From Adetutu Folasade-Koyi and Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja 

Immediate past Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Muhammed Babandede, has revealed how some northern governors goofed in the handling of banditry which is ravaging the northern part of the country.

Babandede, who spoke exclusively with Sunday Sun in Abuja, explained that despite warning the governors not to negotiate with bandits, they went ahead and negotiated with them.

Babandede also spoke on his tenure at the Immigration Service, his efforts at taming corruption within the service, the issue of passport racketeering, scarcity of passport booklets, moves to ensure local production of passport, among others. 

 

You have just retired from service. How has it been? How is it going?

First, I must thank God because there is no one to thank than God Himself. Public service in Nigeria, especially when you reach the highest level of your career, is a dangerous place to stay actually. Sometimes, you hear your name on the radio that you are being removed. That is what happens in Nigeria. Sometimes, you are in a meeting representing a country, and then you hear that you have been sacked. So, I thank God that my departure was more celebrated than my appointment. First, I was the first among the head of Immigration to be pulled out officially. The pulling out was done in a colourful way. I would like to thank the man who acted for me because I told them that I wanted to be the first to be pulled out. And it happened. So, throughout the career of the Immigration, there was never a time a boss was pulled out except me. I thank God for that opportunity. Secondly, I tried even when I took over for us to hand over officially in the public, to show smooth succession through the media. It was a very funny incident when I was to take over, when I was appointed by Mr. President in 2016. I went to my former boss, I said, I have been given appointment, I want to find a way that we can handover officially, we would call the media. I called the PRO then who is a retired comptroller, King, I said call the media so that we can do a colourful handover. This has never been done in this service. But they deceived him that Mr. President has given me a station; it went into a big stalemate, there was almost a crisis. I calmed down. Eventually, he had to hand over in a room without the media, which was bad. I had the opportunity to hand over officially in front of the media. After I did this colourful exit, officers were crying, shedding tears when I was departing. For me, it is an honour. It is not people from my village that were crying. It is not people from my religion, but from all parts of Nigeria – Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo, Muslim, Christians; they all felt my departure. I appreciated that. So, when you see the faces of my family the day I was retiring, it was happiness. Many people called me and said oh! My children were taking photographs, selfie,  as if it was a new appointment because they were very proud that their father was celebrated, he was going. I was happy with that. But that is not enough. When I came home, I realised that the committee also realised that I did well. The first, I had almost seven receptions or eight since my retirement from service. It doesn’t happen to many public servants. Many public servants cannot even go back to where they retired. They cannot go. Some of them could not even go and handover because of the fear that staff will molest them. So, almost seven receptions! The first was done by Jigawa Young Professional Forum which did a big reception for me in Abuja. And then, very interesting! My people in Jigawa, in Hadejia, two emirates, when we say emirate in our language, we are talking of the old setting in the emirate system. But Hadejia Emirate revolves around eight local governments. So, the whole Hadejia Emirate under the leadership of the Emir of Hadejia and civil society received me. No political intention! There were no flags or politics even though some politicians became scared and said I was about contesting. But I didn’t tell them. I said it was not political. They felt I was a reliable son of theirs. The reception was glamorous. It was published in newspapers. Thousands of people trekked for hours to welcome me to Hadejia Emirate. Not only had my emirate, even Ringim Emirate did the same reception for me! So, it was a colourful reception. Even retired officers! Let me tell you the most interesting part. Officers that retired when I was serving, can you imagine, they said we worked with you, but we retired when you were the boss. They organised a reception for me in Kano. The civil society also organised a reception – media, civil society. They also organised a reception and gave me a lifetime achievement award. For me, it is worth celebrating. It is not a matter of people who say oh, when I retire, the phone stopped ringing. No, no, no. The phone kept ringing for me. Last two weeks, the king of Spain honoured me with the national honour. I was knighted. I am a Knight of Spain. I was given the Officer Order of Merit for civil merit in Spain. So, I was knighted by the King of Spain. I could not go to Spain because of COVID-19, so the ambassador was directed to represent me and I was given the certificate. What honour do you get after retirement than this? So, I am still celebrating. I feel great and I am happy.

What was the Immigration Service you left?

