Parradang: It is No Longer Business as Usual at Immigration Service

16 Sep 2013

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Mr. David Shikfu Parradang 

The new Comptroller-General, Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Mr. David Shikfu Parradang, is passionate about reforming the agency. He shared with Kunle Aderinokun some of the key items of the reform as well as addressed issues affecting the image of NIS. Excerpts:

What is your plan for the Nigeria Immigration Service?

My plan for the Nigeria Immigration Service is divided into four cardinal areas. We want to secure our borders in a process and way that has not been done before that would be able to yield positive results for the security of Nigeria. That is our primary and objective plan that we would want to do.
Luckily we have got government to approve the establishment of a border patrol corps, which is not an entirely new creation from our side, but it is just a focus on border patrolling. We are going to muster officers that are already in the service to get them to do border patrolling. We are going to train them, take care of their welfare like an insurance to be able give their best in the wide expanse of land in our borders from the north to east and also the sea sides of the country.
We are very much aware that people say our borders are porous but we have to devise new strategies of securing it and we have the manpower and ideas that we feel would work to secure our borders and that is one key area we want to do.
The other key area we have as our plan for immigration service is the internal control and monitoring of personnel in our midst. We believe it is the job of the immigration to complete data on every person that is non-Nigerian within the country, to be able to tell exactly who is where and at what time. It is our job to check out that those people are living within the laws of Nigeria in terms of immigration rules and regulation. If they are regular immigrants, they would have the papers and if they aren’t, they should have to come to the control and the official control post. We want to check this and monitor them and be able to tell you that , we have X number of Ghanaians in Lagos, X number of Nigerians in Kano and so on. We want to be so correct about it and monitor expatriate to know where they are and also those coming in for visit in hotels, etc.
If you have read the papers recently, in all states of the federation, for those that are not regular like those from countries in the west African countries, we know that there is an ECOWAS protocol, but there are specifications on what you should do if you come in through recognised border process. And if you come in with recognised travel documents acceptable, we allow you have the right of residence, the right of establishment to do business. But if you don’t meet the specifications, we should move you. We would monitor and make it comfortable for people to keep to the rules and those who don’t keep to the rules we would remove them totally. We are very much aware that doing this would require dedicated manpower, our officers must be taken care of and their capacity must be developed for them to perform in a better way.
So we are putting in a lot of effort in training and manpower development. We also have other welfare schemes for our people, we want to do housing schemes by using the cooperative society to develop this so when you are in the service or, or leave, you would not be extorting because we have basically been taken care of. Since we came on board, we have made sure we pay salaries before the 26th of every month and we have been religious about it. We want to take care of our staff and we want to use relevant technology. So that is our plan for the service.
In the light of security threats in major cities of the country, how is  the immigration ensuring that people who don’t have any business doing in Nigeria are checked?
We are very cautious of what Nigerians are facing like you are passionately talking about. We came to the realisation that there is a lot of insecurity in the land and we are the people who should address this issue, given our own contribution in terms of controlling people who are not Nigerians. These people do not have a stake in Nigeria, so they can do anything in the country and go away. The land border of Nigeria is so big and enormous and I always say when I go to give lectures that we cannot cover the from here to Ikeja. That is, all of the immigration staff, but we have to develop strategies on how we can do this effectively. That is why we want to do border patrolling properly. We are going to increase the number of border polls. If it was just Seme, now we are going to have something between Seme and Idiroko that is official to reduce the gap and in between that; if you have a view like that, you must have a patrol base that is mobile that should be able to patrol those areas. That is what we want to do about these non-Nigerians in our border. We know they pose serious security threats and they cause major political issues during the election periods too. And if we do not control it, it would become a major political issue during election periods too. So we want to know these people and if they are not properly registered, we would register them and if they are here illegally, we remove them. These few months that I became Comptroller-General of Immigration, we have removed so many and we shall keep removing them. Like I told you, the ECOWAS has provisions and to tell you truth they don’t keep to it. Those people, who are the motorcyclists and people who park cars, hardly can you say that they came in through recognised borders; so we check and if you produce your own, you are entitled to stay and be established, but if you do not come in properly, we would have to remove you. 
We need information and as I told you, nobody can love Nigeria as much as we love Nigeria.  Nigeria is about the largest economy in Africa so people would continue to come because of getting a better livelihood and that means that we must rise up to that challenge and continue to push them and push back those we do not need.
The situation at the airport where officers on duty demand  money from travellers- Nigerians and foreigners- at every check is so disgraceful. What is the immigration service doing about this??

I know at the airport that there are several agencies that work in the airport and this is something you and I should work together and stamp out. If we want to develop and grow the economy of Nigeria, then we should not allow such disgraceful thing to happen. I cannot sit here and exonerate the Nigerian Immigration from all those things but it would help me more if I know that kind of person and if we make an example of one or two of them. That problem is an individual issue and not a corporate issue. I worked at the airport at some time and I don’t think I ever asked anyone, what is there for me now?
We want to work together in this particular issue, if we must get people to come to Nigeria. So we work together and make scapegoats out of them. We pay very well and on time so there is no reason anyone should ask travellers for money.

