The newly-appointed Comptroller General of Immigration, David Parradang, visited the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos recently over the alleged shortcomings of security operatives, including Immigration officials; read the riot act to the officers and ordered for reinforcement on security at the airports, especially in the area of private and charter aircraft operators. Chinedu Eze reports that Parradang may re-invigorate the agency and usher in transparency in the coming months
The Comptroller General of Immigration, David Parradang, literally swept into the office of the Nigeria Immigration Service at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos accompanied by senior officials. His dark face was darker with rage. He impatiently waited for the welcome speech, which was brief, and without protocol vented his anger. "I am not satisfied with the news I have been getting from the airport here. They say that we beg at this airport. I think we render more honourable service than that. That is why I said let me come and see for myself. And I have people call me when they arrive here to say that arrival hall was chaotic; that it is just like a market; I want to see this for myself, too.
"The last thing I want to see here is what happens at our private aircraft operations. That is a very important security leg of this country. We want to put our eyes there. We want to know who are coming to the private terminals. Who comes there, who uses the services, what do they come in with? We have to check and make sure that the place is secure. "Not the situation where aircraft will come and you disembark on the aircraft and enter your car on the tarmac without security checks. I want to see for myself what is happening there. I want to go there," he stressed.
Inspection of Facilities Looking smart in his uniform, full of epaulets, and walking with a swagger that echoed the significance of his office, the Comptroller General started the inspection of airport facilities that relate to the job of Immigration. Together with his officers, he visited the extended D and E wings of the airport where massive remodelling work has been done. The team walked to the baggage reclaim area and to the Immigration desk at arrival.
An official of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), who followed the Immigration team during the inspection, explained that there would be 18 Immigration counters at each section of the two arrival areas located at the D and E wings, from the existing eight counters. This, he explained, would hasten the process of checking out the passengers. When completed, the upper floor would be used for departures and they would also have 36 counters to ease facilitation. The Comptroller General, who was impressed by what he saw after the inspection, told journalists, "Gentlemen, I am proud of this country. I love this airport and I will like to travel from here next time." He said with the increase of the counters in both the departure and arrival checking in and checking out passengers would be easily assured that all the IT and other necessary equipment Immigration need to make the new counters work would be installed in no time. He urged travellers to bear with government on the inconveniences being experienced at the airport due to the remodelling programme, assuring them that everyone would be happy when the work was completed.
Effective and Transparent Service Parradang told Immigration officers that in spite of the ongoing work at the airport they should still render their service as effectively as possible, and frowned on the story of soliciting for money from passengers, noting that it would cast bad image on the country, especially now many nations are taking Nigeria seriously and are granting visa waivers to some category of the citizens. "I am aware that there are structural issues going on at the airport here. They are doing their repairs but we can still work through those structural issues. We don't want to see people hanging around for too long sweating and using paper to fan themselves. Everybody thinks airport is Immigration. If passengers are delayed by any other agency they think it is Immigration that is delaying them.
This is because all over the world it is Immigration that controls the airports. "Nigeria is very important to many countries in the world now. They are signing visa waivers for diplomatic and official passports. They are taking us as serious international partners. But if they say so and come here and meet us like this, it means we are not prepared. We have to get ready for them; when they come here they should meet a Nigeria that is prepared; a country that processes passengers with international security standards. That is what they want to see."
He also explained why there are many security operatives at the airports in the country, while the only people visible in other countries are the Immigration officials, and promised that over time it would be the same situation in Nigeria. "Every country has a process that they go through before you get to where they are. Now, we have a process that we are developing but we don't have the equipment. In most parts of the world they have data-based system that are interconnected with all agencies, whether secret police, whether Immigration, airport management and others; they have an integrated data base. We are in that process now and it is when we complete that phase that we can have only one agency at the terminals. That is the position we are now."
New Visa Policy On the new visa policy, he said, "The new visa policy of Nigeria is very functional. It is aimed at direct foreign investment; it is aimed at boosting tourism. At the same time, it is meant to make sure that you and I are secure. We want to make sure that Nigerians and foreigners who are coming to our country to invest are expeditiously allowed entry, but we want to make sure that only people that will add value to Nigeria are allowed entry into the country. We make it fast for everybody. You just heard that there will be additional 18 counters at the arrival to enhance easy facilitation for people to be allowed entry." He reiterated that Nigeria wants to encourage the people coming to invest in Nigeria to come and that was why the new visa policy is making it easy for them to come.
"The websites have also been developed and there are questions and answers there. It makes provision for all the processes for you to obtain visa on your arrival; the processes for you to get visa at the airport and the processes for you to get passport in Nigeria. We are developing this and it is a progressive thing and I think it will be better for all of us." In the same vein, the Comptroller General also explained the reason why Nigeria allows its citizens dual citizenship and the use of two passports from two different countries at its airports. "The Nigerian constitution makes provision for dual citizenship. If you are a Nigerian by birth, you can be a citizen of another country. You can come in with two passports, present one that can admit you in the country. This is very important. We don't want to disenfranchise you because you happen to study in the UK and have UK citizenship. We need you and what you can contribute to this country because we don't want to shut people out. The dual citizenship category is meant for this kind of people."
Smearing Nigeria's Image The Comptroller General, who was visibly angry with the report of alleged extortion by Immigration and other airport workers, brought the implication of such action to the fore and said such illicit action damages Nigeria's image and that there is summary dismissal for anyone caught extorting money from passengers. "Those officers extorting money from passengers are smearing the image of Nigeria and we don't have room for such people in Immigration service at all. We have no room for anybody who extorts; we have no room for anybody who begs. We are here to provide quality service for Nigerians. We are paid for that. We are here to make sure that Nigerians are secure, as you all know that the main purpose of government is the security and welfare of the citizenry. That is what the constitution says and that is what we are doing.
"Anybody who extorts is definitely not giving welfare to Nigerians; he is definitely not mindful of the security of this country." He explained that there are specific ways punishment is meted to officer and men involved in fraudulent and other activities, adding that there are specific rules for such obnoxious actions. "Junior officers have committees that quickly process them though security and through disciplinary procedure and those who are found wanting are eased out. And for senior officers, you must appear before a board for you to be tried and if you are found wanting we ask you out. We don't take forever to do so. Those people involved in extortion, I can assure you that we are not going to spare them. My colleagues and I are totally committed to making sure that Nigeria is a new Nigeria for everybody."
Security at the Airport Parradang said those who operate charter and private jets must abide by the rules and therefore must submit themselves for screening and processing because everybody is equal in law. "We cannot allow people to just come down from the aircraft and jump into their car. Everybody should go through Immigration. That is what the law says...every passenger, even if you are coming from unauthorised airport, you should report to Immigration. If you are coming with a private jet, we rejoice with you because you have a private jet, but it is the duty of all of us to have a secure country. "You should go through the process; you are not above the law. We are reinforcing our operations at those private jet terminals to make sure that they are checked. It is better for me to be sacked than to respect you at the detriment of all Nigerians. I will stand my ground; they will stand their ground and we make sure that everybody goes through the law."
Interagency Collaboration He said Immigration is collaborating with other agencies to ensure security at the airports, noting that Immigration cannot do it alone but with the cooperation of other organisations, including FAAN.
"Nobody can do it alone. We have to work together and we have already provided platforms for all of us to work together. You see all the seminars that FAAN is conducting, and that Immigration is conducting; we go together. "You see the trainings at the higher levels, we go together so that we can work together as we have realised that we are all working for the same purpose because it is all about Nigeria and we are working towards the same objective. Inter-agency cooperation is a must and we have developed it and we are working on it," Parradang said.