A few weeks ago, the Federal Government announced its plans to electronically register migrants in the country. The essence, according to the government, is to use it to establish a database of immigrants in Nigeria, which could help to check the growing insecurity occasioned by terrorism, drug trafficking and other trans-border crimes. While the directive is generating controversy among Nigerians, some of the foreigners say they are not aware of it. TOSIN MAKANJUOLA reports
The recent pronouncement by the Federal Government to profile immigrants in the country appears not have seated well with some Nigerians. One of such skeptics is a former presidential adviser, Echefuna Onyebeadi, who was quoted by The Guardian newspaper, to have faulted the move in his letter of July 13, “From Ruga to e-Registration of Immigrants: What Next?”. He was said to have accused the government of trying to “confer unsolicited and unlawful citizenship on illegal immigrants.”
The Guardian further quoted him to have also said that the government only wanted the exercise as a means to populating the already pauperised country with aliens. “They just want to confer citizenship through the backdoor on aliens under whatever guise to the detriment of Nigerian citizens,” Onyebeadi had said. For Yusuf Ali, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), the government ought to have perfected the National Identity card scheme as it was done by all serious countries of the world.
That, according to the lawyer, does not only allow the government to know the numbers of its citizens, but will have reduced immigration by foreigners into the country. Ali said: “The starting point is to see to the proper registration of everyone in Nigeria in the data of National Identity Card Management Commission (NIMC). To all serious country in the world, that is the best way foreigners do not come and implicate your country. Of course, every country can take bigger step to ensure that foreigners are properly documented, but my take is for the government to first of all document Nigerians.” In his own reaction, the National Chairman of African Democratic Congress (ADC), Chief Ralph Nwosu, believes that if the country is working well, any form of censoring is good.
To him, both foreigners and Nigerians, everybody should have a national registration number but for some reasons the political leadership was slow and they were not taking that seriously. He said: “There is need to know how many we are in order to know who are Nigerians and how many foreigners have joined us and where they are coming from? What the government is trying to do now is a good development but they are not showing sincerity in most of the things they do. This may be the reason why their actions usually appear suspect. “Doing a census in a country is proper. However, our political leaders have not shown enough commitment and sincerity to do what is right. So, because of the agenda motive in most of the things they do, people tend to criticise what they do.”
“We do not expect the ruling party to use presidential fiat to grant illegal immigrants citizenship of this country just because of their selfish, parochial and political agenda. This programme is definitely going to have dire consequences in the future. Nigeria is still struggling to address the issue of its diversity, yet someone is talking of add-ing more illegal immigrants? I doubt if it will be of any advantage to us,” Nwosu added. Yinka Odumakin, the spokesman for Afenifere, a Yoruba socio-cultural group, also asked: “Are we are talking about the herdsmen, who are coming from the border side like chad and the rest, who is going to register them? Where will they take them to? What the government has to do is to ensure that our borders are well policed in all those places like Chad, Niger that are borderless. People are moving at will. So, when they have moved in and run around, who will go and minister to them there? “Those who are coming in through the airports are properly documented. But we don’t know what that means in reality, what they want to achieve, we don’t know.
The larger agenda we see in this is that what is the status of those who are registered? If they register them will they become citizens or what will they become? Will it just be an attempt to confirm an illegal migrant into the country who are troubling us and most responsible for some of the atrocities perpetrated in Nigeria? Can this exercise be a ploy to give them cover after their registration? Except government comes out to tell Nigerians what they mean by these programmes and what they want to achieve with it, it will be unconvincing to align with the motive behind it.
“Truth is the registration of migrants will not force the government to enforce the law against criminal herdsmen/terrorists, which it is not doing at the moment. There is no level of registration that will make Nigeria a safe place if the government is not out to protect all citizens as against special interests.” However statements credited to the Presidency and the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) on the initiative may have fueled the seeming controversy on the exercise as the reports appeared to have conflicted.
