Ekpedeme King, recently retired as Comptroller of Nigeria Immigration Service, Lagos State Command. In this interview a day before he stepped out of service, stressed the importance of digital technology to the immigration service. Dike Onwuamaeze brings the excerpts:
What does the future hold for the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS)?
The service has been better placed under the current Comptroller General of NIS, Mr. Muhammed Babandede, who understands that the future of the NIS is digital technology and has improved the capacity of officers along that line. So, the way to go is digital technology. Everybody must be prepared to join the train now or be left out.
Many Nigerians seems not to understand what the visa on arrival policy is all about?
It is a quality decision and in the coming months there will be a lot of sensitisation and everyone will get to understand what it is all about.
How will you describe your experience in the service?
It has been a beautiful outing in the NIS. I served as a spokesman of NIS for five comptroller generals. The service that I met in 1987 cannot be compared to the operation we have now in the NIS. The one I met was analogue with tedious manual means of verification of features on someone’s passport and visa. The suspect index then was a big book you have to turn page by page to make your verification. But all these can now be accessed electronically. Now there have been changes that I am happy to be part of.
What will be your advice to young Nigerians that want to migrate to Europe at all cost?
The campaign of the government is well thought out and is yielding results. And I think with the sensitisation by relevant government agencies like NIS our youths are beginning to see that what they are scrambling to go abroad for is here in the country. There are more opportunities being a citizen of a country than going out to be a foreigner. As the sensitisation continues I hope that more of our youths will see the futility of traveling abroad to look for greener pastures. Even Europe is downsizing its workforce because of the application of artificial intelligence. People are losing their jobs and the best for our youths is to try and catch up with what is going on now in the modern world and that is using systems to process whatever they are doing. That is the way to go for our youths.
What are the challenges faced by the NIS?
There will always be challenges and that is why people are there to provide solutions. But the good thing is that the service has been progressing along the line of seamless operation in spite of these challenges.
What are the high points of your career?
Working at the international airport was one of the high points of my carrier. It was quite an experience to me. People believe that once they have a visa on their passports they will be admitted into the country of their destination. But it is not like that. You can leave your country with a valid visa and get to the point of entry and still be denied entry for several reasons, which you may not be able to understand. But the simple reason might be that you do not know the type of visa you were granted because an agent or someone else gathered the documents and processed the visa for you. For instance, a person said he is going to China. Good. But what is he going to China to do? Maybe he is going to buy textiles from Company C. Because the immigration officer there was not the person that issued the visa in Nigeria, he will ask you where you are going to and for what reasons. You may answer that you are in China to buy tires while what you have on your visa is textile. So, once you create that doubt at any point is enough to send you back. This is one of the challenges that have to be dealt with. I am happy that there are certain developments in the country right now in which people have found out that when they make claims, they have to make accurate claims because every claim can be verified now, even your age declaration. And once they have found out that it is not correct you will be denied that facility.
What was your experience working with journalists as a former spokesman of NIS?
It was very beautiful. It is easy to work with journalists. When journalists approach you they want you to tell them whether a story is true or false. But even if it is not palatable, once you explain to the journalists the circumstance surrounding that event, they are Nigerians and love their country, so they will know how to handle the news.