*Prison system being positioned for economic growth’
*On job scam in Immigration Service: We will get to the root of the matter
Minister of Interior, Comrade Abba Moro, like many other Nigerians, is worried about the challenge of insurgency staring the nation in the state. He is even more worried that one of the institutions under his supervision, the Immigration Service, has a role to play in curbing the insecurity posed by insurgents.
In this interview, the minister speaks on the measures taken by government on insurgency and the other mandates of his ministry, especially on prison and the fire service. Excerpts:
As the Minister of Interior, how was it last year? How far did you go in terms of achieving your set agenda?
Last year was a very fascinating year, a very challenging year. Last year ordinarily was supposed to be a period of some level of consolidation as far as the Ministry of Interior, and my activities are concerned. You will recall that i got appointed mid-2011, the budget was put together by my predecessor, so I couldn’t really explain that the budget of 2011 was my budget for implementation, that I could count my gains as such. But 2012 was a budget that was passed under my watch; therefore I can conveniently hold, and I can say it was fascinating because it was a period in which I tried to seriously align myself to the task of presiding over the Ministry of Interior, and supervising the activities of the various department and agencies. So, I can say in terms of infrastructural development, in terms of laying a foundation for the purpose of repositioning the ministry and its department and agencies, we had a very wonderful year.
We attended to the welfare of the staff. The problem of promotion, we addressed holistically in both the prisons and Immigration in particular. Of course you also want to recall that we were able to release the verification report of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps that had been in the box for over 13 years. We went on to complete the main passport office in Sauka. This was a project that I said was at the heart of everything, because essentially when you talk about Immigration Service, the first thing that comes to your mind is migration of persons , especially Nigerians that have a penchant for travelling. The Civil Defense Training School Sauka is another project at the verge of completion and then the training school for the Fire Service, in Sheda, is at the verge of completion. On the issue of infrastructural development, I can also say that the command headquarters of our training college have been completed, in three states, Kebbi, Imo and Abia.
The basic requirement of the ministry especially the parastatals is the training of the staff. Some of our staff are in various institutions, training schools undergoing various levels of training, especially in the face of the insurgency in the country and the need to update staff on new ideas, knowledge, especially in terms of evolving technologies. I think in that regard we can beat our chest and say we did very well in 2012. Nigerian Security and Civil Defense has become a formidable security outfit, participating in special task forces and we have had record prosecution of oil bunkerers and vandals across the country, it has metamorphosed into a very formidable crime prevention agency. The corps has a unit that deals essentially with sniffer dogs, we have the anti-terrorism squad.
The armed squad section of the prisons is involved very actively in the joint effort to curb insurgency in various parts of the country. I think that as far as the mandate of the ministry is concerned in 2012, we have done very well. The newspapers are awash with stories of the repatriation of various categories of aliens, about 16,000 of them. That is as a result of our deliberate effort to segment this country into eight zones and charge them with the responsibility of identifying aliens and repatriating them or deporting them as the case may be. We are going beyond that to ensure that the number of aliens is dramatically reduced.
You talked about insurgency. How have the agencies under your ministry been able to manage the problem? Is it because the borders are porous or we don’t have enough personnel to man them, or there is some complicity by certain Nigerians to allow aliens to come in?
If you look at the presence of aliens in our country vis a vis the issues you have raised, I can tell you it is a mix of all of them, but let me say here that there is no country in the world, no matter how tight their borders are, that can boast to be alien free. Given our oil wealth, it is not surprising that our brothers and sisters from across the borders, Niger Republic, Chad Republic, Benin Republic and Ghana that are less endowed, would be attracted to seek greener pastures in Nigeria and coupled with the problem of porosity of our borders and the fact that in some places like Benin Republic you can hardly differentiate whether you are in Nigeria or in Benin Republic.
It is a very difficult task where you don’t have physical demarcation of our borders to completely control the influx of aliens. We also have the problem of inadequate staff, materials, operational vehicles; basically it’s a mix of problems and factors that are responsible for what we have on our hands today. Since I assumed office we have taken steps in conjunction with National Boundaries Commission to identify our borders. In the process we have been able to identify 84 regular borders and over 1497 irregular routes to Nigeria. What we do with our resources is to patrol and control movement around the 84 regular routes, and by the time we do that we believe that our concentration will be more effective containing movement of people, goods and materials along the regular routes. Let me equally say that we are contemplating using the public private partnership model to see how we can construct graders around our borders, because if you go to most of our land borders, you hardly can define when you are in Nigeria and when you are out of Nigeria, and that is because of lack of physical structure that will separate Nigeria from the other country.