You know I made one statement and it became very viral, that I left as expected than I met it. I left the service with a well-motivated workforce. Internally, in them, every officer feels great. They were frustrated because most of them had no promotions for years. During my tenure, some of them got three promotions for the period of five years I served. Three promotions! They were well motivated, well dressed, and well presented. I introduced dressing code and anywhere you go in Immigration, you will see everybody dressed in the same way. So, you see a workforce that is happy, motivated, and well presented. If you go to the airport, you see officers neat these days and not ramshackle officers who can’t stand anywhere. I left the service with great structures. Go round and see. It is not only Abuja. People also say headquarters is like Dubai. No, go to every state. I established command offices in over 14 states. Before I came, most of our officers were serving in secretariats. They were staying in rented offices. There is no respect for an office of government with 20 officers, but go and see headquarters. Everywhere is filled with buildings and not building based on corruption. Building built with my heart. You will see my heart in the building; well finished and well completed. The golden building in that headquarters is a technology building which was built by Julius Berger. It is a standard building. It is one of the best buildings in the world. I don’t want to say in Nigeria. Go and see. So, I have left the institution with a good structure, with motivated workforce and I have also introduced policies that somebody will say you have sharpened the knives; you didn’t do the cooking properly. We left a lot of the policies changed. I was the one who introduced the enhanced passport. The enhanced passport was launched by President Muhammadu Buhari in February 2019.  When we say enhanced passport, it is a passport with improved security features with 10-year validity, linked with NIN. It is now that people are struggling to link their documents with NIN. We were the first that did this. We introduced a new visa policy which makes investment easier. Our visa policy was colonial visa policy. You know, when the British came, they determined who shall enter our territory, but now, we sat down and said, what do we need? If we need a solar expert, or we need an agriculture expert, we can give him visa to reside in terms of intellectual attraction or money invested that, that visa was given. We improved our visa on arrival process. Before I left, you don’t need to see anybody. If you’re coming to do a genuine business in Nigeria, you can go to www.immigration.co.ng, apply for visa on arrival, complete the form, make your payment, and arrive at the airport without meeting anybody. We have improved border control system. Go and see the airports. It is not what it was before. Today, our airports are linked to Interpol. All the 194 countries are connected with our airports. Today, when you come to the airport, you don’t just need… Before, we just scan passport, but today we take your photograph, we take your biometrics and we get your documents scanned. If you come back tomorrow, we know. Today, I am glad to say that anybody who passes through our borders, the Immigration officers can do some research and see whether it is the same photograph that you used when you passed. And if you are travelling as a wanted terrorist, or you have travelled with a lost or stolen passport, it can be seen at that airport. We have succeeded by uploading our lost and stolen passport to the Interpol real time online. We were the only country in Africa so far as at the time I left that was connected with Interpol real time online on lost and stolen passport database. What does that mean? People may not understand. The value is very clear. When you lose your passport in the olden days, even if you lose your passport deliberately, with the support of the Immigration officers, you apply for British visa and they said okay, don’t worry, just say your passport is lost and you collect another passport and go to American Embassy, that is harmful to those countries that you are going and is harmful to Nigeria because they are using double identity. Even though it is one, but different passports. So, if somebody keeps the passport for them or arrested, they can go and get another one and leave. Today, what we did was to upload and connected. I would like to thank the United States government, especially through the Interpol, Washington, for assisting Nigeria to connect to Interpol real time online on loss and stolen passport. So, if today you go to Immigration and you say you have lost your passport and you re-issue the passport, that lost passport go to Interpol database and is available in all the countries’ border ports. Many elite have suffered. They may use their ‘wuruwuru’ probably to pass Nigeria, or they are staying in another country, you just put your passport and they will say this passport you have declared it lost. You can see! That automation has given the possibility for Nigeria to use e-gates. If you have the e-passport, you can use the e-gates and cross. Before, it was not connected. But now, we have uploaded. We have through PKD, PKI, gotten approval before I left where you can upload your country’s key certificate into it so that countries will have access to your passport at the point of entry. So, we have done a lot in terms of visa, we have done a lot in terms border clearance, in terms of enhanced passport, in terms of staff personnel, in terms of infrastructure, in terms of even regional cooperation. I think I was the first person to encourage cooperation of the Heads of Immigration in West Africa. The Heads of Immigration in West Africa were hosted in 2017 with the support of ECOWAS and ECOWAS adopted as a policy that considers it annually. I think for me, this is a great way to cooperate; that you are working together with your colleague in Ghana. Despite the dispute you are hearing between Nigeria and Ghana, the Head of Immigration in Ghana was in Nigeria. He came and attended a passing out parade of our training school in Kano. I was in Ghana in my uniform and I attended the passing out parade of Ghanaian Immigration. We consult each other. So, I think we are doing well in terms of international cooperation and there is trust by the international community on us. The donors have invested because they know we are not going to steal the items. Let me give you a typical example. All the midas we have at the border is supported by international community. Nigerian government did not invest any kobo. The international community, the embassies around, they have assisted us in supporting staff development. Let me give you this example, the border policy, border management strategy I have rolled out, 2019-2023, was supported by the EU and implemented by IOM which will develop a border policy for Nigeria. We have a training system. I realised that officers, when they go for training school, when they come back, they don’t train again. With the support of IOM, we were able to get funding from the EU. The funding is given through IOM and is implemented. What do they do? They give us personal training centres. We have around, eight personal training centres. One is in Abuja, you can have a look. We have offices you can lock and get trained and pass and when they come back, they can continue. It is there, an ICT-based issue. Before I left, I did a wonderful automation. If you want to reduce corruption, you want efficiency, you need to automate. Before I left, the Office of the Comptroller General does not treat files. It is tablet. You get everything. And I heard government just spoke about it recently that they want to automate. That is the way efficiency should be. But before I left the office of the Comptroller General, I can go anywhere. I would work online. Bring your file, I will read it, I will approve, I reject, ask for additional information. I will stamp and sign. It is done. It is a tablet. And that is how things should be. I will like to thank the Minister of Finance who really actually instigated me to do it because she started, although she has not done for the directorate. They said she is working on tablet. If she can work on tablet, why can’t I work? I looked for a guy, one Dr Nwosu, a wonderful guy, he is a disporian, who left America to come and I asked him to do it and it worked. So, I hope my predecessors will continue because it will reduce corruption, it will ensure efficiency. In the olden days, they want to come and see CG’s office whether my file has entered or it has gone. But this time, they will not know. I will treat and send on tablet. So, it reduces all those corruption. If the file stays extra, I will see the red alert, delay. I will treat it so that I will not be at fault also. That is how I left the system. So, I think I left the Immigration better than I met it.

