the use of ICT in its operations with the introduction of the Machine Readable Passport (MRP) in June 1998 and the Combined Expatriate Residence Permit and Aliens card (CERPAC) in 2001. Since then, it has continued to take giant strides in the use of ICT in its processes and operational procedures, notably the introduction of online payment for its facilities which opened the way for the e-revenue collections in Nigeria, thereby becoming the pioneer government agency to embrace e-payments.
In efforts to improve on the MRP and in line with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards, the Nigeria Immigration Service introduced the e-Passport on May 17th, 2007 under the leadership of the then CGI CJ Udeh OFR, thereby putting the Federal Republic of Nigeria on the pages of history as the first country in Africa to introduce the e-passport and among the first countries in the world to do so. The use of the e-passport has become a major tool in the fight against trans-border criminality as it contains the biometric details of holders thus making multiple acquisition and identity theft difficult.
In due recognition of Nigeria Immigration Service’s stride as exemplified above, ICAO, the global body that regulates standards for travel documents admitted Nigeria into its Board as the sole African representative in 2009.
As a result of this development, the e-passport machines have been installed in all the states of the federation and some Nigeria Missions abroad while, the NIS has been sending its personnel for passport intervention to all regions of the world in line with the Federal Government foreign policy of citizen diplomacy. This implies taking the mobile passport issuing equipment to acquire and process passport for Nigerians in the Diaspora.
Another significant achievement in the realm of ICT development is the establishment of a well-equipped forensic laboratory for the examination of travel and other documents. It is also to be noted that Nigeria Immigration Service personnel manning this laboratory are highly skilled as they have been exposed to a lot of trainings locally and internationally on document fraud detection and techniques.
To further strengthen the legal framework for the Nigeria Immigration Service, the National Assembly passed the Immigration Act into law in May 25th, 2015. The Act thus repealed the hitherto obsolete 1963 Immigration Act and created an additional Directorate to be known as Migration Directorate for the Nigeria Immigration Service.
From the inception of the Nigeria Immigration Service in 1963 till date, the Service has had three (3) Chief Federal Immigration Officers (CFIO), three (3) Directors of Immigration, Two (2) Acting Comptrollers General and Eight (8) substantive Comptrollers General with the current Comptroller General in the person of CGI Muhammad Babandede.