No Corrupt Officer Will Be Spared – Comptroller General Of Immigration

In this exclusive interview with the www.icirnigeria.org team of Dayo Aiyetan and Samuel Malik, the Comptroller-General of Immigration, CGI, David Parradang, talks about the challenges he faces running the Service, including corruption among officers, manning Nigeria’s vast borders as well as the current security situation in the country, particularly the North east

With over one year in office, what have been your biggest challenges and how have you handled them?

The biggest issue we met on ground was the security challenge in the country. The hue and cry everywhere was that our borders were porous, that non-Nigerians were partaking in the insecurity situation in the country and that Immigration was not putting enough effort to address the challenges of our borders.

We knew what the public perception was. Although the public was entitled to expressing opinions, when we checked the figures to find out really among those arrested for insurgency, not up five per cent (of people arrested for terrorism) were non-Nigerians. When we realised that we had to take a position on borders, we took it as the first priority on my agenda – that we must address the issue of border patrol and control seriously.

The first thing we did was to look at Nigerian borders, about 4, 000 plus square kilometres of border space. How many control posts do we have in the country? We realised we had not up to 100 control posts in the country. So, if you put an average, inclusive of airports, you find out that there were well over 400 kilometres for one control post. The worst among all of them is the North east axis, which is well over 1, 600 kilometres with less than six control posts.

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So, we said knowing the financial situation of government let us incrementally add to the number of control posts in the country. We applied to the Minister of Interior, whose mandate it is to give approval for any control post we open, (and) we have gotten approval for 30 more new control post.

In adding the number of control posts, another thing we did was to say let us reduce the distance in-between the control posts. In doing that, we had to put a patrol base in-between at strategic intercept points where officers will drive to and fro in case somebody escapes through an illegal route, which we have identified to be well over 1, 400 across the country. We had 92 patrol bases spread across the county. We increased the number to 117, strategically stationed in-between control posts.

Immediately we got approval for the control posts and patrol bases, we decided to focus on manning them. We needed to train these men on modern patrolling techniques but we could only do so based on the financial position that we had. We got approval to train the first of 1, 000 and we passed graduated them in June from Kano training school.

I am so glad that when the National Security Adviser saw the effort we put in to bring out the first set, he approved another 1,000 to be trained.

Having done that, we looked at the cases of people who had already slipped in through our borders. Thus, we decided to develop a strategy of what we call Internal Control and Monitoring to monitor inland the people that are in the country and we have to control them in the sense that if we find you to be an irregular immigrant in Nigeria, we remove you. And we had massive removal, with the figure speaking for itself. In fact, when we came in, there was a time when over 5, 000 people were stopped from coming in alone and we removed over 1, 900 within the first month.

Occasionally we send money to our commands to do this exercise and occasionally state governments give us support. I want to commend most state governors for this.

Do you think it is possible for government to effectively control our expansive land mass and prevent illegal immigrants from coming in?

It is imperative for any country that is very desirous of securing its citizens to be able to man these borders and control them, and I want to tell you that it is not impossible. Technology exists to aid human beings in doing this effectively.

As we speak today, there is technology that can help in border patrol. There are censors that can pick movements and show you in a control room who is passing where and at what time. We said if we were to do our work effectively, we must have the use of necessary technology and that is one of the points on our agenda. We must use technology, not only in the issuance of passport but in border control as well.

We are trying to have a pilot study of a border in Sokoto using technology that will pick movement and relay it to a control centre at the office down there. There will also be a mini control at the patrol base that I mentioned earlier. If a human being crosses the border through that area, the guy in the control room at that point will radio the nearest patrol team.

Now that the technology is here, the issue is the money.

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Can Nigeria fund such a technology?

Security is not cheap. We know that without security, there will be no peace and without peace, people cannot be productive. So it is imperative that everybody works in an atmosphere that is secure. It is a balance of priorities that government must address and wefeel that they are on that path because if you notice the office of the National Security Adviser has been properly empowered and is addressing these issues holistically. We believe they will take it up.

One of your biggest challenges must be corruption in the service. We have investigated a case of Immigration officers involved in passport racketeering for a while. It is so bad that criminals can possess multiple passports?

Before we started e-passport in 2007, you would hear that a Nigerian had 20 passports alone. The system was not integrated and there was no biometrics in the system to be able to check the system. As at today, with the e-passport, there are very few instances of beating the system. There is no system that is totally fool-proof globally but if you check, in a ratio of 1-100, you find out that one in the 100 maybe the few instances that you have mentioned.

But there are many things that are out of our hands. We do not have any fool-proof birth registry. So, if you tell me you were born in Ogbomosho, I will take it because if I go to Ogbomosho to check the record from all the clinics, I may not see it. Now, somebody goes to an agency that is not the Immigration, he tells that man in the local government who has not been trained that “I am from Ogbomosho and I was born in this village,” and then he speaks Yoruba, the man (in the local government) will sit and issue him the local government certificate. That man who gave the certificate is not an Immigration officer and probably does not understand the significance of what he has done. The man issued the certificate then presents it to an Immigration officer in Kaduna, who does not know anything about Ogbomosho, duly signed by the local government chairman, the officer has to on the probability accept it and issue him the passport.

This is where the issue of control comes in and it is a citizen wide thing. If you have information or suspect that somebody who has a Nigerian passport may not be a Nigerian, you have to report. When that is done, we go and find out whether or not it is true and if it is true, we prosecute the person. It is the responsibility of us the control agents to control, check and make sure the bad people are identified. The passport miscellaneous law gives very stiff penalty for giving passports to non-Nigerians.