During your time, there were serious allegations of malpractice and corruption. For instance, there was a time 60 Immigration officials were reportedly sacked over bribes, and another time, it was alleged that you diverted N23 million palliative fund meant for officers, including job racketeering. Now that you have left Service, can we know what actually happened?

Let me tell you what happened. I think I tested positive for COVID-19 and I was in isolation. Later, I drove myself to Gwagwalada where I recuperated and tested negative. At that time, people were really scared of COVID-19, but now, it is depending on how people can get treated even though some people died as a result of it. During that time, I was the only person who gave my successor the power to act, including finance. Go and find out. The money was approved when I was in the hospital. But as a leader, people should go and check, when I came out, I did a press release and I clearly mentioned that there was nothing like diversion. What they did was to pay the allowances to officers, but if you read it, they said they paid to my staff. I didn’t know who they paid. But I still believed as the accounting officer, I will say yes, it was not stolen, it was paid to people. At that time, people thought actually I was dying so that they could be Comptroller General. In short, there was a time they reported that I was dead as a result of COVID-19, but when they realized that I was out, they needed to do a lot of write-up. No money was stolen and I advised them to go to ICPC or EFCC. Even now, it is not late; they can go to ICPC or EFCC to see if palliative money was stolen. How much was the palliative money given to the NIS that it will be stolen? Nothing was stolen. There was no job racketeering. Let me tell you, I was the first person. I came on board and I met crisis of employment. Remember when I was appointed in 2016, we witnessed a stampede before then. There was recruitment in 2014/2015 and we met it. And when they were rioting, young men were rioting, I went to see my minister, it was then Dambazau, Dambazau said look, people are rioting, go and meet them. But since I was the then head, I would take responsibility for whatever happened before. But let me tell you, I was one of the people who supervised the recruitment in Lagos during that stampede. And I was the only person who cancelled the recruitment. Ask Abba Moro, our former minister who is a serving senator today.

Why did you cancel it?

Yes, because it was madness. When I went to Lagos, I found out the whole stadium was full and I was told to screen for interview because nobody was invited. The stadium was full, outside was full. They raised me up and I told them look, there would be no recruitment, people want to use it to say there is recruitment and they would take whom they want, let’s cancel this recruitment. I cancelled the recruitment. I called my then boss, Paradang, I told him. I called the Minister of Interior, I told him. I said I took responsibility. As the general on ground, at the war front, I took the decision and I have cancelled this recruitment. There was no death in Lagos. Even though the population of Lagos was great, there was no death in Lagos. I was aware of that crisis. I met it. So, when General Dambazau said go and face your people, I addressed the young men and I said they should select a delegation and come to my office. They came and after discussing with them, I realized it was not their fault because they followed due process, they were recruited and somebody said it was cancelled. So, I wrote a memo to the then minister, Dambazau, and the minister sent it to Mr. President and Mr. President agreed we should screen them based on age, certificates and documents. And we screened and recruited them. So, there was no job racketeering. The second recruitment we did, including this one I left half way, let me tell you, there was nobody. And I have made this announcement and I am making this announcement after retirement, if there is any person whose money was collected for recruitment, he should go to ICPC or EFCC. Anybody who gave money to be recruited, even if it is me, even if it is somebody above me, he must report. So, I will never participate. Look, I know how I came to the Immigration. I didn’t pay any bribe. I followed a cue and I was taken. I must demonstrate that. We did quota system, we distributed and each local government had a candidate. Each local government in this country had a candidate and there was no money collected. So, there is no racketeering. Let me tell you, people can talk, but go to the people and ask. You have them; some of them are in the training school. Drive to the training school in Kano or Oro; ask them, how did they come to the Immigration? You will find out that they will say they did not know anybody. Yes, some people introduced somebody, but that is not the issue. You must be qualified and if ordinary people cannot be given, I will not despise what God has done for me. We have employed people who don’t know anybody. You are free to ask them. I will never collect money to recruit anybody. Some people may do it. It is possible. You know in Nigeria, someone will collect money and even you don’t know. But no money was collected by Babandede. Babandede will not accept money to be collected for recruitment.

