Home Minister Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola highlights the improvement recorded within the ministry and its agencies between 2019 and present, and the efforts made to end insecurity in Nigeria. He spoke during an interview with Radio Nigeria which was watched by YUSUF OKETOLA of OSUN DEFENDER tuesday. Extract:
Yesour office struggles with the country’s security architecture; What would you say is your biggest challenge?
I wouldn’t really say anything is difficult, when you have a mission; you have to. As far as I can say, this is the toughest challenge, if I’m going to be honest with myself, I seem to like tackling issues that I know will bring joy and happiness to Nigerians. I am happy to tell Nigerians that the issuance of passports in our administration is very important to me for Nigerians, and I believe I have given serious thought to this during my tenure. So far in administration, and I am happy to say that we have seen quite substantial improvement in this area of passport issuance administration. So I’m happy with that. It’s not like it’s difficult, but I know Nigerians are so sensitive to it and I gave it a lot of attention and consideration. This is an area close to my heart for me. Not that we’ve solved all the problems, but we’ve made tremendous progress.
Your ministry is the key to the ease of doing business in the country. What have you done to improve this area?
Let’s start with the administration of expatriate quotas; it is now digitized. Those who need ministry service to get business permit, expatriate quota allowance need not meet anyone. They just go online and do whatever they need to do online. We have reduced person-to-person contact in the administration of business permits and the allocation of expatriate quotas to a very significant level. This must have greatly affected the ease of doing business. This administration has also been very much improved. In 2020, we launched the new visa policy. It simply means taking the confusion out of visa processing. We have increased the visa categories available to Nigerians from 60 to 79. This means that we categorize all professions, commitments and interests so that if you want to come to Nigeria, we know who you are, what you want to do and where you are likely to be. Again, it is digitized. You do not need to know anyone for the visa application. Go online, apply for a visa and get it. We’ve taken the paperwork out, it’s now fully electronic. We have in all our borders what we call guardians. Minders is an electronic Nigeria visa entry process administration system. This too must have contributed to the ease of doing business. There is visa on arrival, you don’t need to go to our embassy. If you want to visit Nigeria, go online, process your visa and go to the airport. Process your visa and you will get a visa upon arrival. This again supports the ease of doing business. Most valuable of what we have done to make doing business easier is what we call Advance Personnel System. Now anyone coming to Nigeria is known to us in advance. As you are processing your ticket anywhere in the world to come to Nigeria, you are already registered on our portals and our staff are waiting for you at the airport. Again, this promotes the ease of doing business. The passport I mentioned again cannot be eliminated from the ease of doing business because if Nigerians are to meet their business partners abroad, they need a genuine travel document. All of this, I believe, must have supported the ease of doing business. We work together with other agencies to make doing business in Nigeria comfortable, easy and enjoyable.
The Correctional Service, an agency of your ministry, has recently come under public scrutiny following attacks in prison. What efforts have you made to stop this?
First of all, it is regrettable that there were these attacks. No administration will be happy to suffer such a violation of such a sacred facility or institution. It’s quite disturbing and depressing. They placed it in the context of our general experience as a nation. It is regrettable but we must admit that there are challenges.
As for what we do, we have done a lot of things to fortify our facilities. We are in the process of rethinking the entire detention system to make it restorative. The world is moving away from a punitive establishment where offenders are subjected to harsh treatment and are not granted all of their rights to freedom, liberty and self-control are restricted. It is no longer a binding institution. It is now a restorative institution. In addition, we have declared our custodial facilities as national property. In addition to the classic corrections armguards, we now have civil defense joining them, we have the armed immigration brigade joining them and we have the military and police, mobile, counterterrorism brigade and several others . We have generally reinforced the protection of most of our establishments accommodating difficult inmates. We can’t be too sure, but we have improved the security of installations that could be the target of attacks.
Nigeria is undoubtedly challenged on the security front; What is your ministry doing to make the country safer?
Security is not something you should shout about. If I have CCTV cameras deployed somewhere, I won’t tell you where they are installed. It’s not meant to let people know I have such a surveillance thing. What I will say to Nigerians is that; we are upping our game and it now shows in the way we are handling the security situation in Nigeria. I want to believe that over the last month or so there has been an improvement in controlling and dealing with the despicable effect of bandits, insurgents and other criminals who want to make life difficult for our people. We are improving the game and we are very confident that we will meet the deadline given by the president.
Just last week, the president granted Nigerian national status to 286 foreigners. Tell us about the criteria for this approval.
More than a thousand people applied for Nigerian citizenship and it took no less than three years to process these applications, and for 286 to be successful, Nigerians must know that they must have met all the rules and regulations of requirements. It’s quite hard. Nigerian citizenship is one of the most difficult and complex in the world. Human beings will always be human beings. But all I know, none of them stayed for anything less than 15 years continuously in Nigeria. Virtually all of them are related to an indigenous community in Nigeria, as almost none of them could speak a native dialect in Nigeria, and without a community supporting their application, it is impossible for them to obtain citizenship of Nigeria. Apart from the community, the state government must also recommend and sponsor their application for citizenship. It has to go through security screening, not only for our own security agencies, but also for senior agencies in Nigeria. It is quite a cumbersome and complex process to obtain Nigerian citizenship and, by the way, the body that ultimately assists the President in granting this citizenship is the Federal Executive Council. When you look at the process and the body that ultimately backed the presidential endorsement, you will know that it is not an easy hurdle to clear in order to gain citizenship of the country.
Just seven months before the general elections, what do you have to say to Nigerians about the security put in place for this big event?
President Muhammadu Buhari gave us the deadline that by December we have to put this security issue behind us, and he told Nigerians that he will give a safe and secure nation and I believe that will happen.
The Nigeria Immigration Service is having difficulty issuing passports to applicants. What are the challenges and how do you mitigate them?
If Nigerians themselves supported our process, there would be no problem in issuing passports. In the first case, whether your passport is a reissue, renewal or re-application, plan it in time and in time. Don’t wait until your passport has expired. Once you let the anxiety out of your passport renewal or fees, it wouldn’t be that hard. If you wait until you want to travel to begin the process, you will be in trouble and by then your anxiety will lead you to condescending touts, scammers or racketeers. When you head into this dubious process, you will pay the price or suffer the consequences.
If you start processing your passport early, you will do it easily. Here’s what we’re doing and improving. I am not saying that we have totally eliminated all challenges. By December, there will be no more human-to-human contact. The least man-to-man or man-to-man in any of these processes, whether in issuing a passport or a business quota. The more human contact there is, the more likely you are to have scammers and people who want to extort you. As for passports, by December, God willing, we would have automated the process and there would be no more human-to-human contact. With that, I want to say to Nigerians that the few challenges there will be over. We will open several process centers across the country. This will take the pressure off our busy centers.