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Nigerians now accorded due respect abroad

Posted by By CHRIS ANUCHA on 2008/12/12 | Views: 1940 |

Nigerians now accorded due respect abroad


There has never been a dull moment for Mr. Chukwurah Udeh, the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Immigration Service, since he assumed office in 2005.

There has never been a dull moment for Mr. Chukwurah Udeh, the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Immigration Service, since he assumed office in 2005.
In the last three years, the number one immigration officer has not only revolutionalized the operations of the Service, but also repositioned it to meet the international standard.

Under him, the war against human trafficking was taken to an appreciable level. One other remarkable achievement of Immigration Service under Udeh is the introduction of electronic passport on July 27, 2007. When the scheme took off, not a few Nigerians were cynical about the success of the e-passport. However, Nigerians are singing a new tune, as their expectations are met.
The Immigration boss spoke recently in Abuja, he touched on a number of issues.

Nigeria Immigration Service was known to be at the forefront in the fight against human trafficking. With the establishment of the National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons and other Related Matters (NAPTIP), it does appear that the Service no longer plays this role. What is responsible for this?
We are not weakened by the operations of NAPTIP at all; rather, we are strengthened by their operations, because you cannot take away the fact that our statutory responsibility centres on the control of entry and exit of human beings. We do not control movement of goats; we control movement of persons. So, to that extent, our statutory responsibility covers regulation of migration. But the fact is this, we have not reduced or de-emphasized our fight against human trafficking. No, rather, when we came in, there were a number of challenges, stretching from re-positioning the Service, arising from the re-structuring that the government approved, which is a huge challenge, driving the issuance of the e-passport, migrating from Machine Readable Passport, to electronic passport.

We felt we cannot open up frontiers of work in all spheres simultaneously; so we decided to follow them one after the other.
We are convinced now that we have managed to take the Service to the next level. It is not a concluded task because it is a task that will continue until the end of time, but at least, we have brought it to the next level. We have also succeeded in taking up the challenge, migrating to the Machine Readable Passport, to the e-passport. At least, today as I speak, we have issuing centres in about 24 centres in Nigeria; we have completed the pilot scheme outside the country; that is to say, we have completed the flag-off in London, New York, South Africa and in India. We are putting systems in place in Spain and in addition, we have supplemented all these with intervention programmes.

In our intervention programmes, we have gone to Spain and UK; we have our men in Russia and we are to go to Greece, Australia and Poland. These are intervention programmes, using our e-passport Mobile Acquisition Machines. The idea is to go to the field, capture images and data of applicants, come back, produce and send to them. Now that we have, at least, stabilized our challenges and operations in these areas, we feel we are now in better position to focus on some new fields that are our statutory responsibility and the fight against human trafficking being one of the foremost in these challenges.

Recently, I invited Comptrollers from states that share international boundaries with our neighbours, along with our state passport officers and officers responsible for anti-human trafficking at the state levels in order for us to develop and start a national sensitization programme with respect to our fight against human trafficking. I didnít stop at that. I also invited all the comptrollers-general in-charge of the eight zones. I invited them to Abuja for us to map out the strategies on how we can start the campaigns against human trafficking. We have worked out the modalities. What we want to do is to call a stakeholdersí meeting, comprising states Immigration, NAPTIP, security services, police NGOs, international organizations for migration, and all critical stakeholders, to enable us to articulate a position in order to flag off our campaign.

We want to tell Nigerians or to tell the youths that we have no other place than our own. It does not make sense traversing the desert going to Europe; there is no free money anywhere; all the stories people tell them, false stories of how milk flow on the streets of Europe are lies. We have no country other than Nigeria and this country is flowing with milk and honey; all you need to do is to put in extra efforts to find bread that you will put on the table. This is what we want to do in order to sensitize our youths, to tell them that there is no point looking beyond the shores of this country in search of greener pastures. The pastures here are greener than what you think are out there. Everyday, they show us the pictures of people dying, people dying trying to cross the desert. For what? We are conscious of it.

Some years ago, we saw international bodies or other countries making donations to Immigration to help the fight against human trafficking. Are you still receiving support from foreign countries or donors?
We are getting support from international donors; we are collaborating with IOM; we are collaborating with European Union; we are getting support in the area of training, in the area of equipment, and we are collaborating with them and, in fact, quite recently, we received training in the use of sophisticated forensic equipment in our fight against human trafficking. So, we are getting all the support, both material support and human capacity development support.