How about the 60 Immigration officials that were sacked over bribes?

It is a continuous process. You see, I don’t have power to sack.

But did you have that much?

We have even more. Some people were demoted by ranks. But I prefer even demotion than sack.

Why?

In Immigration, our salary is on our shoulder. The greatest deterrence is for somebody wearing three stars, you remove one and he walks around. It is the greatest deterrence so that they know it is because of that it happened. People should know that I don’t have the power to sack. I only had the power to sack junior officers when I was in Comptroller General. The other senior officers are sacked by the board. Due process is taken by the board for them to be sacked. We had quarrel with so many people who were sacked and some of them went to the industrial court more than 10 times and they lost. If you feel you have been cheated, you can go to the industrial court. They went and they lost. So, I won’t sack anybody deliberately. But anybody who collects money like issues that have to do with recruitment, a lot of officers were collecting money for recruitment. Some people were collecting money even from companies.

Which category?

Unfortunately, just a scene in the scene, are the middle cadre officers. Usually, you find deputy superintendant. I could remember a very good case which involved a Correction Officer. They would invite and they will go and collect the money. We will arrest them. We had many cases and given to the board. They will collect money such as 200,000; 300,000 from innocent people. I ensure that I arrested somebody from my village, Hadeija. He said he was collecting the money to bring to me. He went to a local government chairman. People are terrible and Nigerians are desperate. They will not believe that this is happening. But because they said it has happened in one agency, they gave money and they bought job. So, it happened in my village and we arrested the people to be prosecuted. What happened to them is another story. But if they are not Immigration officers, the only thing we can do is to give to the police to prosecute.

Despite the introduction of e-passport which you have also spoken about, it is still difficulty for most Nigerians to have access to procure passports. Why is it impossible to do away with touts at your offices?  And why can’t the Immigration Service automate its procedure?

What we have done before we left is to ensure that people pay online. We provided alternative payment. And let me tell you, the real problem why Nigerians were not doing that is because of booklet scarcity.

But your officers are circumventing the system?

I agree with you 100 per cent. It is because the booklets are not available. Whatever you do, however, the good system you put in place, if Nigerians in a year, let’s say Nigerians need five million booklets and you only have one million booklets, they will be struggling for it, there will be another way.

Why the scarcity Sir?

That is another talk. So, for me, the major cause of it is scarcity. Why is it that there is scarcity? First, we have not produced passports locally.

Why can’t we do it locally?

