By Emma Nnadozie, Crime Editor
Suleiman Abbas Ahmed,is the new Comptroller of Immigration in -charge of Nigeria Immigration Service, Lagos State Command. A very experienced and articulate officer, Ahmed is generally regarded in Immigration circle as a thorough-bred and well exposed officer who will turn things around now that he is in Lagos office of the service. He spoke with Crime Alert on the challenges ahead and other matters arising.
Controlling Lagos zone of the Immigration Service seems to be one of the most herculean tasks facing officers of the Service. Why is it so?:
I don’t agree that superintending over the activities of the NIS in Lagos State is a herculean task. We have well laid out structures, as well as officers and men who are well trained and have been performing their duties well.
How do you hope to tackle the numerous responsibilities ahead?
There is no doubt that Lagos Command is one of the busiest commands in the country, considering that we have the major land border, the busiest international airport and seaports. It has the major gateway to the West African Sub-region and a large concentration of blue chip companies that employ expatriates.
However, like I said earlier, there are laid down structures such as the operations section that issue facilities to expatriates; the Investigation, Intelligence, and Enforcement offices that monitor and control foreigners, ECOWAS and African Affairs Section that sees to the needs of ECOWAS citizens an well as two-passport offices that provide services to teeming passport applicants. Therefore, all I do is to efficiently coordinate the activities of the various sections under my watch to ensure that we maintain effective security control and provide good services to members of the public.
What measures would you take to checkmate the activities of touts in and around your premises and those who pose as agents?
The area which we had complaints of touting used to be the Passport office. However, the introduction of the e-passport has effectively put a check to the menace. For example, a passport applicant is expected to have completed the first phase of processing his/her application outside the passport office premises before coming for the data capture. This first phase include filling of the application forms and making payment online, areas the touts would claim they assist applicants for a fee.
We have also placed notices around the premises warning applicants not to deal with touts. We will continue to carry out periodic raids in the premises to ensure that only those that have legitimate business are seen there while at the same time, educate applicants on the grave danger of giving their personal data to someone they don’t know who can use such data for mischievous purposes.
What are you doing to check the activities of some of your men that connive with those hoodlums?
The Comptroller-General of Immigration has zero tolerance for indiscipline and corruption and the officers and men know this. Therefore, any operative that is foolish enough to get involved in corrupt practices has himself/herself to blame. Our officers wear name tags on their uniforms, so we expect the public to be patriotic enough to bring such connivance with touts or hoodlums to management’s notice.
How would you check the swapping of passports by some unscrupulous Nigerians?
The e-passport is the solution to identify theft. What that means is that the identity you give to the Immigration is the identity in your e-passport and cannot be changed. Even if you superimpose another picture or replace it by whatever means, we will know because we have the scanner that reads the e-passport and detects such forgery. This is the beauty of bio-metrics and that is why the international community is happy with the e-passport.
On the issue of the e-passport, what are the challenges before you and your men?
The major challenge is the applicants who do not want to come to the passport office on the interview date generated electronically. Once they have filled their application forms online, they head to the passport office and demand to have their passports same day. Some of them even attempt to entice officers with money which is vehemently resisted.
How would you tackle the daunting task of keeping watch over the nefarious activities of some foreigners who flout immigration laws in Nigeria?
I told you earlier that we have structures on ground. We will ensure that our officers do their jobs in line with the Immigration Act by monitoring the activities of expatriates and the companies that employ expatriates. We shall also go further by holding seminars, conferences and workshops to educate stakeholders on the procedures to obtain immigration facilities.
How do you hope to ensure effective and efficient patrol of our land borders by your men?
We are delighted that the Immigration High Command has provided vehicles, communication equipment and trained our men at the Force Mobile Police Training School in Gwoza, Borno State for border patrol, although, I must admit that we still need more from the government. However, we are trying our best under the circumstance to effectively police our borders, at times through collaboration with other security agencies.
What advice do you have for Nigerians on how to ensure that your men render commendable services to them?
Our officers and men are well trained to be courteous and effective for efficient service delivery. We have promised them that hard work will be appreciated, while corrupt practices will be punished. We wish to appeal to the public to follow due process in everything they do to enjoy our services in tandem with modern best practices.
They should also see the acquisition of their passports as part of their overall travel plan. Therefore, they can obtain their passports 6 months or even 1 year before their intended date to travel.