Home » Amos Okpu: Nigeria Immigration Service: From Kakawa in Lagos to technology building, Abuja

Amos Okpu: Nigeria Immigration Service: From Kakawa in Lagos to technology building, Abuja

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It all began at number 27 Kakawa Street, off Broad Street in Lagos. In October 1962, two years after Nigeria’s Independence, pioneer Immigration Officers drawn from the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) were enrolled into the then Immigration Department. It will interest many to know that what is now Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) used to be a Department in the NPF operating from a little corner.

With the dawn of independence and the need to reposition the public service to meet the dynamics of post-colonial Nigeria, the Federal Government excised the unit from the Police and placed it under the direct supervision of the Ministry of Internal Affairs then administered by late Alhaji Shehu Shagari, GCFR. A designated Chief Federal Immigration Officer (CFIO), Mr Johnson Harrison was appointed as the pioneer head. He relocated the Department to Marina in Lagos and began pushing for the enactment of a relevant legal framework to guide the operations.

One year on, the Federal Parliament enacted the Immigration Act 1963 to give Nigeria its first homegrown migration laws which ushered in a new era of broader and comprehensive immigration laws and regulations. The Act expanded the scope and responsibilities of the Immigration Department to perform duties beyond the scope of colonial ordinances. With this development, the CFIO saw the need to augment the manpower of the Department. Accordingly, some personnel of the Police and others from the Federal Civil Service were transferred to the new Immigration Department.

The Department continued to operate under the supervision of the Internal Affairs Ministry performing duties like Visa Administration, Regularization (business department), Aliens Control and other sundry tasks. In 1966, Mr JE Onubogu was appointed the CFIO but his tenure was halted at the break out of the civil war. He was succeeded by Mr Edward Iguda Aleyedeino in 1967.

In 1974, after the war, EI Aleyedeino moved the Headquarters to Alagbon Close in Lagos. He pushed for the continued evolution of the Department until he was succeeded by Alhaji Aliyu Muhammad who became the first Director of the Department In 1977 when the nomenclature of the head of Immigration was again changed. Years later, the ECOWAS Protocol of 1979 on the Free Movement of Persons was signed and the Immigration Department became a key agency to ensure implementation.

The expansion of its duties and scope intensified when the 1980 Maitatsine disturbance threw fresh security challenges and questions on border security. Records had it that the then Director of Immigration, Alhaji Lawal Sambo, when appearing as witness number 31, testified thus: “In addition to grossly inadequate staff, there is no provision for border patrols. Acute accommodation, roads and other related problems are constraints on any proposed expansion programme. Currently, the whole Immigration Department has 1,680 staff against a requirement of at least 5,000”.

At the end of the exercise, the Hon. Justice Anthony Aniagolu Tribunal of Inquiry in 1981 recommended that the creation of a Border Patrol Unit be domiciled with Immigration Department. Some sources claimed that a budget of about N11million was approved for the Service for the take-off of the Border Patrol Unit. As of then, it was a staggering sum almost competing with the parent Internal Affairs Ministry. Thus, a mere department with 1,680 personnel and a N11million budget had the mandate to secure the border of the most populous country in Africa against unauthorized entry.

In 1985, when Mr Muhammad Damulak was the Director of the Immigration Department, the entire wheel of the NIS was reinvented with the establishment of the Customs, Immigration and Prisons Services Board (CIPB) backed by decree No.4, amended by decree No. 45 of 1992. Mr Damulak supervised the relocation of the Immigration Department to its first headquarters in the new administrative capital city of Abuja in 1986. Moreover, the authority to issue the Nigeria Passport was transferred to the Department in 1988, placing it at par with peers that hitherto enjoyed financial autonomy, and becoming an arm-carrying paramilitary agency.

The Immigration Department was remodelled and named Nigeria Immigration Service with a chief executive designated Comptroller General of Immigration Service (CGIS). Alhaji Garba Abass became the first in 1992. With these developments, the NIS achieved somewhat financial autonomy with three Directorates – Administration; Operations; Finance, Account and Technical Services.