Let me tell you, the biggest problem, even before the coming of this administration, when the other administration was leaving, they gave out contract of 10 million booklets to the Irish to supply. When the president wanted this system to be done locally, there was a struggle between the Ministry of Interior, the NIS, the contractor and the CBN. The CBN wanted to cancel the contract for me to produce. You don’t cancel contract like that because you are a government company. For me, I am not for Government Company. You see now that I am free. I have never supported government companies. They are not good business people. Free enterprise is what I believe. I believe companies can produce passport with others. Go to UK, the producer of UK passport is even in another country. People don’t know. Nigerians are just talking. Producing of UK passport is in another country. Go and check. Google it and see! When you talk of production of passport, people will shout, production. Booklet is only a 10 per cent of passport. The technology is the major aspect of it – the chips, the networking, the data that is in the system, is what makes a passport. In the future, there will be no booklet. The future of migration globally is that there will be no booklet. People will travel with their finger prints and with their faces. It is happening in Hong Kong already. You will just put your face, you will cross at train station because you have paid online. There will be no passport in the future. And the passport we are having, there will be no passport in booklets to stamp. It will be in IT format that you scan and everything will go through. So, the future is everything diminishable to paper. But this passport booklet that you are talking about, if you look at the component of the passport, the paper, in the world, they are only four companies that print passport booklet papers. You have to import it. The chips cannot be produced in Nigeria, you have to bring the chips. But, it is good to do it in Nigeria because when you are coupling it, some people will get jobs to do. It is for Nigeria and you can see the booklet available to pay. So, it is just a matter of agreement between the Ministry of Interior and Immigration. For me, any person who is capable, whether the person is a Nigerian company, as long as they will produce in Nigeria, they should be given the option and it should be done through competitive bidding and not through protectionism. There should be a chance for every qualified person because that is how governance should be – open international tender. Get the best person who can produce the booklet, let him produce, even Nigerians. Before I left, I have already allocated the place. There used to be Mami market in Immigration headquarters. I demolished it before I left. It is a place where a shopping complex has been built in the Immigration headquarters, but I allocated that land to passport Production Company so that NIS can produce its passport. It is not rocket science. Before we came, if passports were to be produced, you needed a whole house. It is like when computer started. I was in the university when computer came. In the 80s when I was in the university, the computer room of our university was a big room. Today, my handset is greater than that big room. So, it is not rocket science. They should allow the NIS to produce and print its passport for God’s sake! Yes, so that we can produce quickly, pick and print. It is not a rocket science. Zimbabwe is doing it, a poor country. So, why can’t we do it? We don’t need to compete with any company or government company. Allow NIS to produce it. That is my policy. And I wrote it to the minister, I have provided the land for the company, but in order to get this done, a lot of sabotage has gone in. The CBN blocked the Immigration from even getting the money to produce its booklet. If you want to take by competition, wait and compete normally. But you block the Immigration Service which before coming was making $33 million from foreign passport and visa. When we do it, we don’t put that money into JP Morgan account. There is money for passport. The foreign component of it is that if you get passport in London or Italy, the money goes to the Federal Government’s account – free to government. But passport is contractual funded. It is PPP project; it is not a government project. The government has no kobo. The only kobo that government has in passport is the kobo of my salary if I am a worker in Immigration or the office provided. But the fund was a loan taken by the contractor. It is a Nigerian company. People will say it is a Malaysian. It is a lie. Go and check with the CAC. It is a Nigerian company. The man is a Yoruba man from either Ibadan or Lagos. They say the data is hidden in one room, it is a lie. It is hidden in Nigeria. So, please, Nigerians should just desist from social media and fake news. What I believe is that they should handover to the Immigration to do it. If the Immigration is producing it, it is a large sum of money for the government after all. They are not even bringing that part of money into Nigeria. The CBN should stop blocking the Immigration from getting dollar to produce passport before the contract is amended because it is Nigeria that will suffer. If it is scrapped off, they will abuse the Immigration on the social media, but the real person they should abuse is the CBN.

Why is the payment for passport still high? What can be done to lower it?

How is it high?

For instance, to get 10 years is over N20,000.

(Cuts in) No. It is 70-something thousand. Do you think it is high? Seventy-one thousand is high? No. If you want to go to London, how much do you buy ticket? I strongly believe that the cost of passport is not high. We used to have five years, but this is 10 years with 60 pages; N71,000 is good. Seventy-something thousand? You don’t know the exchange rate again? Even if the company is producing in Nigeria, it will bring 80 to 90 per cent of its product from abroad. Don’t you know the exchange rate? The exchange rate is crazy. I think even the cost is small, N71,000. Look, I am not in government; I am free to air my views. Even N71,000 is small as far as I am concerned. People are buying tickets everyday to go abroad and they cannot pay for passport of 10 years, 64 pages? Haba!

How do we take care of racketeering in the system?

To me, look, we have tried our best. Go and find out. I am not a businessman. Anywhere there is scarcity, there will be crisis. Go and do whatever you want to do. What I realized now after I have left is that the situation is worse. Many states don’t have booklets and the acting man continues to suffer. It is not his fault. You cannot get booklet and they will abuse him that he doesn’t have booklet. The booklet is not there. So, please let the Immigration be allowed to establish a passport production in NIS headquarters and then issue passports. It has a lot of value. You just pick it at your backyard and print. Secondly, you can even give special numbers as a way to make more money. There are some people who like special numbers. I know them. Give them that special number and they pay more. You can allow them to keep that same number because you have the protection system. You can do it. They say oh, I like that number. We will give you continuous number provided you upload it into our account data base here. So, you can do a lot of things in it if you are in charge of it. But somebody is not happy, they want to fight it. There will be corruption if it is scarce. Go to anywhere. Even if you go to the hospital and you have few drugs, there will be corruption. And if you go to the market and you have few products, there will be corruption. But if it is available, there will be no wahala. Automation is the answer. But even if you do automation, what is the essence if you pay online and you can’t get it and they will tell you to go and talk to somebody? It is a problem. So, automation is good, but availability must be the answer.

So, when you were in service, you also knew about this one, go and talk to somebody and you will get the answer?

It is not even that I knew, I said it. My successor decided to go and visit Lagos and showed in the media. I visited many places. I have been to passport offices several times, sat down as an ordinary man and arrest officers. But I punished them. It is there. I know about it, but to reduce the corruption, I did some few things and I hope they will sustain it. One thing I did was to decentralize passport.

How?