Coming to the issue of someone having more than one passport, the law allows you to hold only one set of graded passport and the ordinary passport. Every Nigerian is entitled to the green passport, which is the standard passport.

We have the blue passport, which is the official passport given to government officials of high standing, and if you are going on an official assignment. The other class of passport is the diplomatic Passport (red) reserved for diplomats and some category of people that are covered by a stringent eligibility list and it is approved only by Mr President.

You cannot have official and diplomatic passports at the same time but Nigerians sometimes want to beat the system. Sometimes some are not informed about these provisions. So, they think it is status symbol that they have three passports, when you are meant to turn some in.

When we came in, I asked for a printout of all official and diplomatic passports (holders). I want to go through them one after the other. All members of National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly are entitled to one of the categories of passports, but the moment they lose in an election, they are supposed to turn the passports in. But people still hold them and that brings us back to the issue of control.

So, what we are thinking of is we want to tie official passports to tenures of government, that is when we hold elections next year, with the next election being in 2019, we can give official and diplomatic passports to lapse in 2019.

Next to that, if we realise that people will ordinarily not give it up, we are looking at disabling it because it is chip-based. So if you are supposed to return your diplomatic or official passport after leaving your position and you hold on to it, we will make it impossible for you to continue to use it.

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What do you have to say about Immigration officers colluding with IRIS Technology staff to manipulate the passport issuance process?

Like I said before, there is no system that is fool-proof, I am sure you are aware that even the American CIA agents have been compromised before. In every setup there must be bad eggs but you as a manager of a system; it is your responsibility to address issues like that in your household.

When I became the head of Immigration, I had excess report of people abusing the process; people were extorting money and colluding. So, I called all the passport officers to a meeting. Even on that day there and then, I removed some that I had established reports that they were compromising the system. I replaced them with other people to send a clear signal that it is no longer business as usual.

I can never sit down here and tell you that Immigration officers are 100 per cent clean. There must be some who collude but whenever I hear of case, I will investigate it. Luckily for us in this age and time, any passport issued now has an electronic audit trail, which tells you who approved, acquired and who used which password.

I cannot tell you that manipulating the system does not happen but we are dealing with it. We have dismissed several officers for passport malpractices.

Last year some Immigration offices allegedly procured passports for some drug couriers. What is the state of the investigation by Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC?

When I came in newly, we were given a huge set of passports from EFCC and one particular case I remember very well was a lady in Russia, who was leading a ring of human traffickers. When passports of such nature are brought to us, what we do is send them to our state-of-the-art document fraud laboratory.

There are people that when they are issued a passport, they go and make some forgeries. It would not be surprising to see that the case mentioned may be forgery. Somebody might have cooked the lamination page, removed the picture and inserted another one or scanned something with hi-tech equipment. We send these documents, once we get them, to the document fraud laboratory to get a report (regarding their authenticity).

This particular case with the EFCC, when they brought them in, like I told you earlier about the audit trail, we found out the people that acquired them, authorised their acquisition and we called them state by state and one after the other. People came to me to ask why I allowed my officers to go to EFCC and I told them we are interested in cleaning up the system. I told them sending them to EFCC or ICPC did not say they did something wrong. All we wanted was for them to go there and clear themselves. If they were cleared fine but if they were found to have colluded to beat the system, they would have to face the consequences of their actions.

So the case is still on – going? It is still being investigated?

The case is still on-going. Everybody has been interviewed. We are waiting for the report. If anybody is culpable, it is my responsibility to open disciplinary procedure against them.

What is the inter – agency cooperation like between Immigration, EFCC and ICPC and other security agencies. Recently, the ICPC cried foul because two women under investigation for visa racketeering obtained multiple passports and fled the country

I would say this was a one-off slip where somebody exploited a window, but if I take you to the document fraud laboratory and show you the letters we have from the EFCC, ICPC, NDLEA, etc. seeking information on somebody or asking us to stop them, you will see that there is a strong interagency cooperation between us.

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 We just did a story on Greater Washington, the company that was contracted to deliver passports to Nigerians. How did that policy come about?

What we realised was that some Nigerians with ulterior motives do not want you to know where they live. When I was an investigation officer in Lagos, most of the time when they gave their address and said they live at, for instance, No 37 Coker Street, you would find that the street ends at 24.

The challenge we have is that in some instances, people do not want to volunteer their addresses, they lie about them, and we know global best practice is address verification. That is why we say before you collect your passport, we verify the address you gave us.

We want to make sure that this issue (address) is properly dealt with because the EFCC, SSS are suffering. They go to an address we give them and nobody is there. This is the only rational for engaging Greater Washington; for address verification.

Are you not bothered that by engaging private companies, Greater Washington and IRIS Technology, you may be exposing Nigerians to some kind of security risk because they are handling security documents?






     

     

    Any system that you have you must have control over it. If we give you a job, we have to vet you and you are tied to us by conditions and terms. If you check the control of data and privacy in all these agreements, they are well stated that you can never divulge information to anybody apart from an Immigration officer. Even if the EFCC goes to Greater Washington to ask for an address, they cannot give it because they have privacy agreement with us.

    Why is the passport database managed by a private company, IRIS Technology, rather than the Immigration?

    In the agreement signed, we would have complete control of the database after a period stipulated in the agreement and the first period of the agreement ran from 2007 to 2013.

    I have told all our service providers to open data centres here to be manned by Immigration officers. If you look out there, (stands up and points through the window) you will see one of them has already built a data centre. IRIS must also build a data centre here.

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