While President Muhammadu Buhari had declared that the exercise is “for illegal migrants already in the country”, Sunday James, NIS spokesman and a Deputy Comptroller of Immigration (DCI), told The Guardian: “It is not illegal migrants; it is irregular migrants across the country we are registering. What we are doing now is to register every non-Nigerian.
“People are trying to misconstrue this directive by Mr. President. People should stop giving ethnic colouration to good plans by the government. It is good for Nigeria. At least, it would help in our security situation, governance and planning.” James quoted Section 22 (1 & 2) of the Immigration Regulation 2017, which he said empowered the service to maintain a register of all immigrants.
“It equally empowers the CGI to keep in the registry, information and particulars of an Immigrant as he may from time to time direct,” he further said. The government had also reacted by saying that the e-registration exercise was an attempt at obtaining a database of all irregular migrants residing in the country so as to halt the growing insecurity in the country, occasioned by terrorism, drug trafficking and other transborder crimes. The Comptroller-General of Immigration (CGI), Mohammed Babandede, who flagged-off the exercise, had called on all irregular migrants, who had stayed in the country for a period exceeding 90 days, to present themselves for registration.
Babandede said the data created would be forwarded to the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), to generate what he referred to as, migrants’ identification number (MIN). He, however, warned that migrants, who failed to present themselves for registration within the stipulated period in line with the presidential directive, would be “removed”.
Babandede said: “It is our duty as stipulated in the immigration regulations to register any person who is not a citizen of Nigeria and the law says if you are going to stay or you have stayed for a period of 90 days.” Individuals that are eligible for this exercise are non-citizens of Nigeria who have attained the age of 18 years and resident in Nigeria or visitors who intend to stay in Nigeria for a period exceeding 90 days.
For the purpose of the e-Registration, NIS has categorised migrants into five categories – Employed Migrants, Students, Self Employed, Spouse of a Nigerian, and Dependants. Requirements for each migrant’s registration depend on if they are Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) nationals, nationals of other African countries or expatriate employees.
The exemption from this mandatory e-migrant registration, according to the NIS, is granted to individuals who are under the age of 18, those enjoying diplomatic immunity and visitors who intend to stay in Nigeria for less than 90 days. Apart from those, all regular and irregular migrants are required to register for free within the 6-month grace period of the commencement of the programme.
Having accurate data about the country’s citizens and foreigners living in Nigeria, according to the NIS, is critical for national planning and fighting insecurity. It also said that the guide of the current exercise provided the necessary information and requirements for migrants residing in Nigeria to be properly documented in line with global best practices.
The e-Registration is a two-part process which includes the enrolment and biometrics data capture and the receipt of an acknowledgement slip. This process is as follows: Migrant walks into any designated Migrant Registration Office in the migrant’s state of residence. He or she provides supporting documents (original International Passport and Residence Permit, for sighting while copies will be submitted) and other required information.
The registration officer enrolls the migrant using information provided and the officer captures the biometrics of the migrant while he crosschecks enrolled data and the registration officer confirms submitted documents. After completing the registration, the migrant is issued an acknowledgement slip showing registration details.
The e-Registration process, the NIS further said, was expected to ease the update of migrants’ status and provide a means of identification, alongside the Residence Permit. An additional motivation for the exercise is to curb the spate of insecurity, which is believed to be partly due to some undocumented immigrants from neighbouring countries, especially in the North-East region of the country. Incidentally, not all immigrants seem to be aware of the registration exercise. For instance, a middle-aged Togolese national, who identified herself simply as Shefiu, said she had been in the country for over 20 years, but was unaware of the e-Registration of foreigners in Nigeria as directed by the government. According to her, she has not faced any problem that will warrant her to go for any registration.
“It’s the registration you are talking about for every foreigner in Nigeria?” she asked ignorantly but adding, “Nobody told me about that but if I know how and where it’s done, I’d summit myself for such registration since I am not a criminal and has never been engaged in any underhand activities all along.” Another, from Cotonou, Benin Republic, also claimed ignorance about the e-Registration currently going on in Nigeria.