To what extent is the Nigeria Immigration involved in the issuance of e-passport in our missions abroad?
We are completely responsible for the issuance of the e-passport in all the key pilot states. But, it is immaterial who issues what in our missions. The important thing is to make sure that these instruments are available for Nigerians to get; that is the important thing. The facilities for visas are there; you will get them when you travel abroad. These facilities are available in our missions, regardless of who issues them. The important thing is that these facilities, whether they are visas or passports, you will get them when you travel. When you present yourself in any of our missions, requiring any of these facilities, you will get them. We have opened up our information platform, what I mean is that weíve simplified getting facilities from the missions. You will recall that we have opened up a website; so you need not go asking people for information with respect to what you get in the foreign mission. Most importantly, as soon as you open our website, www.immigration.gov.ng, it will give you the addresses of all our missions abroad in addition to giving you the addressees of all Immigration formations in Nigeria so that any information you want, you can get it very easily.

2010 is not too far from now. Thatís when the old passport will cease to be valid for travel. Are you satisfied with the level of issuance of e-passport?
Oh yes! Iím optimistic and Iím encouraged with the level of roll-out, particularly, realizing that this is complex technology, and it is credible means of ascertaining the identity of the traveller. It is a robust technology and so far, for us to have achieved the level of success that we have achieved, I think, it is an encouraging development.

Iím certain because we have concluded work with our service providers and all the equipment required to complete the local rollout is now on ground, arising from our Project Implementation Committee meetings. Between now and first week or second week of January, we would have completed local rollout completely; we would have covered all the states in this country. And then, we will now focus on the missions, and the level of stock in terms of booklets that we have is quite encouraging because, at any point in time, we have at least, well over 100, 000 booklets in our stock and it is replenished. At no point do we run below 100, 000 pieces of booklets in our stock because of the level of rollout that we would have reached.

So, at no point would we run out of booklets stock, and with that position achieved, I am optimistic that by mid 2009, before December 2009, we would have completed at least, the stations earnmarked for rollout. We are optimistic and by 2010, of course, we are eager to phase out the MRP because of the obvious lapses in it. From the feelers we are getting, the international community has embraced our new passport. Nigerians now travelling abroad with the document, at least, are received with respect and it has, to an appreciable extent, restored the integrity of our travel document, which is good news at least, to us Nigerians, and we should all be proud of it.

As you are talking about the success of the e-passports and all that, one should be thinking about the security of Nigerian borders, how secured are Nigerian borders?
Our borders are secured to the extent that, we are fighting to make it secure. Obviously, the security of our borders is a continuous thing. And we are trying the best we can to make sure that we make necessary provisions in securing the borders. You will agree with me that our borders are quite expansive, and the marine coastlines are quite expansive, too.

But we are working assiduously to make sure that we provide the best of the security we can, and we are developing our border patrol and of course, all agencies of government, we join hands in ensuring sure that we try to secure our borders to the best of our ability. And one other thing that we are trying to do is that even those points of entry, we try to change the chemistry in order to make them orderly instead of having this rowdiness we experience at our borders. We are working assiduously to ensure that we make organized arrangements in those approved points of entry that we have, to the extent that we replicate what we have in the international airports, to the best that we can, on our land borders, our land ports of entry.

Bad eggs in the Nigeria Immigration
We sanction erring officers, but there are procedures for sanctioning people and we have various levels of administering sanctions. Those who have run foul of the law within our own authority are taken through the orderly room trials and punished appropriately. Those who are above our own approved limit for punishment, of course, we recommend them to the Board and they are appropriately punished.

The important thing in what we are doing is that any erring officer is punished, while any hard working officer is encouraged. What we do is if we identify such persons, we encourage them in the area of promotion, making sure they progress in the Service because of their quality and that is, the quality of their input. And thatís why we keep encouraging everybody to ensure that we all contribute our little quota towards the development of our Service.

Too, we have spheres of authority, those that misbehave within the system that fall within our own authority, we punish. We dismiss people, we have statistics of those dismissed, statistics of those forwarded to the Board and they were sanctioned. It is a continuous thing; we donít just run a system where anything goes.

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