In this financial year, with the arrangement we have put in place, construction work will start in some of these borders, and, of course, we are contemplating, given the resources available to us, that we should also complement the physical human effort patrolling our borders, we believe it will ensure a better border management.
There is a policy you want to put in place on prisons?
We don’t have all the resource we require to manage our prisons and we are increasingly faced with the stark reality of our lack of competence to manage the prisons system as rehabilitation and correctional system. The prisons are congested, we lack the capacity to build as many prisons as we should to be able to accommodate all our inmates; with the current insurgency that we have on our hands, you hardly can predict how many persons at a time that can enter the prison, and so increasingly we are faced with the problem of congestion. And you can’t just wake up overnight and begin to construct prisons and get them ready for inmates that you anticipate to come. So, we want to look out of the box to think about some possible ways that we can collaborate with members of the private sector, to ensure that we have adequate provision for our prison system. We started by engaging a private organization, Roboni Nigeria Limited, to resuscitate and expand our farm centres.
We are at the verge of signing the agreement after a proper assessment of the current statutes and we are hoping that in more ways than one we will be contributing to the effective management of the prison system as correctional; if we resuscitate our existing farm centres, they will expand and create new ones; it is our belief that prisoners will be engaged in very productive activities because they are taught modern techniques on agriculture and therefore acquiring new skills and knowledge within the prison system we believe that, using the labour force in the prisons, there can be adequate food for our prisons and may be surplus to release to the larger Nigerian society and possibly for export, and then saving money. From this, we can also make money available to these prisoners when they finish their terms to be able to engage productively in the larger society. Doing this, the prison system will be contributing to the economic growth of this country. Given the dilapidation of most of these centres it is our belief that a partnership with the private sector will more or less increase the efficiency of the system given the penchant of the private sector for effective management of resources.
The private sector will also enhance the capacity of the prison system, to help grow the system. This is also in line with the current thinking of government on the transformation agenda of engaging the private sector in the management of public assets for greater efficiency. We feed our inmates with N200 a day. This is grossly inadequate. We made a proposal for an increase in the feeding allowance of our prisoners. We hope that as we move on to the next level of the budgetary session, we should be able to include this proposal in our budget subsequently.
Now at what point will government come in because by PPP, the private organization runs it; after some time, they hand over, or there is a sharing formula?
No. There are various models of PPP, it is not a straight jacketed arrangement. It is not as if when it is PPP, therefore government hands over all its assets and liabilities to a private concern; it is something that is just within the level of contemplation.
You will recall that as soon as I assumed office, I set up various committees to look at the Fire Service, to look at the Prison Service and of course the Immigration, to find ways of creating some synergy within the various sectors of the economy, with a view to providing a more effective service to our system, and so it is the result of one aspect of the recommendations of one of this committees and the discussion that followed therefrom, that people now started saying that the Ministry of Interior is going to hand over the prisons management to the private sector, no. By the time we work out the details of the level of participation of any private organization that shows interest, and looking at the legal ramifications of the exclusive mandate of the ministry to manage the prison system, we can come out with a working document that we can now present to the Nigerian public as the direction we are going.
There is this perception out there that there will not be a successful jail break without the connivance of warders. I don’t know if the Hon. Minister is looking at that possibility.
Before I answer your question, let me do this clarification. I remember that one of this newspapers came up with some rating of ministers and others in government and when it came to the Minister of Interior, one of the reasons the minister has not performed, according to the paper, is that there have been incessant jail breaks; so I want to make a clarification here. Yes, we have had jail breaks in Shagamu, Ogwuashi -Uku, Oko, Benin, Port-Harcourt and then attempts here and there have been made, but I know that we also have had instances where attacks have been launched on our prisons. Just like the general insecurity in the country where churches and markets have been attacked, our prisons have not been spared but unfortunately the undiscerning public are led into believing that everything that happened in the prisons that led to the escape of prisoners are jail breaks; it is simply not true. When hoodlums attacked the Koton karfi Prisons to free imaginary members that were there, technically, that certainly is not a jail break; when our prisons are attacked in Damaturu, or in Maiduguri, those are not jail breaks. Armed attacks on our prisons that lead to the unfortunate release of inmates and prisoners certainly cannot amount to jail breaks. Having said that, I agree with you that we have had instances of jail breaks, here and there like. In all the instances that you have mentioned, I can tell you that there is no way, without prejudice to the administrative procedure of investigation, that you can rule out internal complicity, and I have warned that prison officers and warders from where we have jail breaks will face sanctions according to the rules and regulations of Prison Service.
