You have spent three years as Minister of Interior. When you came on board, what were the goals you set and what measures did you put in place to realise such goals and in your own assessment would you say that the goals are being accomplished?
First of all for the records, I have not yet spent three years, there are still some months to go before I reach three years. Having said that, when I was appointed Minister of Interior, I was coming from the background of a man who in my life’s journey has been entrusted with responsibilities, from the background of being a local government chairman, of being a lecturer in a tertiary institution, of being a chairman and pro-chancellor of the Governing Council of two Federal universities – Michael Okpara University of Agric, Umudike, Abia State and the Federal University of Agric, Makurdi, Benue State. One of the challenges I set for myself is to correct the erroneous belief held by some schools of thought, that teachers do not make good administrators, since it is my primary constituency. So, when I came to the Ministry of Interior, I knew that one of the most important resources I would need to achieve results against set targets is the human resources. What I did was to position myself with the benefit of my experience as a unionist to carry staff along, attend to their welfare in terms of working environment, of convenience, of getting promotion as and when due, generally to raise their moral to make them see government work as their work as against the wrong notion that government work is everybody’s work and therefore nobody’s work. I therefore set about making sure that going to and from work is made more convenient by procuring three 30-seater buses to complement the pool of vehicles in the Ministry. This also positioned them to compare favourably with their counterparts in other Ministries. I also made sure that their allowances especially the first 28 days allowance was paid as and when due. When I came here some staff were sleeping in broken down vehicles in the Ministry premises because they hadn’t been paid their first 28 days allowances to enable them secure accommodation in Abuja. This I rectified immediately. I also ensured that promotion of staff in the Ministry of Interior were done as and when due. Today I can proudly tell you that we have reduced promotion period to one year.
Does that mean that someone can be promoted every year?
Yes for those who are due, because ideally promotion exercises are carried out yearly. People keep qualifying for promotion every year, so if you have spent the minimum period for promotion, then you are due for promotion. The last promotion that was held was for 2012. In a few weeks’ time, the 2013 exercise will be conducted. It is my intention that before the end of the year we will be able to conduct the 2014 edition thereby fully regularising the promotions system of our staff and therefore bringing to an end the trauma of people having to work for 12/13 years without promotion. From all of the above, you can see that we may not be at the 100 per cent mark yet, but that we have made strenuous efforts to bring the morale of the staff to a level where they can recommit themselves to perform creditably. And at a time our nation is facing security challenges, the Services of the Ministry have very vital roles to play whether you are talking about the Immigrations, Prisons, NSCDC, all of them have roles to play in maintaining security in the land. By our training we are able to contribute a very sizeable quota to the task forces that the Federal Government has set up across the country to quell internal insecurity.
We have also been able to elicit from the Federal Government approval to maintain an armed squad in the NSCDC that means three of our services –Immigration, Prisons and NSCDC have armed squads. These armed squads are being trained and retrained both locally and internationally in places such as Israel, Egypt to keep them abreast of latest technologies for maintaining security. And because we currently have the security challenge that is compounded by the entry of foreigners who have become ready tools for insurgents, we have to tackle the challenge of reducing to the barest minimum the number of illegal aliens that infiltrate our borders and where they have already entered without being detected, we constitute our immigration zonal centres into screening centres. Today I am happy to report that a sizeable number of illegal aliens have been eased out of this country and without prejudice to the ECOWAS protocol on free movement. On a regular basis, the NIS has ensured that people who are in Nigeria on the understanding of the ECOWAS protocol without proper, valid travel documents are eased out of the country.
So, on the basis of your morale boosting and training efforts so far, would you say that service delivery has improved?
