Minister of Interior, Mr. Abba Moro, in this interview with George Agba says that the Immigration Service shares part of the country's internal security challenges due to poor manning of borders. He also speaks on the recent threat by the House of Representatives to impeach the president over poor budget implementation.
You were among the first set of ministers to present their report to the president on budget implementation; what were some of the key areas you pencilled down as having achieved in the course of your stewardship?
The moment I assumed office, I had made up my mind on the direction that the ministry of interior would go. I kept nobody in doubt as to the fact that, as a transformational government under the leadership of Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, whose major policy task is transforming Nigeria, we were going to hit the ground running.
And given the background of infrastructural decay in the society, including the ministry of interior and its services, it became imperative that if we must develop and transform to the level that all Nigerians expect, then we must lay a very solid foundation; put in the blocks in the foundation that will sustain the development efforts that we so desire and are embarking on.
And so today, I can say that we have tried our hands at rehabilitating old structures. We are trying our hands at putting in place new structures in the ministry and in our services; more in our services than in the ministry because the core mandate of the ministry can only be exercised through the instrument of the various services: immigration, prisons, fire service and of course Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps.
Today I can proudly inform you that the Civil Defence Corps is transformed practically and refocused very seriously to contain the present crisis that we have in our security domain. We have in the Civil Defence Corps now an anti-terror unit that is being trained along with soldiers and other security agencies that engage in training to counter and contain terrorism.
Today, I can proudly tell you that a very vital segment of the Civil Defence Corps now bears arms and that through the collaborative efforts of the Nigerian Army, a sizeable number of arms and ammunition are in the custody of the Civil Defence Corps. And in addition to that, we have been able to enlist the support of the state governments and the army to provide the necessary fees for those instruments.
What of the prisons services; have you been able to address some of the challenges like decongestion and jail break?
I have just received the report of the ministerial committee on reforms of our prisons. One of the recommendations is the introduction of the e-prison that will sanitise our prisons and make them the very correctional reformation centre that they are supposed to be. Of course, prison congestion which has been the bane of our prison system is being tackled by properly trying now to realign and relocate the prison decongestion program of the federal government.
And in collaboration with the ministry of justice, we hope that after a proper categorisation of our prisoners, we should be able to make the justice system very accessible to people we are holding in our prisons and we hope that with quicker access and dispensation of justice, we should be able to tackle the problem of prison congestion.
Like I said before, if we all take our responsibilities seriously, some of the problems we have will not be there. Most of the problems we have today are because we have not been able to properly and quickly dispense justice. You ought to know that people are brought to prison on the orders of the courts.
So, the prison service is just holding forth, a holding institution for these other agencies. And we are saying that if the courts will not dispense justice on time, if Nigerians and the world will continue to look at the prison service as the culprit in the prison congestion that we are witnessing in Nigeria today, then we must properly situate whose responsibility it is to bring in those persons, to cater for those persons and to dispense justice as quickly as possible so that those persons can leave the prisons if they have no business being there at all.
That is if they are not convicted. So we think that by the time we properly rearrange ourselves and our responsibilities, and the court begins to take responsibility for the upkeep of our prisoners, the courts will be compelled to hasten the course of justice and dispense justice as quickly as they should.
So, those are the kinds of reformation that we are trying to introduce that we think can properly reposition the prison system. But, above all, we are not unaware that most of the physical structures of our prisons today are decaying. They are antiquated; they were built without the contemplation of modern trends and modern structures and so, we have, through the collaboration of state governments, been able to construct some modern prisons in Akwa Ibom and Ekiti States.
Efforts are in place to collaborate with the government of Lagos, Enugu, Kano and Jigawa States to properly restructure our prisons and properly situate them to meet modern trends that are acceptable to the inmates and society, especially now that Nigeria has of late entered into bilateral agreements with other countries to transfer our prisoners to serve out their prison terms in Nigeria.
We do know that unless we have a comparable prison system here to those that exist elsewhere, these prisoners will be unwilling to come to Nigeria to serve out their terms. And even when they do, these prisoners will look at these prisons as punishment rather than reformatory as the prisons are intended to be.
To what extent have you been able to address internal security in the country?
Immigration, of course, has a very fair share of the problems of Nigeria today, especially when the present terrorism trend points to the direction of foreigners infiltrating out borders to be part of the conflict that we have in Nigeria today. And if you realise that the immigration service is saddled with the responsibility of ensuring the security of our borders, then, of course, their problems can better be imagined.
But let me hasten to say that accompanying that problem is the realisation that we must secure our borders. We have to deploy as many people as possible to our borders, especially borders that are prone to violence and that can be observed as veritable routes for these foreigners with criminal tendencies to come to Nigeria.
We have also brought to the fore the desirability of procuring appropriate technology to complement the human component of surveillance for people to monitor the movement of persons and the activities of persons, especially those that are of questionable character who are not Nigerians.
In addition to that, only recently, too - because we have the unfortunate situation in which some persons have already landed on the shores of Nigeria - we have recently also set up eight zonal commands whose responsibility is to ensure that illegal aliens in Nigeria do not find safe havens where ever they find themselves.
And, of course, we have been able to successfully introduce a new Visa regime that was intended essentially to liberalise the process of procuring travel documents in Nigeria and outside Nigeria to encourage people to invest in Nigeria. Don't forget that one of the cardinal policies of this administration is to attract foreign direct investment into Nigeria.
And let Nigerians also know that within the short period we are in office, we have been able to complete the construction of the central passport office in immigration headquarters, Sauka. Very soon, I am sure, Mr. President will go there to commission that edifice that we have been able to complete. The various Visa centres and passport issuing centres have also been completed. We completed the one in Alausa with the support of the Lagos State government.
