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How has interior ministry fared?
Clement Idoko, in this report, examines the activities of the Federal Ministry of Interior against the backdrop of security challenges bedevelling the country.
UNTIL the recent Boko Haram insurgency in some northern parts of the country, analysts had described the nation’s security system as complacent. They had also observed that the hydra-headed corruption helped to weaken the effectiveness in strengthening the nation’s internal security through efficient policing and border control.
Many Nigerians had recognised the role of the police more in the mounting of road blocks on the highways and extortion of money from motorists and other road users-the twenty naira syndrome. This informed the decision of the current Inspector-General of Police, Mr Mohammed Abubakar, to dismantle all roadblocks on the highways. He had also vowed to reform the police and improve on its image and service delivery, while at the same time encouraging intelligence and technology-driven policing.
In the same vein, the presence of Customs and Immigration officers in the country’s porous borders seemed to have made no difference, as fake and contraband goods still find their ways into the Nigerian market. Worst still, is the influx of illegal immigrants into the country because the borders were not properly manned, or because some persons had to compromise their duties.
These are the responsibilities of the Ministry of Interior, whose establishment predates the nation’s independence. Established in 1956 as the Ministry of Internal Affairs, it was modeled after the British Home Office for the purpose of maintaining law and order and internal security in the country.The Ministry has since undergone several structural changes both in function and nomenclature, especially with the removal of the Nigeria Police from the Interior Ministry.
Sources have also pointed to the great ambivalences in the defined responsibilities of the Ministry of Interior. The ministry is saddled with the responsibility of maintaining internal security without having the necessary control over the requisite and indispensable paramilitary establishments such as the police and Revenue and Preventive Divisions of the Customs and Exercise Department.
This ambivalence in function has also been responsible for lack of proper coordination of internal security systems in the country. The police, which is now under the Ministry of Police Affairs, appears to detest other sister agencies, instead of harmonisation of responsibilities in order to have effective and water-tight security system in place. For instance, they have had occasions in the past to kick against arming of the NSCDC personnel on the ground that it would amount to usurpation of their responsibilities.
The Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, had the problem of lack of effective coordination of security agencies in the country, when he said that the problem of insecurity rocking the nation was lack of cooperation among the country’s security agencies.
The views were expressed by the House of Representatives Committee on Interior, when it, last week, called on the Federal Government to recall the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and the police back to the Ministry of Interior for better coordination. Chairman of the Committee, Honourable Umar Bature, made the call when he led members of the committee on oversight visit to the Interior Ministry.
Bature said that there was no coordination of the activities of the Customs and police and that the reality on ground demanded that both agencies be returned to the Ministry of Interior. He said, “Any country that is sincere with itself does not need to remove the Police and Customs from this ministry”.
Minister of Interior, Comrade Abba Moro, during his presentation of the scorecard of his ministry during the Ministerial Platform to mark 2012 National Democracy Day and first anniversary of President Goodluck Jonathan administration, listed the responsibilities of the ministry to include, granting of Nigeria citizenship; consular and immigration services; granting of business permit and expatriate quotas, and declaration of public holidays.
Others are coordination of National Independence Day celebrations; reformation and re-integration of inmates; security of lives and properties; recruitment of officers and men of the Prison Service, Immigration Service, Fire Service and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, and managing the retirement benefits of retirees of some paramilitary services. However, the minister, during his presentation, did not leave anyone in doubt that he was on top of the affairs of his ministry.
One issue that came up very prominently in his presentation on the occasion was the problem of the Nigeria’s vast and porous borders, which he said contributed immensely to the present security challenges the nation is confronted with. He said: “There is no gainsaying that the current security challenges being faced by the country is partly attributed to the influx of illegal and undesirable elements into the country through our vast borders. In recognition of this, the ministry, particularly through the Nigeria Immigration Service, has taken several measures to secure and patrol our borders as well as monitor the activities of immigrants”.
The minister disclosed on the occasion that arising from the spate of bombings and general insecurity in the country, President Goodluck Jonathan, in a state-of-the nation address on 1st January, 2012, declared a State of Emergency in some states of the Federation and ordered the closure of some borders.
Accordingly, Moro said that the directive was immediately carried out in addition to the effort of the Ministry of Interior towards strengthening border security in all the 84 regular routes into the country. He also revealed that a total of 1,497 illegal routes into Nigeria were identified and efforts being made to block them.
He explained that in the states where the State of Emergency was declared by the President, which are, Borno and Yobe, two Deputy Controllers General of Immigration were mandated to coordinate and monitor the border closures.
On 26 February, the minister summoned the top management of the paramilitary services and charged them to strictly enforce the closure of borders and repatriate all illegal immigrants. Following this directive, the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) embarked on an exercise of identifying, screening, profiling, and easing out illegal aliens accordingly.
According to the minister, a total of 4, 214 foreigners were repatriated in the process, 335 aliens deported, 34 stowaways and 16, 998 foreigners were refused entry into Nigeria. Comrade Moro also disclosed that the NIS would establish modern Border Plazas in the major entry points as well as secondary border posts.
