Abba Moro: We’ll Not Close Borders Unless There is Evidence of Threat to National Interest

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Minister of Interior Abba Moro recently spoke to some journalists on the activities of his ministry and politics in his native Benue State. Ahead of the general election, and in response to concerns about alleged cross border movements that might pose a threat, Moro states conditions under which the borders could be closed. Jaiyeola Andrews presents the excerpts:

On the activities of his ministry in 2014.
As a ministry, we have moderately impacted on the Transformation Agenda of Mr. President. When we set out ab initio, our concentration was repositioning the ministry and parastatals to key into the transformation agenda of the president and we believe that it is the right thing to do.

Since over 50 years of independence, we have been traveling on the same part of national development and somehow up to the moment the president took over office as president of Nigeria, we had not been able to re-engineer our services and our politics to tread the part of greatness that has led other countries that were on the same pedestal with Nigeria to greatness.

Some of the Third World countries that are on the same line of development with Nigeria have since surpassed the development that we so desire. You can name them, countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, South Africa and the rest of them. It is heart-warming to note that with the transformation agenda, to some extent, Nigeria has made some giant strides and today we can proudly say that Nigeria has overtaken South Africa in terms of economic development in becoming the number one economy of Africa and the 26th in the world.

I think that effort is commendable on the part of the re-engineering process under the transformation agenda of the present administration. But having said that, the Ministry of Interior and its parastatals have seriously worked very hard to key into the transformation agenda of Mr. President and so far from the Nigerian Immigration Service to the Nigerian Prison Service down to the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps and the Federal Fire Service and even the main Ministry of Interior, we have made modest strides.

On immigration.
We have made efforts to restructure and reposition the Nigerian Immigration Service in a manner that they can seamlessly deliver service to the Nigerian people and people who come in and out of Nigeria. I can proudly say that under this present administration, for the first time, we have been able to construct a passport office in the headquarters of the Nigerian Immigration Service in Sauka. If you realise that the Nigerian Immigration Service deals essentially as a main service in passports, then you can imagine the enormity of that achievement and within six months we were able to kick-start that project, resuscitate it and complete it and, today, we probably have a passport office distinct from the headquarters of the Nigerian Immigration Service. Because the federal government so desires the attraction of foreign direct investment, the Nigerian Immigration Service worked out an assiduous platform to ensure a seamless attraction of foreign direct investment into the country.

On the new visa regime.
We are the unsung heroes of the volumes of foreign direct investment in Nigeria today, because we introduced a visa regime that facilitated the free movement of goods and services and persons and investors, in particular, to Nigeria. That visa regime is anchored on the volume of capital that can be imported into Nigeria and certain facilities and holidays were given to investors to be able to seamlessly invest in Nigeria.

The most important highlight of the new visa regime that was introduced under this administration was the fact that you can get businessmen and tourists, you can get visa at port entry and this had never happen in Nigeria before. Today, if you are in a hurry to invest in Nigeria, the Nigerian Immigration Service is empowered to grant you visa at port of entry.

On the prison service.
When you come to the Nigerian Prison Service, of course, we have our challenges of some jail breaks in the country in recent times but the Nigerian Prison Service has taken many drastic steps not just in containing the frequency of jail breaks, but to modernise our prison system in such a manner that we can compete favourably with any standards internationally.

Today, the Nigerian Prison Service has taken steps to decongest our prisons and you know that prison congestion has been our major problem in Nigerian prisons, by constructing new facilities, by also principally injecting into the prison system a sizable number of operational vehicles to move prisoners from prisons to the courts to assess justice.

We have been able to also construct new prisons in Ado-Ekiti, which unfortunately was attacked by hoodlums. Until now, Bayelsa State didn’t have a prison command, but in conjunction with the state government, we have been able to construct a prison facility in the state. Today, Bayelsa State command has been established and this has eased the pressure on prison facilities in Rivers State, where criminals arrested and incarcerated in Bayelsa had to be put.

It will also interest you to know that at the beginning of the life of this administration, in conjunction with the Akwa Ibom State government we were able to construct a prison in Ikot Ekpene that meets international standards. Today, given the deplorable situation in the feeding system in our prisons, Mr. President has approved an increase of a hundred naira for feeding of inmates per day today. Against the previous N200 that was used to feed prison inmates, we now feed prison inmates with N300 each, and every step is being taken to ensure that this money is deployed principally for the feeding of prison inmates to improve their welfare. Of course, with the new prisons we have constructed we have also increased the facilities in terms of making the prisons very correctional as it should be, by ensuring that vocational skill acquisition centres are established and equipped in some of our prisons across the country.