When I came on board, if you are changing the data, genuine change of data, especially for spouse, I pity women because they change the name because they are married, they change the name because they are divorced, they change the name because they are widowed; so the approval that was there was that you have to do it in Abuja because of fear. I decentralized it. I said, go and do it in the states.

I witnessed two cases. The lady came from London, went to Lagos and she was told to come to Abuja…

When was that?

June or July this year…

Change of data or change of name?

Change of name. It was just one letter in her name…

No. There are two things. That is change of data. Change of name due to marriage was decentralized. The reason was less. If you come with the evidence and say look, I lost my husband, I want to go back to my…, it is change of name due to marriage. You don’t need to come to the headquarters. Change of name due to divorce, these are all related to marriage. But if a Reverend Father wants to add Reverend Father or an Imam wants to add Imam Muhammad, that is change of data. We have serious problems with that one. It has to be controlled. Secondly, what I did in addition to decentralizing change of data for women, I think the women should thank me for that, I also liberalised for head offices to come to headquarters to collect booklets. What I realized was that when they come to collect booklets, it was bribe story. If you come to the headquarters to collect booklets and then, you have to follow the file table by table, you will come with some money nah. So, what I did was to distribute these passports to the offices through courier. Don’t come to Abuja, but through courier service. You will sit down in your office as a passport officer and you will see passport booklets brought to you at your doorstep, including missions abroad. You know if I am a passport officer in charge of a place and I have to come to Abuja to collect booklets, you know what coming here means. You will see Oga this, Oga that. So, I curbed that. Courier will deliver to your passport office as allocated to you. That was intended to reduce corruption. If you do that, it will reduce the person to person contact and reduce corruption. I hope they are sustaining this since I left because it is a major way to reduce corruption. If you have to come to the headquarters, you will follow the file table by table, give money, then you have to also charge those people at the passport office to collect money. Thirdly, the appointment of passport officers. Before, you will have to go and beg. Go and ask them, I have left. Before, you will have to beg and pay bribe to be appointed because there will be money, chua, chua. When I came on board, believe me, they don’t know they are appointed. I am proud to say you can go and verify before you publish anything. We appoint you based on your merit as a Passport Control Officer (PCO). You wake up in the morning and see that you are a PCO, including foreign posting. The foreign posting, I must thank Aregbesola for what we did to make sure that we set a standard. Foreign missions based on merit. There were officers who cried. They were teaching in training schools. Come to Abuja and they said what have I done, they have called me to Abuja. They said you are called for foreign posting. When you pick people based on merit, they don’t need to lobby, they don’t need to bribe to get things, and corruption will be reduced a great deal. So, we made some efforts to minimize corruption. You cannot eliminate it. Fourthly, is when you don’t need anything like when you want to go abroad, you say okay, CG is coming, pay my hotel bills, pay this for me. There is problem nah. They have to look for money in that abroad to pay you. They cannot give you their salary. I stopped that. Go and ask officers in our foreign missions. I paid my hotel bills. Even if I send them money to pay, I send them from my money because I am being given DSA. So, when yourself, you are able to reduce the level of corruption from your officers, I think you will reduce the overall corruption. But scarcity is a major issue.

Why is it difficult for Nigerians to get their passports? Why do I have to go physically to collect it?

We look at the possibilities. Passport in Nigeria is in situ and it is biometric. The United States Government has just introduced, where we are, the enhanced passport. I am glad to say that just before I left, they introduced the enhanced passport. In the UK, you can be given the passport by post. You don’t need to do biometric. Our situations are different. Nigerian situation is big wahala. Let me tell you something, if you don’t do that, somebody will steal the resident permit of somebody in Italy and will post his passport and get the passport and collect it. So, the biometric is key for verification. You come, you take your biometric, it will go to database and search and if you are the same guy, then you pick it. We have not reached that level and once we reach that level, you will see the wonders that we will do.

What are your regrets in Service?

I think my greatest regret in service is that I was not able to finish some of my projects like the technology building. I built the structure, I brought a lot of equipment and technology into it, but I did not complete it 100 per cent. I hope my successors will continue because I had a dream for the technology building. It is one of the best where data is gotten of all travellers from intention to physical movement, to border crossing, to ticketing are shared in one place with law enforcement real time online globally. At that building, if I want to see if you are a terrorist wanted globally, if you pay or apply for visa and I want to know if you are the one, the system is meant to be like that. If you apply for visa, the system will alert us. I left it before I quit office where the system will work. You will be able to see information and share real time online. I think that is my greatest…. But I am glad I commissioned the building. I entered the building and stayed for some time and put some equipment in it. It was working, it was searching. People who visited our technology building, including developed countries, the United States and the United Kingdom, they don’t have that technology. Nigerians don’t appreciate what they have. They don’t have because we borrowed the passport technology from Asia early before them and they don’t have much challenges like we have for about human behaviour abroad. So, I am glad to say that I did it, but I would have loved to see it working. That is the only regret I have. But I hope my successor will make it functional. That is why I said when I was leaving that my prayer is that my successor should be better than me so that they can complete it.

