I have been with the Nigeria Immigration Service since I left school nearly 28 years ago, long enough to have seen about eight Comptrollers General of the NIS come and go. From Garuba Abbas to UKU mar, Uzoamaka Nwizu of blessed memory, Joseph Chukwurah Udeh, Rose Chinyere Uzoma, David Shikfu Paradang, Martin Abeshi and now Mohamed Babandede.
Of this lot, I was previleged to come very close to a few of them, three of them to be precise. In 1999/2000, when Mrs Nwizu (God bless her soul) was newly appointed as the first female Immigra- tion boss, possibly in Africa, I was led to publish a magazine that will carry her image and interview as front page news. She quickly approved the proposal then, although my immediate boss, MR Patrick Anchaver, the then Assistant Comptroller General in Lagos didn’t see the need for an Immigration journal, especially coming from a bloody freshly recruited Cadet ASI. It took the pressure of Dr Babajide Brown, then a Comptroller and the trio of Messrs Parradang,
Dilibe and Ekpedeme King (who were then the lagos cabal), to convince Anchaver to forward a request for the approval of my proposal to abuja, with a proof copy of what later became THE MIGRANT magazine. Not only did Mrs Nwizu attend the maiden public presentation of the magazine, she came with her husband and they both spent the night in lagos.
As for Mrs Uzoma, I worked briefly with her as Deputy Service PRO under Joachim Olumba, in 2010, with concurrent posting as Deputy Service Protocol Officer, under Kadaura. Mrs Uzoma having been been my boss way back in Lagos, did not waste time upon becoming CG, to draft me to her Office to assist the Public Relations Unit, whilst her then Chief of Staff (we call it Principal Staff Officer), Nurudeen Graham, having also been following my progression in the Service, had recommended that i also deputize for the Protocol unit.
In 2011, Mr Parradang as Comptroller in charge of Admin, signed my posting order to canada as immigration attache and two years later when he became the CG, he made out time off his International Civil Aviation Confrence in Montreal, to visit me (with his wife) at the High Commission in Ottawa. Oga Pee, as his Lagos fans fondly called him, was outstanding though very thourough to the point of being misunderstood by Officer and men.
The point I ‘ve laboured so hard to make with these inferences, is that I have been around various helmsmen in the NIS, close enough to know when a CG is making a remarkable difference. Lets give it all up for this current Comptroller General, Mohamed Babandede who can be rightly said to have come into the saddle, quite prepared for the task ahead of him.
My first close encounter with MR Babandede was about 2002, when as an Assistant Comptroller, he was seconded to the newly formed Federal Anti Human Trafficking Agency (NAPTIP) as Head of Investigation and he organised a training program for Field Officers selected from amongs young Police and Immigration Officers, in which I was nominated by the then ACG in Lagos, Dr Brown to represent Zone A, Lagos.
I remember that programme held at Chelsea HOTEL, Abuja, very vividly, because i had to return to lagos by bus, to save my allowance to buy my first set of electronics (flat screenTV, Video and Music Set). Babandede cut a deep first impression in my mind and i believe in the minds of most other par- ticipants at the two day orientation programme, as a man gifted with both Intelligence and cerebral exellence, almost to the boisterous point of flaunting those rare attributes for anyone who cares to see, reminding one of such first class brains as the Sanusi Sanusis, Festus Odimegwus and Pat Utomis of this clime whose brightness and profound, near perfect mastery of their professional environment can easily be mistaken for arrogance because they learned early in their carreers to bestride their turfs like the proverbial colossus.
I had the rare opportunity again of meeting Babandede twice in Ottawa Canada when he was the Deputy Comptroller General and was despatched by the then CG Parradang, to mediate in the face off between the then High Commissioner, Chief Ojo
Maduekwe (God bless his soul) and my Immigra- tion colleague in the High commission. It fell upon me to chauffeur Babandede from the Airport to his hotel and to the Embassy back and forth within the two or so days he spent and i merely reaffirmed my convinction about his cool and calm mien as a well trained diplomatic officer, the type that could dine with You while still holding your recall letter, the type that could deliver a hard news and still be Your friend, like telling You to go to hell and making You look forward to it. If Babandede was not an Im- migration Officer, He could jolly well be an Ambas- sador or a police Officer or indeed the National Security Adviser to the President.
Little wonder he hit the ground running upon his appointment three years ago as the head of Africas largest Immigration Corps. Many officers may not agree that the CG has done so well in terms of their individual welfare, But majority, If not all are unani- mous to commend his aggressive transformation of the Service in terms of turnkey infrastuctural projects. A visit to the Sauka Airport Road Headquarters in Abuja will make one to mistake the place as one huge Julius Berger construction site, as virtually every available space has been converted into one solid edifice or the other, giving rise to such hitherto unheard of facilities like gymnasium, conference center, passport office annexe, Store Annex,Multi Purpose Cooperative Unit, Fire Service Station, Pet- rol Station and the intimidating Technology Village being built by the construction giants, Julius Berger.
As If these are not enough, the CG in his characteristic pace setting attributes, has built and commissioned permanent office complexes for over a dozen state commands of the NIS, Who hitherto had accepted the age long practice of cohabiting with civilian agencies within the Federal Secretariat complexes as a standard norm. The jubilation among personnel across th states is so palpable, that the popular cliche now in the various commands is, “Show me the land and Babandede will build You a Permanent Site”
Akuneme, the Ochendo of Awomamma, a Depu- ty Comptroller, writes from Abuja