Because of the numerous agreements of prisoner transfer we have signed with other countries, we have in conjunction with the government of the United Kingdom constructed and upgraded prison facilities in kirikiri, Ikoyi, Kuje and as I am talking to you, plans are underway to upgrade prison facilities in Ibadan, Ilorin and some other prisons that have been identified for the transfer of prisoners, much more importantly, and in addition to that, the approval of Mr. President and the award of contract for the construction of a 400-bed space of prison facilities in Keffi and Suleja.

On the e-prison system.
Of course, we are at a very advanced stage of procuring and introducing e-prison system. The e-prison system essentially is an Information Technology Management System that we are introducing into the prison to ensure that activities in the prisons are closely monitored such that the internal conspiracy syndrome that has invaded our prisons and facilitated the ease of forceful release of prisoners through jailbreaks are minimised.

By the time we fully put into operation the e-prison system, it is expected that perimeter fencing will be reinforced and the management of information within the prison will be efficiently enhanced.

Don’t forget that only recently, as a result of the frequency of jailbreaks I had banned the use of cell phones in our prisons both by the prisoners and our staff of the prison service so that the level of conspiracy to undermine the security of our prisons is reduced to the barest minimum. Today, I can tell you with some level of confidence that most of the abandoned projects across the country, whether it is Gashua, Oturkpo, Kotonkarfe or Nnewi, have been given due attention and we have completed the prison facility in Nnewi that was abandoned since 1993, we have commissioned it. In the next couple of weeks, the prison in Kotonkarfe that has been subjected to two attacks in recent times would be commissioned and the old prison certainly will be relocated to the new prison. A lot of efforts have been put in improving our prison system.

For a prison system that had the image of being a carryover from the colonial times, improvements are on and I was having a meeting with the National Security Adviser on ways of appropriately equipping the Nigerian prison officials to be able to contain the frequency of attacks and the intensity of attacks of our prisons. I hope sincerely that the outcome of that meeting will be so fruitful, that today our prison officials will have the capacity to match attacks from outside the prison.

On the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps.
The Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, you want to agree with me, has assumed a new image of being second only, perhaps, to the Nigeria Police in terms of law enforcement and intelligence gathering. Within that system also because of the onerous task of containing vandalism of our critical infrastructure, which exposes them to dangers of attacks by bandits, the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps has been upgraded to establish a segment of arms bearing squad in the service. Today all over Nigeria, the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps is at the forefront of the fight against the vandalism of oil pipelines and electricity cables across the country.
Again, because of the new dimension of terror in the country, the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps has within its unit a canine section with sniffer dogs trained appropriately to detect IEDs and bearers of explosives. They are also in the forefront of fighting against terror with the establishment of anti-terror unit and anti-chemical and biological weapons unit all within the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps.

The Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps has virtually transformed from being a mere agent of quelling internal conflicts to participating actively in containing internal insurrection. Today, they are involved in the fight against terror, especially in the North-east. They are involved in trying to maintain some semblance of peace in areas that have been liberated from the shackles of the Boko Haram sect.

All over the place, you find one official of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps or the other and they are virtually in the forefront of intelligent gathering in Nigeria today in complementing the efforts of the regular security agencies in Nigeria.

On the suggestion in some quarters that Nigeria’s borders with Chad and Niger should be closed to curb the activities of Boko Haram and its mercenaries as well as the proliferation arms.

Let me tell you what I have said before. You need to know that closure of borders has wider implications than looking at it from sectional implications of proliferation of arms and light weapons. Borders are the routes through which commercial activities take place between countries.

Borders provide vital links for political interactions between countries and so I have insisted before and I want to repeat here that borders are not just closed on the basis of emotional outburst arising from isolated insistences of, say, attacks across the border. Especially in the runoff to a general election, you do not close borders mainly on the suggestion that some political elements would likely import foreigners to come and participate in the election in the country.

Borders are closed after due diligence must have been observed, after intelligence must have been properly analysed and the implications properly weighed against the overall interest of the country.

When we have situations like that of Ebola recently in the country, the tendency is for people to say because Patrick Sawyer came to Nigeria and imported the disease into Nigeria the borders should be closed. People must be mindful of the fact that, yes a Liberian came to Nigeria through the border and imported Ebola into the country, but subsequently, what has the situation been?