Very soon, too, that will be commissioned. Of course, we will gradually try to replace our staff and personnel. All these are intended to ensure that our borders are fortified and post properly manned and that the Immigration Service will be able to discharge its mandate of ensuring that illegal aliens do not come into Nigeria.
Also, we have been able to also embark on massive restructuring of the Nigerian Fire Service and, today, I can tell you that in addition to focusing attention on the desirability of having an effective fire service controlled by the federal government, we have gone a long way in preparing the grounds for about 227 fire stations equipped with state of the art materials to fight fire and to embark on rescue operations.
We are part and parcel of the Nigerian project and apart from the delay occasioned by the late passage of the budget, the Ministry of Interior is currently over 70% in implementing the current budget. We hope that with the level of quarterly releases of funds to the ministries, we in the ministry of interior should be able within this year to implement 100% of our budget and hoping that if the budget for 2013 that is being proposed to be submitted to the National Assembly in the last quarter of the year is submitted and the National Assembly passes this budget and we start the implementation of the budget from January, Nigerians should expect maximum implementation of the budget in 2013.
But the Senate gave a directive recently that you should stop prison decongestion. Has that not affected the effort so far?
I think that the National Assembly's directive or resolution or motion is misinterpreted. What the Senate said, which is actually a fall-out of the realisation that the prison decongestion programme is not achieving the desired result, was that the federal government's prison decongestion programme should be properly domiciled in institutions or agencies that will make it work effectively.
In other words, if we have domiciled the prison decongestion programme in the ministry of justice and the office of the Attorney General and the prisons have not been decongested after some years, the thinking generally, which is also the thinking of the ministry of interior, is that we have put the programme in the wrong place and it is not achieving its desired result.
In line with the whole change arrangement that this present administration is undertaking, we want to think that the programme should be properly reviewed and evaluated; that more pragmatics steps will be taken in the implementation of the programme so that it can achieve the desired result of decongestion of prisons.
What of the issue of jail break?
I think I have had occasion to say that what Nigerians characterise as jail breaks are actually not jail breaks in the strict sense of it. We have not had frequent jail breaks. I think that what we require to do here is the proper understanding of what happens within our prisons and in our prisons. I do know that since I assumed office in july 2011, we have had two attempted jail breaks.
We have had one jail break in port Harcourt where prison inmates broke out of the prison and escaped. We have had an attempted jail break in lafia where inmates and awaiting trial prisoners, ostensibly unhappy with the feeding arrangement, attempted to break out of the jail. But, on that incident, they never got away.
And I think ordinarily, that does not constitute a jail break. In Kotonkarfi, some hoodlums attacked the prison to free their inmates. Again ordinarily, that certainly is not a jail break. In Damaturu, suspected members of the Boko Haram sect attacked the prison and freed the prisoners in the prison.
Generally, therefore, whether you call it jail break or attack on our prisons to free inmates and the rest, I think what we are witnessing today is the fact that our prisons are vulnerable and there is the possibility of prison inmates and awaiting trial prisoners escaping from the prison.
What we have tried to do is the introduction of the e-prison and it comes with the physical construction of barriers fitted with appropriate electronic devices that will make escape from prisons difficult, if not impossible. And by the time that vital component of the e-prison that we are going to introduce such as the recording of biometrics of inmates and prisoners, by the time that component is implemented, the tendency will be that it will be very easy to apprehend or rearrest prisoners if they escape.
Once the reality dawns on them that they cannot find a safe haven in their escape, the tendency to escape will reduce.
In addition to that, we have had reason to rearrange the administration of the prisons in recent times. We have had, because of the dearth of the number of personnel required to protect all our prisons in the face of sustained attacks on our prisons in recent times, we have had course to close down some of our satellite prisons; especially satellite prisons that are not too far from some medium or maximum prisons.
And we have attempted to rearrange the prisons, categorise our inmates and prisoners such that we now know who hardened criminals, who minor house breaking thieves and the rest of them are with a view to putting them in their proper prisons and making sure that maximum security is deployed to secure our various prisons.
We believe that the manpower that will be withdrawn from the closed satellite prisons will be appropriately deployed to secure our prisons. And depending on the level of security mechanics that are involved in the various prisons, we should be able now to have enough manpower and resources to deploy to our prisons and we hope that we will be able to secure our prisons therefrom.
What would you say about the recent threat by the House of Representatives to impeach the president over poor budget performance?
Budget is ordinarily meant for implementation and the National Assembly has reason to feel concerned if there is any indication that the budget appropriation bill which they have passed, assented to by Mr. President too was not being executed as quickly as they and Nigerians expect.
I want to think that it was a little premature to threaten impeachment at the slightest indication that the budget is not being quickly implemented, given the fact that a lot of dynamics come to play when it comes to issues of budget implementation. One, we are not unmindful that the 2011 capital budget was being implemented up to March.
We are equally not unmindful that the 2012 budget was passed towards the end of the first quarter. Yet, releases have been made for the first and second quarter and there is every indication that release for the third quarter that we are about to enter will be made as quickly as possible.
The budget is also not something like you have the money and just walk into the market to buy a product. Implementation of the budget involves a lot of procurement procedures and it becomes more cumbersome if it is a new procurement.
And so, you must obey the law; certain parameters must be met including advertisement, prequalification, tenders and all that. So, these procedures take time. I think Mr. President and the Federal Executive Council are as passionate as the National Assembly to implement this budget.