He also revealed on the occasion that the Federal Government had entered into collaboration with neighbouring countries on border control. He said government into cooperation agreement recently with Cameroun, Niger and Chad, on joint border patrol and control. “Similarly, we are collaborating with the ECOWAS on immigration and security issues within the sub-region. I have only recently returned from a meeting of ministers of countries of the Lake Chad Basin Commission where the strengthening of the joint patrol was adopted”.
In the area of vandalism, Moro expressed regrets over the ugly trend, saying the activities of the oil pipeline and electricity cable vandals in recent years have become a major threat to the nation’s wealth and economic growth. This was one of the reasons why the Minister on assumption Office, vigorous pursued the plan to arm NSCDC personnel. He disclosed that over 1, 300 officers and men of the NSCDC have undergone training in arms and light weapons handling.
In addition to regular training programmes in the Corps’ colleges, namely: Civil Defence Academy, Sauka, Abuja; College of Peace and Disaster Studies, Katsina and College of Security Management, Abeokuta, over 500 personnel of the Corps had received overseas training in Italy, UK, Isreal, USA, Egypt, Switzerland, Holland, Germany and several other countries.
The minister said some of these corps members have been engaged on 24 hours surveillance over government infrastructure, sites and other facilities to guard against attacks by criminals and vandals.
From the period of May 2011, the Corps arrested 101 suspects for illegal oil bunkering, recovered 22 tankers/trailers, eight buses and three cars from the raids. There are about 156 cases pending in various courts over vandalism related offences. Also the NSCDC has established a modern Dog Kernel with veterinary clinic and other facilities, which as the capacity for over 500 sniffer dogs that could be used for detection explosives, ammunitions, narcotics and for crowd control.
Nonetheless, one of the agencies under the ministry that in spite of its critical importance has been neglected over the years, is the Federal Fire Service. The minister captured this vividly, when he said:
“The Federal Fire Service is a first responder in all emergencies, be it fire or natural disaster. However, the Federal Fire Service, as it stands today, operates only in Lagos and Abuja. This has greatly constrained its activities, especially in the face of the almost comatose state of fire service in the States where they exist at all”.
Abba Moro, who disclosed that the Fire Service was undergoing reform to make it more alive to its duties, said poor funding had been one its major challenges. He said within the limit of its capability, the Federal Fire Service have been responding well to emergencies, adding that between May, 2011 and May, 2012, the Service had responded to about 42 fire related emergencies in which life and property worth millions of Naira have been saved.
In the same vein, the minister also assured that efforts were being made to address the problem of prison congestion and consequent jailbreaks in the country. He said prisons all over the world are correctional and reformation centres, stressing that the situation where over 70 per cent of inmates in Nigeria’s prisons are awaiting trial was unacceptable. Moro said while new modern prisons were being constructed and expansion of facilities in some of the prisons formations in the country, the Federal Government was also collaborating with some of the state governments to improve on the structures and welfare of inmates.
In spite of some of these challenges, the minister said the Prisons Service had improved greatly in drastic reduction in recidivism cases-a situation where freed criminals return to prison-saying only 2, 500 of such cases were reported for 2011 as against 7, 000 in 2010. He further disclosed that following the attack on the Prison in Koto-Karfe, Kogi State, recently, a fice-man panel of inquiry was immediately inaugurated and that the recommendations of the report submitted was quite revealing and germane to the ongoing prisons reform and would be implemented.
On the lingering issue of Prisoner Transfer Agreement with United Kingdom, Comrade Moro said the Nigeria delegation had in September, last year met with the UK counterpart and that critical steps on the matter are hinged on the passage of the relevant laws. There is a Prisons Exchange Bill currently pending in the National Assembly.
There are over 16000 Nigerian prisoners serving various jail terms in Britain. Under the deal about 16000 Nigerians could be transferred home to serve the remainder of their sentence in the new jails expected to be built by the Federal Government with the assistance of the British government.
Interestingly, as part of effort to support the transformation agenda of President Goodluck Jonathan, the Minister of Interior on assumption of Office embarked on key innovative interventions. Some of these initiatives were aimed attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). First was the automation of Expatriate Quota Administration.
This, according to the Minister helped to alleviate the cumbersome procedure for the processing of Expatriate Quota applications, which hitherto, created unnecessary time wasting, delays and sharp-practices that constituted disincentive to FDI. Under his administration, the Visa Policy has also been reviewed and there is now new Visa Policy that could be described as investor-friendly.
As an administrator, the Minister said he realized the importance of a motivated workforce to the achievement of any organisation’s goal. According to him, on assumption office, he immediately directed that release of the results of the verification exercise of officers and men of NSCDC which saw the proper placement of over 40, 000 in the last quarter of 2011.
He also ensured that the long overdue promotion interviews for senior officers of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) were conducted. The Minister also directed that the verification exercise for officers and men of the Federal Fire Service be carried out as a prelude to the comprehensive re-organisation of the service.Share