Racketeering is the order of the day at  the nation’s passport offices.  Often times, applicants have to bribe officials before they can obtain new international passports or renew their expired ones. What is your take on this?
The passport offices all over the country are being reformed and substantially, they are doing a lot better than before. The official fee for a passport is N8,750 and we expect you to pay the bank charge which would make it about N9, 000 plus. We encourage Nigerians to go the website to pay and enforce your right and don’t allow anyone push you to a corner. We also know the queuing system is a Nigerian problem and in trying to address that, we have got equipment like what you do in most embassies that when you see your number and it would give you a receipt. We are installing it in Kano, Kaduna, the three Lagos offices, Benin and Port Harcourt. The equipment has been delivered to us and we are waiting for the Indians to install it. So we want people to enjoy service like in any other part of the world and we would not ask elderly women to follow that queue or children. We would have a VIP lounge for elderly, pregnant and children.
We started solving these problems when we noticed people were paying cash at the passport offices. We started e-payment trying to address this. So that is why we are doing this to address the issue and we are not saying another problem won’t come and the side issues coming up, we would also address them.  If we stop having problems, we aren’t working.
What is the time frame for applying and getting a new international passport?
You are entitled to your passport in 72 hours. The lucky thing about the uniform is someone has one star and some two stars and so if you talk to senior person he would know what to do. If a one star person is harassing you, look for a two star. I asked an officer recently if you were to take a picture today, what would be the backlog and she said two days which I told her was unacceptable. Then they told me there were well over 4,000 passports that people have not collected, so we have noticed it was a problem so we have decided to place them on our website for people to check if your passport was ready. But we cannot allow more than 72 hours.
Can’t  Immigration organise the process of obtaining an international passport in such a way that codes are given and such codes are used to  track status of applications online just as it is done in some foreign embassies?
Thank you for this suggestion and we would try and see. So I urge you to do an investigation and see the improvement in the passport offices. And we need ideas like what you have just told us to improve because we do not know it all and we are desirous of making sure the system is improved upon. We want to serve Nigerians better and if we serve people better, government would be willing to give us more money because they know we are more relevant and doing the right thing. Let me also state that we are doing a lot in other areas.

What has been the recent achievement in the immigration services?
Immigration is a totally new thing from what it was before now. Immigration was in a corner where virtually no one knew what was happening. Most people only thought of immigration as stamp my passport on your way out. When I joined the Immigration Service in 1982, the only thing I knew about immigration was what I read in the novels. I wanted to be something else, a foreign officer or something. I virtually did not know what immigration was all about till I got in. From that time till today, we have really gone far from stamping passports alone, we got to the agency to issue passport.
From issuing passport manually, we came to machine readable passport and from that we came to the electronic passport we have now. From stamping at the airport, we came to automating our processes. From being the one that midwifed ECOWAS protocol, we have gone through all the processes and we are involved in the free movement of persons, protocol, and registration of people. We are involved in right of residence, right of establishment. We have been in centre in terms of multilateral and bilateral agreement and we have captured so many countries.
In the area of security, we have been providing adequate information to security council in many states in the federation. If you ask me to do a print out, I can tell you how many times you have travelled this year and security services and Interpol uses this information. The EFCC is asking us each day on people who are involved in money laundering etc. So we give information in those things. We have come a long way in those areas. Embassies write to us daily when somebody has presented passport and they want to check. We have a passport fraud unit that is top class and banks come to us for consultancy and information in those areas.
To talk of industry, most of our industries would have collapsed if not for the fact that we give help them in Nigeria. An example is Dangote is building several cement industries in Nigeria, Larfarge is doing the same all over the country, the oil industries and there is a global competition for labour. We are the people who facilitate for people that qualify to do these things and if we delay for two days, they would go to the Presidency because the banks would be looking at them to deliver their plan because they have already taken bank loans. One of the major cement companies came to my office on Friday and said they wanted to open in the South-east and they have a timeline, also those people in the petroleum industry would come. That person they have booked for maybe in Lagos to come and correct oil spill or something, that man has already been booked for in Indonesia and if we don’t give him a visa today, he would go to Indonesia.
So we help in both welfare and security and in those areas, we facilitate, and in those areas we have to stamp you and take you out. We are trying our best in most areas, but there is a lot more to do.
What are the challenges you encounter in doing this job?
The first challenge we would say is that we want the average Nigerian to see what we are doing and to know that we are very important in the scheme of things in this country. And we should be properly funded to be able to do so. Nobody gets enough funding for anything but we are very resourceful and we optimise with what we have but we need a basic minimum to do so. We need a lot of funding for internal control because these are things that cannot be done by public-private-partnership (PPP) because they are principal security but the other ones that are not principal security, we can do PPP on them.
We need government to give us more staff to do these things and also resources. We also need present-day training on a continuous basis. These are the major challenges and one of the key challenges is that we need more Nigerians to be informed and partner us because we think Nigeria is a project for all of us because it not uniform against masses. We need everyone to know all that we are doing is for Nigeria and let us see it as a joint project together.

What do you do when you are not working?
I am a private person, I like to read books and play golf.
Mr. David Shikfu Parradang mni, was born on 6th of September 1959 in Pankshin, Plateau State. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Jos and a Masters Degree in Public Administration from University of Lagos. He is also an Alumnus of the Prestigious National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, Jos, Plateau State.

He joined the Nigeria Immigration Service in 1982 as an Assistant Superintendent of Immigration. The Comptroller General has vast experience in immigration duties having served at Kano State Command, Kwara State Command, Enugu State Command, Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Ikeja, Lagos, Diplomatic Desk in Lagos and Passport office, Ikeja, Lagos. He was also the Special Assistant to two previous Comptrollers General of Immigration, Uzoamaka Nwizu and Chukwurah Udeh.

Before his appointment by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan GCFR, he was the Assistant Comptroller General State Co-ordination in the Directorate of Operations/Passport at the Service Headquarters.

Mr. David Parradang is happily married with Children and enjoys playing golf.

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