Are there decisions you took while in office which if given another opportunity, you will do them differently?

There could be many. But you see, policy decision making are usually…. How the Immigration works is that as the chief executive, you are the head of operation. Your minister is in charge of policy because he represents Mr. President. You are in charge of the day-to-day operation. Let me tell you, there was a land when I came on board. It was just few months and my driver told me, he said Oga, Immigration has a land somewhere ooo, they are trying to hide the land. I said take me to the land. It is near Setraco. Just near Setraco in Utako. I saw a large expanse of land and I said, so this land belongs to us? And mechanics were there, I said they should leave the place. But honestly speaking, I had to push and fought and built houses for deputy comptroller generals, seven of them. The land belongs to us. But my regret is that I would have loved to build a command there, but they refused. But what can I do? In FCDA, everything is process.

Why did they refuse?

Because it was residential and I didn’t want to take risk when you begin to change the process and you lose the land because I don’t know what they might have done on the land. My greatest happiness would have been if we had built the FCT Command because the FCT Command is in Gwagwalada. My dream was to see the command and the headquarters work separately. So, still, you find out that the job of the FCT Command is done by the headquarters. But if I had built the command at the heart of Abuja, it would have been great. So, that land would have been a beautiful FCT Command. Unfortunately, it is residential. It is not a complete regret, it is housing seven deputy comptroller generals. They have residences there. The land could have gone, but honestly, I regret that I didn’t make it the FCT Command.

Now that you have left Service, what will you be doing? Will you join politics?

Politics is man management by my mentor. I have only one political mentor in Nigeria, the late Mallam Aminu Kano. He said politics is man management. Politically, everybody is political by nature. Will I be in active politics? I don’t know. Many insinuations are going on that I am participating in election. But I have not even registered in any party, for your information. What I will do is that I will do a lot of research work, I will do a lot on issues of migration globally which I am known globally as an expert on migration and human trafficking. I will also continue with my farm. I have been farming even when I was in service and I encouraged my officers to farm. I have big poultry where I am working and I earned money from it for a very long time. This farm is known already, so I will continue farming. But I tell you that most of the things I will do will be based on research, humanitarian job and I will like really to work with children. When I was given the National Order of Spain, one of the commitments I made was that I said as a knight, I will continue to remove a lot of children from the streets. Nigeria has the highest number of dropout school children in the world, mostly occasioned by the conflict of Boko Haram and banditry. I want to work with the international community to see if we can reduce the number so that we can take the out of school children and rehabilitate them because if we don’t, these are the children that will be recruited by criminals. They will be bandits, they will be Boko Haram, they will be terrorists and they will be kidnappers. That is the job I want to do anywhere I have the opportunity to do it before I leave the world.

Governor Abubakar Badaru is serving out his second term in your home state, Jigawa. How do you rate him in the last six years?

Shall I be political again when I promised you I am not an active politician? Badaru is a good friend. So, can I be rating my friend? I think he is doing well as far as I am concerned. I have not been able to enter Jigawa very well to see what is happening. But I know he is very economical with spending. People should appreciate him. Even if I don’t see anything, he is not among the politicians who spread money. And that is one thing I will not do. So, probably, even if I am going to be a politician, they will not elect me because you cannot take the money and go and share when there is no budget for that. So, I know he is not reckless with money. They call him computer because he calculates also. I know him for that. On my own, I have rated myself as in my own governance in Immigration. I think I have done my part. He is also finishing his part. He will be judged by history very well.

Jigawa State has been relatively peaceful compared to other states in the North. What do you think your governor is doing differently than others?

I think we should thank God that it is visible. Sometimes, it may not be a strategy of the person. If you look at the geographical setting of the crisis, it started with the Northeast and then, they were dispersed and they went up through up North, along the border with Niger, they were able to enter places like Katsina and Sokoto. But what I think the other governors, the mistakes they made, they were negotiating with bandits. I had the opportunity to meet one or two of them. When I was in service, when we paid courtesy visit with my minister, I said, don’t give them any money because when you give them money, they will leave your state and they will go and meet another state and when they finish from that state, they will come back to your state, don’t give them money. They were negotiating with bandits. Bandits are not supposed to be negotiated with. They are supposed to be dealt with for God’s sake. Once they taste money, it will be a problem and I know Badaru doesn’t like to give money. So, it became an advantage. Once you give money, it is going to be more problems because these people spend money without any wahala. So, they will look for the money again and they are not supposed to pay ransom. I think I am with El-Rufai when he said don’t pay ransom. He is not crazy and I support him on that.

What is your take on concerns about ending insecurity, particularly Boko Haram and banditry in Nigeria?