I can assure you that while investigations have been completed in some instances and appropriate sanctions meted out to people involved, others are still under investigation and procedures are being followed to ascertain the level of involvement of some of these officers, and, of course they will get appropriate punishment. As a matter of fact, I have instructed that, hence forth, any officer who through act of negligence allows jail break will face the ultimate punishment of dismissal. We will no longer condone such situations, because, in many cases, you go to the places, they tell you that the officers who were supposed to be on duty were not there and jail break occurs; we have no option than to conclude that there was some level of conspiracy. Why will you not be there when you are paid to be there? Why will you post mere two armed guards to a whole prison, a place that you have over 300 inmates? So these are some lapses in our prisons system that we will curb. I have directed the Comptroller General of Prisons to give me a comprehensive list of the number of armed squads that we have in the prisons, and to also give me an update on how they have been deployed, for me to know the adequacy or otherwise of our armed men that are supposed to guard our prisons.
There were some observations I made last year when we went to some prisons. Korton-Karfi Prison was one of them. You see people who are not warders hanging in front of the prisons. There was this tree where you see civilians sitting, people you could not connect with the prison system. And in security, you say don’t allow strangers lurk around your premises. Don’t you think this is something your ministry should be thinking about how to stop?
Yes, that is part of the problem; it is part of the inadequacies we talk about and that is an aspect I think the training and retraining and capacity building of our personnel will address. Outside that, I can also say that lack of physical perimeter fencing of some of our prisons is also responsible for this propensity of people to hang around our prisons. You used the Koton Karfi situation as an example, the day I visited the place immediately after the attack, our prison officers and policemen that were supposed to be guarding the place were sitting under the same tree that you were talking about, with friends and visitors milling around and engaging in lively conversations; my first reaction was ‘no wonder that the attack was very successful’.
There is this problem that assumed the front seat recently, alleged employment scam, first in Civil Defense; second in Immigration. What are your findings? Is it true there was recruitment scam in the two bodies or not?
Well, I don’t want to prejudice the investigations going on especially in the revelation of possible employment scam in Immigration. I have instituted a committee that would be inaugurated very soon to find out the veracity of the story on the recruitment exercise. I am equally aware that the House of Representatives, worried about the allegations, is also instituting an investigation into the matter. You are equally aware that when it became obvious that some controversy was generating around employment of officers men and women into the Immigration Service, I stepped in to cancel any possible exercise that must have taken place or that was taking place, and to say that we will be guided by the guidelines established by the board responsible for appointment, promotions, and discipline in the Immigration Service. Let me equally say that i have only been minister for a year and a half, the institution of the Immigration Service has existed over years as old as myself and so people have been coming into the Immigration Service. Just like any other parastatal, I think that the idea that certain sections of the country have dominated the service at the expense of others, people are employed who applied for employment, I am not sure that Nigerians and organizations have been inviting Nigerians from home to come and get employment, and so, if, for instance, advertisement is made and people from Benue do not apply, you won’t employ them.
Yes, even as Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in charge of Interior, supervising Immigration, if my people do not apply to be employed in Immigration, it is absurd to think that I am going to employ them. First, these are career institutions and somebody must choose which career he wants to pursue, so you don’t just go home because there are vacancies and announce to the world, ‘how many of you are from this particular place?’ I have been in public service for the past 25years, from one level of government to the other, from local government, classroom teaching , I have been around, and, as a student of political science, I am not unaware of the daunting problems that confront Nigeria: nepotism, tribalism, and the debilitating consequences of these tendencies in the life of the nation. I am aware of the privilege that this appointment has given me. I don’t think I will bend backwards to compromise my integrity, by flagrantly violating laid down guidelines to subvert the constitution. When the chips are down, I know how many persons I have facilitated their employment in this place and they are all out there: Nigerians from Delta, Kano, Niger, Kebbi, I can go on and on.
Nigerians would like to know how much is the cost of the Nigerian international passport, and within what period would one collect, because there are syndicates around the Passport Office doing it and collecting money, even among Immigration officers?
The Nigerian Immigration Service recently applied for an upward review of the procurement rate of the passport, and this is because of the desire to render efficient and effective service, because there has been this tendency for touting, where individuals who would want to procure passport pay as much as N20,000.