Have we had further incidence of Ebola outbreak in Nigeria arising from people crossing the borders? Why will you close the border if there is no evidence to show that further movements across the border is responsible for the increase in Ebola cases.

We weigh situations against the backdrop of established facts before asking for permission to close our borders and in the present circumstances; I can assure that the Border Patrol Corps of the Nigerian Immigration Services are very alert. They are at our borders securing our borders, ensuring that people who are not authorised to enter Nigeria do not enter. Until we are absolutely sure that closing borders will help any situation that we find ourselves in this country, until we are absolutely sure that our borders can be responsible for negative activities that will impair the conduct of free and fair election or the prosecution of the war against insurgency, we will not close our borders.

On the question of expatriate quota, especially, in areas where Nigeria has abundant manpower.
Let us first of all inform you that we don’t take actions based on speculations. The approval of expatriate quota is not country-based, it is rather skills-based and predicated on none availability of such skills. In approving expatriate quota, relevant agencies of governments are approached for input.

For instance, in the oil and gas industry, the local content commission is contacted to ensure that the expatriate quota that is being requested for by oil companies is genuine and the skills are not available in the country. In the general labour situation, the Minister of Labour and Productivity is usually contacted to vet the request by companies and organisations before approvals are granted.

It is not a one-off process by the Minister of Interior and its departments to approve expatriate quota. Of course, I am aware that certain organisations abuse expatriate quota.

For instance, one of the basic requirements for expatriate quota is that for every single foreign skill that is imported into the country two Nigerians under study must be employed to understudy and take over from them within specified periods. We have come to discover in recent times that some organisations have flouted this regulation.
We have had reasons to identify one or two of such organisations and we have withdrawn the expatriate quota grant to such organisations. As I am talking to you, we are investigating a company to which expatriate quota had been granted that had not employed Nigerian understudies and that had brought in skills other than the skills approved for them. By the time we finish our investigations, I can assure you that the organisation and any other one that is found wanting in this direction will be appropriately sanctioned.

We have to be very careful in making assertions about abuse of expatriate quota. I will give you one example, the American University in Yola employed some Nigerians as expatriate lecturers. At a certain point, the same university that applied for expatriate quota indicated that the services of those expatriates were no longer required, and this Nigerian expatriates came up with all kinds of insinuations that the American University in Yola was abusing expatriate quota. By the time we went into investigations, we discovered that it was the case of expatriates imported into the country to render specific services and whose services were no longer required.

The Minister of Interior does not compel organisations to retain the services of expatriates they have imported. That certainly does not amount to abuse of expatriate quota.

On the recent defections of prominent PDP members in Benue State, like former minister Samuel Ortom and PDP’s former national chairman, Barnabas Gemade,  following dissentions arising from the party’s primaries.

Benue politics does not radiate around two persons. I agree that Gemade as a former chairman of the PDP  and as former senator certainly has his followership. Mr. Ortom as a former secretary of PDP and a former auditor of PDP certainly has his followership, but people have become wise in politics now and people do not just follow people sheepishly in all political directions.

The most unfortunate thing that has happened in the Benue scenario is the fact that these are two fine politicians who have got all the benefits of politics on the platform of PDP defected.

These are two fine politicians who became known and became prominent because of their membership of PDP and because of the position PDP has given them either in the party or in government. So, for them to abandon the PDP on the sole reason that they are unable to get the PDP platform to realise their dream of becoming governor and senator at this point in time is unfortunate because the picture is very clear, that perhaps they have been part and parcel of PDP up to this time because of the personal interest they were able to actualise using the PDP platform.

On what his ministry is doing with the security agencies to ensure that foreigners do not come here to vote.
I thought that in trying to give an overview of the activities of my ministry I have indicated that the Nigerian Immigration Service is essentially by law mandated to secure our borders. At the moment, outside the regular immigration officials that are at our borders the Nigerian Immigration Service has gone a step further to establish the Border Security Corps of that badge and these boys have been deployed. We are procuring necessary operational logistics for them to be able to perform their duties and I can tell you that these young men and women are patriotic enough to ensure that our borders are secured during the election. More importantly, if it becomes very obvious to us that foreigners may infiltrate our borders to cause confusion, the Nigerian Immigration Service will not hesitate to close our borders, at least for the period of election to ensure that only Nigerians resident and registered in Nigeria can participate in the election and we are collaborating with INEC in this direction.

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