First, I think we need to be sincere as leaders in the fight against all these. Resources must be used effectively where they are allocated to. If you are told to buy house, buy the house; if you are told to pay your staff, pay your staff. If you are told to train your staff, train them; if you are told to feed them, feed them. I think this is key for the success. The problem is that if you as a leader, they see you doing something differently, the young boys will not do the right thing. I told my staff, don’t go and work for the Chinese, for the Indians to be collecting work to do. You are supervisors. I don’t have a company. I said, if I have a company, show me.  So, leadership is very important. We are lucky we have President Muhammadu Buhari. Unfortunately, it looks like he is alone. He is suffering a lot. He is a very straightforward man, but he needs a stronger team to make things work properly. Secondly, we need to have good cooperation with Niger, Benin and Cameroon. We need to have good working relationship. If you look at the three movement system, normally from the Schengen system, Schengen system is similar to what we borrowed in ECOWAS to have free movement of persons. There is cooperation to the level of pursuit. In the Schengen area, you can pursue a person to another country only that if you want to arrest the person, you handover to the police in that country. There is cooperation in judiciary. They have Euro justice, they have Euro bond, but we don’t have. We don’t even communicate with our colleagues in Niger. So, there has to be greater cooperation. Law enforcement must learn to speak French, we must put those who speak French along the borders, we must have good cooperation with our neighbours. I think this is key if we want to fight this war effectively. We need to improve also the social service. Nigeria must redistribute its resources. Some of the cases are cases of pure poverty. There is a Hausa proverb which says when you are sinking in a sea, what are you going to consume? You see the H+4 , you will fall. There is abject poverty. We need to redistribute. Even if it means to say all the elite, bring back your money let’s share, let’s do it because the money is not just going round to the poor. I will like to thank the president for giving money to the local governments. But it is not coming. The governors are not allowing it to come down. The local government must have their money. The EFCC can put eyes on them, but at least, the money will be shared at the local level. When some state governors put all the money for local government and keep it, and you find some governors, only one person will be spending the money, there will be crisis. Let the money go down to local government because people have no access to facilities, they have no access to even the care they are talking about. So, when you don’t share to the grassroots level, there is going to be a problem. I am telling you, nothing is happening at the grassroots level. So, those people who are graduates, they don’t do anything. It is going to be a problem. So, I recommend that we need to share. Also, if we need to fight insurgency and crisis, we need to make electricity work in Nigeria. If we have good power…

(Cuts in) What is the correlation?

Look, a lot of people are unemployed. Can you imagine if there is electricity 24/7 from the national grid, a lot of people will have work. There will be factories. A lot of people don’t want to be based in Nigeria, it is because of lack of power. If there is power, you will have factories and if there are factories, you will have managers. You can do tomatoes factory, you can do a lot because it is a river basin area. If there are factories, you are not going to cry. But as long as we continue to provide raw materials, the government is encouraging, we should export raw materials, we cannot be slaves. Any country that exports raw materials will be a slave forever. You need to have your factory for refining, packaging and sell to the Oyinbo man as expensive as he sells it to us. But when we give it to him, raw rice, he will go and package it and give us only tech rice; or we give to him ginger, he will package and give us gingertes, there is a problem. So, this can happen only when there is power. This country is a great country. I am telling you. We are one of the greatest countries in the world. I swear, this country is one of the greatest countries in the world. It will work. But insecurity will stop if politicians have made their minds known. Most of them, they are using politics ooo, 2023 is coming. They are insecurity themselves, the politicians. They bought arms and gave the boys. The boys were doing bad things and now, they will continue to do bad things. Please, we should reduce the cost of governance. The National Assembly won’t do it themselves. But if we can make the National Assembly and political appointment less attractive, review the constitution so that you just come and do debate and go. But you are in Abuja, everybody wants to live big, it is a problem. And more so, the ordinary people should stop demanding. They are demanding because they didn’t see anything. So, somebody needs to start to change the system so that politics will be less attractive. Let’s spend more money on the people and not on governance. The cost of governance is too expensive. It is a long story, but I don’t want to talk. But a lot can be done. The immediate way to solve this problem, I think, is to make the law enforcement work together. It is the quickest way. The law enforcement must work together. There must be synergy among them and there must be somebody who is going to task each law enforcement. I give you an example, if the Air Force has been tasked by the Department of State Services that Boko Haram members are coming to attack a village, there must be an agency of government who knows that this agency has been tasked. If they fail, you hold them responsible. If you call the police in your neigbourhood that somebody is bugling your house, when you call that number, somebody must know that you have called the police and if the police refused to respond, then somebody is be punished. Getting the person who is tasking and coordinating is a problem. So, that operation should not be voluntary. It should be by force.

The post My efforts in curbing corruption in Immigration  –Babandede, ex-CG appeared first on The Sun Nigeria.

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