Economic Imperatives of the NIS N9.1bn Infrastructure

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Emma Okonji writes about the economic importance and security of the N9.1 billion Information and Communications Technology infrastructure of the Nigeria Immigration Service that was launched last week

Last week’s inauguration of the N9.1 billion Technology Building in Abuja, belonging to the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), provides a convergence point for security agencies in the country to address the degenerating security issues including porous border lines while enhancing economic integration and population control.

The federal government, through the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), is keen about addressing security issues in the country, in order to further grow the Nigerian economy. Beaming its search light on the telecoms sector, the ONSA has ordered the telecoms industry regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), to beef up security around SIM card registration, which led the ongoing SIM-NIN integration exercise, designed to link all registered SIM cards to National Identification Numbers (NIN). The essence is to control crime rates by tracing and tracking any kidnapper who uses mobile phones to contact families of their victims for ransom.

The Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) Medium Term Plan for 2017 – 2020 was developed by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari for the purpose of restoring economic growth while leveraging the ingenuity and resilience of the Nigerian people – the nation’s most priceless assets.

In the ERGP, the federal government prioritises the deployment of Information and Communications Technology (ICT), not only to ensure effective diversification of the economy from overreliance on oil revenue but also to address the issue of insecurity, tackle corruption and enhance economic growth.

The policy direction, already escalated to all the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of government for implementation is in line with the Federal Government’s National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy 10-year roadmap, among other policy initiatives aimed at digitally transforming Nigerian economy.

In recent times, countries around the world, Nigeria inclusive, have been making efforts to leverage ICT towards enhancing government operational efficiency and better service delivery to the citizens.

In Nigeria, the most recent of such ICT projects in this direction is the Technology Building that was recently implemented by the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) under the leadership of its current Comptroller General (CG), Mohammad Babandede. The project, which is heralding a new vista for the country to be able to strengthen regional and international collaborations through effective data management and information sharing, is Babandede’s signature project.

NIS’s technology building

The NIS N9.1 billion Technology Building clearly underscores the preeminent role of information technology in security management, given the current socio-economic and security challenges facing the country. The project, which started in 2018 and has been fully delivered, is now regarded as a symbol of the ongoing digital revolution in the country.

The Technology Building houses the National Command and Control Centre of NIS, thus providing a unique platform for security agencies in the country to truly synergize and harmonize efforts under one roof to frontally address various national security concerns using the instrumentality of Information and Communication Technology.

Speaking at the unveiling of the ultra-modern ICT infrastructure in Abuja last week, Presiden Buhari said: “The Technology Building has been implemented by NIS as part of efforts by the federal government to effectively leverage ICT to enhance Nigeria’s socio-economic development and improve national security of lives and property in the country while ensuring international collaboration.”

The president commended the speedy delivery of the project, which he described as the most advanced since the establishment of NIS in 1958, by the Project Implementation Committee and promised continued support of his administration to the NIS leadership towards curbing criminal activities within and across the country’s borders.

In the same vein, Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, said the ICT infrastructure project conceived and well-implemented under the supervision of his ministry, is National Command and Control Centre, for all data coming from border management outposts, “be it satellite, earth connecting stations and unmanned space vehicles.”
According to him, the centre would receive and give out still and motion pictures and audio signals in real time, coordinating seamlessly, movements within the Nigerian borders.

“The NIS Technology Building, therefore, marks the first step in our long-term border management programme that will put our entire borderline under real time monitoring, thereby giving our law enforcement agencies capacity to totally secure our citizens and land from external threat,” the Minister said, assuring Nigerians that the security challenges the country currently faces are surmountable and are indeed being addressed through ICT, as demonstrated by currently NIS leadership.”

Though there are shared security concerns in the country, Aregbesola assured that government was doing everything possible to tackle the security challenges facing the country’s borders, land, sea and air. While acknowledging that the NIS has deployed adequate security in our air border, it has been observed that our land borders remain the weakest link, requiring a more advanced technology deployment approach, just as the Technology Buidling, to address the concerns.

According to him, “The challenge now is on how to effectively patrol the 4,047km land borders which comprise 1,690km with Cameroon, 87km with Chad, 1,497 with Niger, 733 with Benin Republic and a coastal line of Gulf of Guinea with 853km, leveraging on this technology in addition to existing measures already put in place by the Service.”

Corroborating the minister’s position, Babandede, in his address, said with the Technology Building, the NIS would be able to deploy the e-border capability for enhanced border security and also harness mobility data available to us in the virtual space, application of facilities, parts control, residency and registration of migrants.
Babandede said with regards to the security of the data, the service has several layers of protection ranging from the physical level which include the provision of Close Circuit Television (CCTV), access control as well as system surveillance, to firewall and vulnerability testing in the network security down to constant penetration test of Cloud Technology and Internet of Things (IoT).

Economic/security imperatives

The NIS’s robust technology building makes it a great investment and a huge contribution to global security particularly with its effective connectivity to special platforms such as the International Criminal Police Organisation (INTERPOL) and International Civil Aviation Organisation’s Public Key Directory (PKD) and Public Key Infrastructure (PKI). While the PKD is a central repository for exchanging the information required to authenticate e-Passports, PKI, on the other hand, is an hierarchical system made up of hardware, software and strict policies enabling the management, distribution, use, storage, and revocation of digital certificates and public-key encryption.

Using PKI technology, governments and organisations can securely manage their keys and certificates-establishing and maintaining a trustworthy working and networking environment. A PKI enables the use of encryption and digital signature services across a wide variety of applications such as for digitally signing ePassports or eIDs. All these, according to stakeholders will help in ensuring credible identity security management which will help in boosting the nation’s economic, enabling increased Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The NIS’ Technology Building, therefore, offers a lot of security benefits to the country. According to them, with the project, both local and transnational criminal activities can easily be monitored and nipped in the bud.

In a related development, Babandede has disclosed that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) recently approved Security Data Intelligence contract, which is a data consolidation, reconciliation and reporting solution.

“This solution and the PKD/PKI solution, approved by FEC early in 2021, will make the technology building, housing the National Command and Control Centre, gather information faster, optimise our collaboration, drive better informed decision making and ultimately help improve travel experience,” the Babandede said.

Following his appointment as Comptroller General in 2016, there has been an upscale of NIS systems and processes, which have enabled the Service to institute several reform efforts thereby advancing ease of doing business and also contributing to the national Security architecture, NIS has evolved into a world-class migration management agency and has continued to play its pivotal role in the security and economic development of the country.

For all the achievements in evolving a more world-class migration management agency since he assumed the office in 2016, Babandede has commended the federal government, the United Nations agency for Migration, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) for galvanizing international support for NIS to build the Migration Information Data Analysis System (MIDAS), one of the biggest and effective Border Management Information System in the country.

According to him, MIDAS, which will be more centrally coordinated through the technology building, allows states to collect, process and record information for the purpose of travelers’ identification, verifying biometrics, inspecting and authenticating travel documents and data collection and analysis.

Stakeholders’ position

Industry stakeholders have said the technology building could not have come at a better time than now as it has placed the Service in a vantage position to confront the criminal activities of terrorists, migrants, smugglers/human traffickers and other transnational criminal elements, who may want to use or route their nefarious activities through Nigeria’s international borders. They also observed that with the technology building, the NIS has also been equipped with a major ICT infrastructure that will keep it ready at all times to confront and check such reprehensible activities in line with International best practices.