Who’s afraid of Babandede’s immigration reforms? A rejoinder
Asks Dr. Sule Ya’u Sule
It is obvious now that the best way to measure the success of any institutional reforms is the severity of opposition from beneficiaries of the old corrupt system. The piece: “Presidency, Babandede and tenure elongation,” by a certain Abdu Abdullahi, published on the back page of The Triumph of Friday, May 21, 2020, could be waved off as a weak attack against a performing public officer by a desperado, except that in the writer’s desperation to rewrite contemporary history.
He cast aspersions on the personal integrity of the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Immigration Services (NIS), Alhaji Muhammad Babandede.
The writer also made numerous fake and libelous allegations against the CG and sought to bring him to public ridicule and disrepute.
While I hold no brief for the high-performing Comptroller-General whose intimidating scorecard in office and self-honor are already in the public domain, my point is that the massive reforms taking place in the Immigration Services under him must be sustained in the larger national interest.
Let us put Nigeria’s interests first and above self-ambition.
Besides, false allegations against public officers are not new in this country, even if the article in reference was blatantly irresponsible and full of concocted lies.
The truth, however, is never too far away.
From day one, C-G Babandele assumed duty at the helm of affairs of the organization; he became a soft target for those seeking to reverse the reforms he initiated and return the nation to the old corrupt and bureaucratic ways of immigration services.
This is truly unfortunate but not surprising.
Middlemen, touts and third party agents, who were making millions of Naira at the expense of the nation’s passport seekers, have been put out of business. They do not care about the frustration of those seeking passport and other immigration services.
They do not care about the poor image their corruption brought to the country. They do not care about the loss of revenue by the government.
Their selfishness blinds them to the obvious benefits of institutional ease-of-doing-business.
In their raw ambition for power and an unbridled quest for corrupt enrichment, they will roll back the NIS reforms and get rich while ordinary people in the country suffer. While the majority of the country’s populace are celebrating the new ease of procuring the nation’s passports and other improved services by Babandede’s NIS, the few unscrupulous elements in the society, who make their money by hoarding the passports and selling to the highest bidders are fighting back and using the media to attack the personality of the reformer. Pity!
The country’s new e-passport has come to stay. No campaign of calumny will change that. Press hacks cannot rewrite history.
The reforms initiated by the NIS boss are not reversible and will outlive the Buhari administration. The public is familiar with how the nation’s passport was procured in the past. It was a national scandal.
Anybody who could bribe his way could obtain and use the country’s international passport. Foreigners and their criminally-minded Nigerian accomplices bribed their way to secure our passports and travel abroad to commit crimes which were then attributed to the nation. National passport is a country’s most critical asset but in the past, our national patrimony became a liability.
Oluwole Street in Lagos became a household name in international passport fakery.
Thousands of genuine Nigerian passport holders were subjected to humiliating searches, delays, and harassment at the international airport because of the criminality associated with the Nigerian passport.
Among the several sweeping reforms introduced by Alhaji Babandede on the assumption of office, the introduction of the e-passport will rank as the most important. It is a game-changer, a brand new day for Nigeria.
The e-passport has created a completely new way of doing business with the Nigerian Immigration Service. It has eased the formerly cumbersome process of passport procurement, completely cleaned up the web of corrupting influences woven around an important service. There are other value-additions.
The featured innovations on the Nigeria’s e-passport strengthen its security value, making it impossible to be faked, counterfeited, or transferred to an authorized user who might pose a security threat to a third-party country.
Strengthened by enhanced 25 new security features, which include the engraving of a holder’s National Identity Number (NIN), the country’s new e-passport assists rather than hinder at-risk countries in their fight against terror.
Another key feature of the e-passport is that the important data page comes in polycarbonate technology that eliminates damage, and not laminated like the previous one.
Thanks to this new feature, fraudulent persons will find it harder to alter personal information, including changing a photograph on the Nigerian passport.
The Multi Laser Image (MLC) captures the primary and secondary image of a passport holder. This heightened tamper-proof feature gives the passport double-safety uniqueness and dissuades attempts to duplicate or forge it.
It also comes in a higher quality material than the previous one.
With zero vulnerability, the nation’s new e-passport, which became officially available from March 2019 and which met ICAO standards, has become the country’s best brand product.
It may interest the likes of Abdu Abdullahi and his co-travelers campaigning to reverse the immigration reforms that tenure extension for service chiefs is the prerogative of the President and Commander-in-Chief.
Being at his discretion, the president, who has access to comprehensive intelligence, including what is not known to the public, chooses whom to elongate his tenure or not.
In the case of President Muhammadu Buhari, it is a prerogative he exercises with utmost caution and a great sense of responsibility.
If indeed President Buhari has chosen to extend the tenure of Babandede as is being speculated, he must have arrived at the decision after a thoroughly painstaking review process.
There is no way it would escape President Buhari’s attention that the reforms initiated by Babandede have brought huge benefit to the economy and improved our national image.
In terms of badly needed revenue, the Federal Government has earned over N60 billion in revenue without investing funds in the production of the e-passport. This is money that found its way into private pockets before the introduction of the reforms.
In the face of dwindling revenue from crude oil sales, this is not the best time to disrupt an important source of national revenue.
Babandede should instead be encouraged to devise new strategies to increase earnable revenue from new and existing immigration services.
The nation’s travelers and bearers of its Green Passport are no longer subjected to embarrassment at international airports and other travel destinations as was rampant in the past. Gone are the days when its passport was printed and easily obtained at the street in Lagos mentioned earlier.
Babandede has put that street out of business in the printing and sale of fake Nigerian passports. Indeed, corruption is fighting back.
Also, should President Buhari answer the silent prayers of the majority of the people in the country, who want Babandede to continue with his reforms until the nation gets to the point where corruption and bureaucratic red-tape no longer impact service delivery? He would be keeping faith with a formula which has brought continuity, progress and stability in the security sector.
The president’s wise decision to extend the tenure of the Defence and Service Chiefs – the Army, Air Force, and Navy – is not unconnected with ensuring continuity while avoiding disruption even as the nation confronts the Boko Haram insurgency and other security challenges.
In their desperate bids to tarnish Babandede’s hard-earned integrity, the merchants of mischief have gone overboard to fabricate allegations just to pull him down. Take the case of the alleged N23 million, which the C-G was alleged to have paid out to “cronies” as Covid-19 palliatives.
This spurious claim, which lacks substance, has been spread by rumour mongers who are not deterred by the press statement issued by NIS clarifying that no palliative has been paid to it.
How could the C-G, who was in isolation in Gwagwalada Specialist Hospital, after contracting the Coronavirus, have approved any “palliatives” from his hospital bed? He did not.
The allegation goes against the grain of rational thinking but exposes the desperation of those forces fighting to get him out of the way to reverse the reforms he has resolutely stood by.
Every payment made by the NIS during the period of the Babandede’s isolation for Covid-19 was approved by his deputy and not by him, and this point has been emphasized repeatedly.
These are routine payments, by the way, and the C-G was duly informed as due process demands.
In the higher national interest, Babandede’s reforms must be continued and protected. The decision as to whether or not to extend his service term is the President’s sole prerogative and cannot be influenced by mercenary forces.
He (Babandede) has exceeded expectations as the boss of NIS. He has cleaned up the Augean stables, and put in place a transparent, accountable and super-efficient process of international passport procurement and other immigration services, among other laudable achievements he has recorded during an outstanding tenure.
His reforms must be sustained because he has given NIS a new lease of life and restored public trust in the organisation. There must be no relapse. What we require in NIS is continuity, not malign.
Dr. Sule lectures at Mass Communication Department, Bayero University, Kano.