The Federal Government has appointed new helmsmen for two key agencies of the Ministry of Interior. Ahmed Ja’afaru, an Assistant Controller-General assumes leadership of the Nigeria Prisons Service as the substantive Controller-General, while Mohammed Babandede is the new Comptroller–General of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS). Until Babandede’s appointment, he was a Deputy Comptroller-General.
We congratulate the new leaderships of both agencies on their well-deserved appointments. It is important they see their elevation as a call to higher responsibilities. As the Minister of Interior, Lt-General Abdulrahman Dambazzau (retd), indicated during their decoration with their new ranks, the new Prisons boss is expected to focus, amongst other responsibilities, on the decongestion of the prisons, while the new Immigration boss is to help improve the country’s “ease of doing business” ranking. Nigeria ranks a dismal 149 out of 169 countries on the Ease of Doing Business Index.
For the Nigeria Immigration Service, these are particularly challenging times. The continuing threat of Boko Haram insurgents, the upsurge in the Fulani herdsmen attacks and the proliferation of cross-border armed robbery and kidnapping rings indicate that a lot still needs to be done to properly secure the country.
Our many porous borders continue to provide a challenge for the Immigration Service and the new leadership must do everything possible to secure them. While it is okay to promote cross-border trade and regional integration, the ease with which criminal elements move in and out of Nigeria must be effectively checked.
Some of these illegal migrations have resulted in the bloating of expatriate quotas in the business environment. This has resulted in foreigners taking jobs that the locals can and should do. In a number of cases where companies overshoot their quota for foreign workers, the Immigration Service has been complicit.
Even more challenging is the assignment to improve the country’s ease of doing business ranking. Improving our present lowly position starts with the speed with which the Nigerian passport is issued by the NIS. It also has to do with the speed with which applications to enter and do business within our borders are processed, and expatriate quotas filled and monitored to ensure compliance with extant regulations. On this important assignment, the NIS must collaborate with relevant agencies such as the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and the Ports authorities to improve our ease of doing business ranking.
Ja’afaru has his work cut out. Our prisons are among the most congested in the world. Prison life is excruciating for both awaiting trial inmates and convicted criminals. Unfortunately, there exists a wide gap between the experiences of ordinary citizens and highly placed persons in our jail houses.
This lapse should be corrected and emphasis shifted from the punitive to the corrective and reformatory aspects of the prisons. What opportunities exist for proper education, certification and career-building in our prisons? These are few and far between. This explains why Nigerians in foreign prisons would rather die there, than return to complete their terms at home.
The Nigeria Prisons authorities must now turn their attention to decongesting our prisons by building new ones. The modest provision for this in the 2016 Federal budget is a good take-off point and must be significantly built upon in subsequent budgets. There is no way government can escape voting more money for this if our prisons are to meet modern standards.
On the whole, the new leaders must work to improve the human capital quotient of their respective services. Until recently, the prisons service was not a favorite of many Nigerians because of its deplorable working conditions. Even if this was not the case with the NIS, both services, and especially the prisons, must seek new and creative ways to keep their staff members highly motivated so that they can deliver on their mandates.