Alhaji Sahabi Dange took over as the CGIS in 1996 and guided efforts to transform the Nigeria Passport from a handwritten document to Machine Readable Passport (MRP). When Dange ended his stewardship, Lady Nwizu was appointed and was in office from 2000 to 2004. Alhaji UK Umar then held forth in an acting capacity until January 2005 when Joseph Chukwurah Udeh was named CGIS.

The era of JC Udeh originated an IT-based Immigration Service. He pioneered the e-Immigration project which covered the integration to e-Government portal, data centre, border management, passport issuance, visa and personnel records management, and e-payment system. This laudable initiative marked the beginning of modern based end-to-end automation of immigration operations. CJ Udeh moved the NIS headquarters to its present location at Umaru Musa Yar’Adua Expressway in Abuja on 17th May, 2007. He achieved migration from the Machine Readable Passport (MRP) to the harmonized ECOWAS Electronic Smart Passport (e-Passport) launched by the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua on 27th July, 2007.

In 2010, Mrs Rose Chinyere Uzoma was appointed CGIS. In 2012, she secured approval for the expansion of the three Directorates to seven namely: Directorate of Human Resource Management; Directorate of Works and Procurement; Directorate of Finance and Account; Directorate of Planning, Research and Statistics. Others were Directorate of Passport and Operations; Directorate of Border Patrol/ ECOWAS and African Affairs; Directorate of Investigation, Intelligence and Enforcement. When her tenure ended in 2013, Rilwanu Bala Musa mni was appointed acting CGIS until July 2013 when David Shikfu Parradang mni became substantive CGIS.

CGI Parradang saw the establishment of the Special Border Corps in 2014 to respond to the challenge of Nigeria’s expansive borderlines. This presented another landmark achievement in border security since its formation in 1982. The elite Border Corps was equipped with special fatigue and necessary instruments including the All-Terrain Vehicle and Portal Cabins to address the deficit in accommodations and logistics. The first batch of 1,000 personnel was deployed to various border locations to beef up security at the frontiers and improve effective border policing. David Parradang also secured the enactment of the Immigration Act 2015.

When the new government of President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, was sworn-in in 2015, Martin Kure Abeshi replaced Parrandang and led the Service until Muhammad Babandede, MFR, was appointed CGIS 15th June, 2016. With the need to implement the provisions of the new Act, especially the establishment of the Directorate of Migration, Babandede secured approval for the expansion and remodelling of the existing Directorates from seven to the current eight – Human Resource Management; Operations; Finance and Account; Planning, Research and Statistics; Passport and other Travel Documents; Border Management; Migration; Investigation and Compliance.

Babandede’s stewardship presented yet another golden era of infrastructural revolution and enhanced service delivery;12 State Command complexes, 12 Forward Operation Bases, Flag Houses and a state-of-the-art Technology Building to serve as Command and Control Centre for security in Nigeria were commissioned. His tenure witnessed more institutional reforms that cut across all spheres of NIS operations and Human Resource matters.

The Passport reform engineered the polycarbonate Passport with 10-year validity; the Visa reform climaxed in the publication and launch of the Nigeria Visa Policy 2020 (NVP) Document; the Border Management reform produced the National Border Management Strategy 2019-2023. There was also the unveiling of the Service Dress Code, Code of Conduct for the Service, Electronic Document Management System, among others.

Currently, the Service maintains 8 Directorates, 8 Zonal Offices, 48 Command Offices, 42 Passport Offices, formations in the 5 International Airports and presence in 52 Embassies/High Commissions abroad. In its 58-year journey, the NIS has produced 3 Chief Federal Immigration Officers (CFIO), 3 Directors of Immigration (DID) and 10 Comptroller Generals (CGIS) who through commitment and selflessness transformed the Service from a mere department carved out of Nigeria Police Force into a global security outfit.

*Amos Okpu, an Assistant Comptroller of Immigration, is NIS Public Relations Officer (PRO)*

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