The Beninoise, who refused to be identified, told one of our reporters that she was not an illegal immigrant and as such would have nothing to do with any type of registration. “Is Nigerian planning to give us the South African treatments? They should concentrate on their problems with South Africa and leave us alone. We are from Benin and we are neither criminals nor trouble makers,” she said. Meanwhile, the Federal Government had extended the e-Registration when it handed down a six-month grace to enable all migrants across the country to register.
The President announced the period of “amnesty” for the free registration at the commissioning of the Migrant e-Registration, and Passport Application Processing Centre, at the Nigeria Immigration Service’s headquarters in Abuja. The President, who was represented by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, said that the establishment of the centres would enhance national security, while ensuring national development.
The migrants’ e-Registration, he added, would enable government to access statistics of migrants across the country, even as the Passport Application Processing Centre, aims to harness accurate data of citizens. “While the Migrant e-Registration Centre will collate and store data of non-Nigerians within our shore, the Passport Application Processing Centre, on the other hand will provide improved issuance of passport and eliminate touting as well as corruption in line with this government’s policy on ‘Ease of Doing Business.’ “It is on this note therefore that I am declaring a six-month amnesty period for irregular migrants already in the country to submit themselves to the Nigeria Immigration Service for the purpose of this registration, which will be carried out without any payment or penalties,” the President added.
However, artisans who decry preference for foreign counterparts seem to be reading the e-Registration differently. To many of them, it’s a payback time as government may have wanted to use the exercise to send them packing. Ouvidah Lucien, an artisan working at a site in Lagos complained that Nigerians did not appreciate works done by their own people. He said that the attitude was largely responsible for the demand of artisans from neighbouring countries like Ghana, Togo and Republic of Benin among several others. He alleged that some contractors mostly engaged the services of foreign artisans to perpetrate fraud and inflate contract cost. He said: “Some contractors pay these artisans far higher than us because they bargain with them on what they will actually pay them and what they will get in return.
We have seen many of them disagree with these foreigners while working on building sites and those that brought them over monetary issues. “Many of them are good but not in all aspects. While some of them are good in roofing, others appear to be experts in the designing of wardrobes, tiles, PoP, and bricklaying. Unfortunately, a majority of them don’t appear to be sincere and are not usually consistent in their work; they bid lower prices to enable them to corner the jobs.
“Well, it’s not all the time that we make use of them, although many who use them are those who prefer substandard jobs because they come cheap unlike the Nigerian professionals.” Yet, a site engineer, who declined to give his name, said that there was nothing wrong in using foreigners at site work. He believes that such transfer of knowledge will be of mutual benefit to all site workers. “There is nothing wrong in it, it is all about sharing and transferring of knowledge. We can learn some techniques which we do not know from them and they can also learn from us. So, I don’t see any reason they should not be engage by anybody that requires their services.
“There is no nation that can do these things all alone. Besides, we supervise them to make sure they conform to the Nigerian standard. We are accommodating in Nigeria and that is the reason why they like coming to work here. It also shows that our economy is good and attractive enough to even foreigners who also contribute to the physical development of the country no matter how we look at it.” However, there are those who believe that foreign artisans are better and even more committed to their jobs. One of such people is Nnamdi Akabunma, a civil engineer. He told one of our reporters that he had had an opportunity of working alongside some of these foreign artisans from Ghana and Togo. He said: “I learnt a lot from them. We worked together at a building site at Sango Ota in Ogun State. One thing about them is that they took their time to learn the job and are very diligent. I don’t blame our local contractors for engaging them because as they always said one of such people on site could, in all sincerity, be equal to about five Nigerian artisans. “I must also tell you that they work with time and always strive to meet up with what is expected of them. The Nigerians will think more of what they are going to be paid instead of focusing on the job target. Our people hardly work to meet up with a specific time.”
Additional reports from Olamide Solana and Isaac Godspower