opinionBy Ubong Udoh
Nigerians lament - the authorities take us for certificate forgers
The Minister of Interior, Comrade Abba Moro's recent visits to Austria and Slovakia have been of tremendous benefit to the Nigerian people.
The visits, which were at the instance of the Austrian and Slovak governments, afforded the Minister to address the concerns of Nigerians in those countries at a high level of government. The Austrian trip was subsequent to the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the government of that country and Nigeria in Abuja on June 8, 2012.
The agreement seeks to facilitate the repatriation of citizens residing irregularly in the territory of each of the two countries and to treat such persons in a manner which is dignified and guarantees their human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The highlight of the MOU is that irregular migration is not criminalized, and names of these migrants not put in crime databank. Properties legally acquired by deported migrants are protected and returned.
And while targeting money of criminals, all efforts are to be made not to affect genuine remittances which is one of the major sources of income and investment in Nigeria. This is critical to the economy, because, in 2010, Nigeria received $19 billion as remittances from Nigerians abroad, the highest in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The Minister of Interior, who travelled with two high ranking officials of his ministry, K. E. Amuga, Director, Para-Military, and Muhammed Babandede ,Assistant Controller-General, Immigration, met with high ranking officials of both countries including his Austrian counterpart, Dr Johanna Milk-Leitner, Slovakian Justice Minister, the Austrian Police Chief, and the Slovakian Director, Aliens Police and Immigration.
Moro also met with Nigerians in Austria. Although no provision had been made for such a meeting, the minister considered it important to meet his countrymen in Austria to disabuse their minds on the MOU as a tool to deport them to Nigeria.
At the occasion, Moro said the purpose of the agreement was to ensure that Nigerians being deported are treated with dignity and their human rights protected, among others. The Nigerians complained about the wrong assumption by Austrians that most certificates from Nigeria are fake.
The Austrian authorities insist on authenticating all certificates and charge Nigerians a verification sum of N120, 000 - the highest charge to any nationality. The minister promised to take up the matter with his Austrian counterpart. An appeal was made to the Minister to put into use the Passport Machine lying idle in the Nigerian embassy. He promised that he was doing everything possible to post Immigration officers to operate the machine.
At his subsequent meeting with his Austrian counterpart, Milk-Leithner, Moro expressed displeasure with exorbitant certificate verification fees charged by Austrian agencies on Nigerians. In 2010, Nigerians detained in Austria were 18 (1.5%), the figure has reduced to 12 this year.
At the meeting with the Austrian Interior Minister, Moro spoke on the security situation in Nigeria, especially the menace of Boko Haram and kidnapping. He stated government's commitment to combating terrorism and kidnapping by equipping and retraining law enforcement agencies and as well as being open to dialogue.
He said that the Jonathan administration is committed to keeping the country one and will do everything at its disposal to ensure the protection of life and property. The minister said Boko Haram menace is political rather than religious because majority of the victims are Muslims.
Moro visited the headquarters of the Austria counter-terrorism police known as COBRA. He was received by the Austrian Police Chief. The Nigerian delegation was shown a video of COBRA in action, using modern technology to fight organized crime and terrorism. Officers of the outfit receive special training in parachuting, explosives, scuba, sniper shooting, dog handling and alpine. In 2011, they carried out about 3, 000 operations ranging from rescue, VIP protection, air marshall and safeguard.
Moro asked Austria to help Nigeria use COBRA to combat terrorism by training her security operatives. On voluntary returns and respect of human rights of Nigerian migrants and the difficulties in obtaining Austrian visa in Nigeria, Moro's Austrian counterpart agreed to work with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to tackle those issues. Moro also visited the Airport Police Return Unit at Terminal'240' which those subject to removal from Austria by air must pass through.
The deportees either return in a scheduled or chartered flight. Persons staying irregularly have the option to return to their countries voluntarily in a schelduled flight.
Those unwilling are put in a combined European chartered flight by the European agency responsible for the management of European borders (FRONTEX). Moro was satisfied with the condition in the removal centre, but enquired about human right issues. He was assured that CSOs (country security officers) are allowed to watch the proceeding to ensure respect of the human rights of deportees.
In Slovakia, Moro met with the Justice Minister, Mr Tibor Borec, where he appealed to his host to look into the complaint of the Nigeria embassy regarding six Nigerians in prison there. He hoped Nigeria and Slovakia could work together in the areas of prison, security and energy, especially renewable energy. At every stop, the Minister of Interior restated his concern and that of his ministry on "the condition of Nigerians in foreign countries."
The visit to Slovakia is significant as Nigerian asylum seekers in Austria usually transit through Slovakia while the Nigerian embassy in Austria takes care of consular affairs of Slovakia, since no formal relations exist between the two countries. The Slovakian authorities assured the delegation that Nigerians in the country are generally peaceful and law-abiding.
Moro also visited the headquarters of Frequentis and Achleitner. Frequentis is a world market leader in safety critical telecommunications and telecommunication networking and switching. The company has numerous references in Nigeria, namely in the airports of Abuja, Lagos,Port Harcourt and Kano (about to be installed).
Frenquentis' equipment for capturing biometric data, e.g. fingerprint, in combination with face collectors will allow us to efficiently gather personal information of persons entering Nigeria. This shall be available at stationary border posts and mobile units .The company demonstrated the equipment.
The Minister of Interior and his team found the technology of Frequentis and Achleitner being used by countries with similar security and environment challenges very interesting. Achleitner makes motorised vehicles for border patrols, among others.
The Mantra 4 x 4 border patrol vehicles, for instance, which have inflatable/deflectable tyres and on-board compressors, top-roof personnel standing capacity for easy monitoring, is a typical example of how we can effectively conquer the terrain, especially in our northern borders.
Moro's visits to these two countries were an eye opener. It has demonstrated what the country can gain by the exchange of ideas and observing practical demonstrations of how other countries tackle similar national problems with knowledge and technology.
Udoh is S/A Media to the Minister of Interior .