By Otunba Mike Aladenika
No nation toys with it’s internal security structure let alone making its varrious entry points porous to the extent of being exposed to security challenges by non nationals.
Various political and security schools of thought agreed that for a nation to fortify its internal security and guarantee the safety of lives and properties of its citizens as entrenched in the Constitution demands a proactive disposition of government.
Developed nations, even in the face of agreed international, continental and subregional principles and understanding do provide for adequate monitoring of movements into and out of their countries. The government also takes proper documentation of movements of other nationals into their countries, all with a view to checking the influx of possible criminal-minded foreigners who may want to take advantage of existing international understanding.
It then becomes worrisome for anyone to have reasoned that Nigeria would, or better put, did throw its borders opened, without any checks or restrictions to foreigners who now compromised our national security just because of one subregional understanding, then putting the lives of Nigerians at risk.
There are reports that many Nigerians may have lost their lives through the bullets of bandits whom the Federal Government has variously described as “non Nigerians” or better put, “foreigners from neighboring countries” who capitalized on the ECOWAS citizens movement protocol to migrate into Nigeria.
According to Nigeria’s information minister, Lai Mohammed, while speaking on Channels Television programme “SUNRISE TODAY”, February 20, 2021 edition “the government is working towards the amendment of the ECOWAS protocols on the free movement of human and cattle within countries.”
Alhaji Lai Mohammed explained that “scrutiny at land borders was relaxed due to regional agreement,
the ECOWAS protocols allow trans-human movement between all the ECOWAS countries. That is why we are thinking of seriously reviewing the ECOWAS Protocols in that respect.”
“What we find out today is that a lot of criminalities have been introduced through the herdsmen and trans-human movement,’’ he said.
The minister added that criminal herdsmen and bandits have access to sophisticated weapons, citing the proliferation and smuggling of small arms and light weapons across the sub-region.
“The issue of smuggling of small and light arms is very serious and it has to do with border control”, Mohammed said.
For as much as the minister may have wanted to explain off the infiltration of foreigners as well as the likelihood of justifying their criminal actions against their host citizens, there are visible openings in his argument as posited on the Channels TV Programme. For example, even as it presently stands, is the ECOWAS Protocol being FULLY observed by the NIS?
The ECOWAS Protocol clearly states that “Free Movement of persons and goods MUST be in accordance with/observance of local state laws like PRESENTATION of valid travel documents e.g. passports or ECOWAS Travel Certificates AND that such intending migrants must not be ‘Security Risks’ to their intended host nation States.” The question here now is were these conditions being vigorously pursued by the NIS? The answers are blowing in the winds.
To many, the above advanced argument is an acceptance of a gross failure of the leadership of the Nigerian immigration service (NIS) under Comptroller-General Mohammad Babandede.
Certainly, the position of the Minister, as disposed to above, raised so many germaine questions and postulations which include : that the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) is holding a very unique position in the national security equation as it relates to migrants or foreigners.
Secondly, what is the certainty that all those foreign herdsmen have not been registered under the e-migration registration exercise, “as Nigerians”?
Thirdly and amazingly, virtually all stakeholders in Nigeria’s security have refused to even mention the critical role of NIS, let alone beaming the searchlight on NIS to x-ray its activities in the scheme of things.
Needless re-emphasizing that NIS, through Migration & Control of migrants, holds the KEY to unravelling the protracted insecurity challenges in Nigeria. Apparently, a very “EVIL VEIL” has been cast over the eyes of the whole of Nigeria in this very grave issue that NIS is the key towards guaranteeing quality security control via border checks.
The Federal Government’s directive
of 4th March 2021 to the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) demanding a tighter and secured borders, though may have come too late than would have been anticipated but it’s better late than never.
This FG’s directive also appears to have generated another issue of competence and confidence in the NIS as well as possible complicity in the border control operations by the service.
How can the Federal Government rely on the same Comptroller-General of Immigration Service, Mohammad Babandede who operated “an open border” policy that has taken us to our present predicament be the same person to lead the personnels of the service to tighten the security of the same border? Except someone is not telling others what is involved in this seemingly “conspiracy theory”.
For effective border security which the FG is now seeking, Mohammed Babandede is too much a failure to be saddled with such responsibility at this time in the annals of Nigerian history.
Rather than for Babandede to be allowed to go, following his mandatory and Constitutional exit from Service , as stated in the Public Service Rules of 2008, “that a public officer ceases to be one AFTER ‘either’ attaining the age of sixty (60) years or serving for thirty five (35) years; WHICHEVER comes first” his tenure was then extended based on questionable reasons.
For as much as one may not have personal issues with the person or the office of the Comptroller-General Mohammad Babandede, the truth need be told that he has outlived his usefulness, if the Federal Government is desirous of genuine border security, safety and control.
This position could be spiced with current happenings in war against insurgency and bandits in Nigeria as exhibited by the new Service Chiefs who came in with new blood, new energy and determination to excel. Within the little space of time, the results are there to see.
Revelations attending check on the possible reason for a tenure elongation for the NIS Comptroller-General are heart bugging. Imagine sources close to the Minister of interior, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola advancing COVID -19 pandemic as reason for the inability of the ministry to process the exit of the CG in line with extant laws?
Advancing COVID-19 as a possible excuse by the office of the interior ministry could be seen as a further indictment that the FGN / responsible Ministry has failed to exercise foresight in it’s duties. How else could one have explained that COVID-19 which started at about April 2019 could be advanced as a reason for official inaction, one year after.
Better still, an FGN or Ministry that’s truly ALIVE to its statutory duty would have started ‘the process of REPLACEMENT’ long before COVID-19 or since the commencement of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, many, including personnel of the Nigerian Immigration Services, NIS, have been critical of the tenure elongation of the leadership of NIS considering its massive failure in the performance of it’s Constitutional and statutory roles.
This critical population is of the opinion that ” you can only reward good work done”, stressing that if the position of the information minister, as stated above, is anything to go by, “then it’s an outright declaration of failure for the Babandede-led NIS”, as such, “why then the elongation of tenure, for failure?”
Rather, the school of thought is of the opinion that upon the expiration of the tenure of NIS Comptroller-General, Babandede, the service would have been rejuvenated for grater services rather than the mindless extension of tenure.
There is no pretending that the said extension of tenure of office has not generated concerns within and outside the NIS. One is aware that the said tenure elongation was, at a time, subject of litigation as a patriotic Nigerian sought a judicial interpretation of the concept of tenure elongation in the public service as well as situating the powers to extend tenure as exhibited by the minister.
The seeming dust generated by the tenure elongation can never be settled in the best interest of the nation except answers are provided for the following, firstly, what EXACTLY is the EXPIRY DATE of the extended tenure? And secondly, Can the public have a copy of the Letter of Tenure Elongation or Extension? Answers to these questions would however show the genuine intention or otherwise of the Federal Government to secure our borders as well as guarantee security in the land.
In conclusion, the current FG’s order for border security tightening is the best of its policy, as of now, if it would be implemented to the letters in the overall interest of the nation.
OTUNBA MIKE ALADENIKA is a Benin based senior journalist and a former NUJ Chairman, Edo State.