I can tell you that in the beginning all ministers signed a performance contract with the President and the contract is predicated on key performance indicators, KPIs, and for us we have kept faith and are improving. For instance one of the KPIs on the basis of which I signed the performance contract, which is also the basis on which the contract was cascaded into various levels in the ministry is the issuance of visas. First, we introduced a new visa regime that took cognisance of Mr. President’s Transformation Agenda’s requirement of attracting foreign direct investment to Nigeria. So, for the first time in the history of migration policy in Nigeria, we have a visa policy that provides for issuance of visa at point of entry. So if you are a businessman or a tourist, and for one reason or the other you are unable to get your visa to travel to Nigeria within the prescribed period, and it will stall your coming to Nigeria to invest and do business, you can fill the relevant forms, pay the relevant fees and inform the Immigration Service and you can jump into the next available flight and come to Nigeria and get your visa at the port of entry as it is done in many countries where they show a lot of interest in attracting a lot of FDIs and tourists. The target in my performance contract is 36 hours within which you are to get your visa, but today I can tell you that you can apply for the Nigerian visa and get it within 24 hours. You can apply for the Nigerian passport and get it within 24 hours. And in order to consolidate on the gains of this achievement, we are putting in place a mechanism in the Ministry whereby you can get your travel documents within specified periods after paying a corresponding fee for fast track and VIP treatment. So when that policy is eventually approved, the ease and time within which you get your travel documents will depend on the segmented fees that you have paid. For instance, if you want your visa in say five hours, 10 hours, 24 hours, seven days, you pay a corresponding fee and you get it. These are the series of attitudes that we have developed over this time which is anchored primarily on the understanding that for us to achieve results, we must uproot the status quo, we must be dynamic and pragmatic in conducting government business in order to achieve the different and better results we desire.
You talked about armed squads in the various services under your Ministry and it reminds me that on a number of occasions there have been altercations between the police and particularly men of the NSCDC. What effort is the Ministry making to ensure that these embarrassing situations do not recur?
I think that the issue of altercations between agencies of government, particularly security agencies is not a unique phenomenon with the Ministry of Interior and its services. In the recent past, there have been some differences and misunderstandings between the Army and the Air Force, the Army and the Police.
Does that make it acceptable or desirable?
No but the point I am making is that what is happening is an extension to the NSCDC because of the semblance of the functions they perform. Well it is not a desirable development that security agencies should be having differences. I think it is part of existence, that even within the family once in a while husband and wife disagree, father and son disagree undesirable as they are, they occur. Even where they do not escalate, the differences are not desirable. But the point I am trying to make is that whether we like it or not, the differences do exist and they will come up from time to time. What I have tried to do as soon as I came on board as Minister is to institutionalise the practice of inter-ministerial meetings and networking to create the necessary synergy between these vital agencies of government in ensuring security.
Have there been punitive measures to serve as deterrent?
In cases where it happened, for instance in Lagos State in the not-too-distant past, the men of the NSCDC arrested some pipeline vandals and illegal refiners of our crude oil, the same incident was reported to the Police and in the course of trying to enforce the law, the Nigeria Police and men of the NSCDC came face to face and in the course of disagreement over jurisdiction, they got physical and two of our men lost their lives. What we did was to promptly report to Mr. President and subsequently to set up a committee to unravel the reasons for the confrontation and make recommendations. And far-reaching recommendations were made, on the basis of which, we have taken further steps to enhance harmony between men of the Nigeria Police and those of NSCDC stating every clearly the legal frameworks of the jurisdiction of these vital agencies of government. So like I said before, it is something that can occur or does occur and which is being closely monitored to avoid further recurrence.
One of the major problems of governance in this country is corruption. How have you been able to address this in your system; talking about embezzlement or mismanagement of funds and any other issues that comes within that ambit?
Here in the Ministry of Interior, we have a series of safety valves-the office of SERVICOM, the anti-corruption unit that monitors transactions of government. Don’t also forget that we have the overall ombudsmen – the EFCC and ICPC that are charged with the responsibility of ensuring a corruption – free Nigeria. On our part here, I do realise that corruption is an endemic, all-pervasive phenomenon in Nigeria and many countries. This administration of Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has taken the fight against corruption frontally by strengthening the agencies of government that are chargedwith the responsibility of ensuring a corruption- free society by the holistic sensitisation of the Nigerian people on the evil of corruption. This is against the background of the realisation that corruption is more attitudinal than institutional so no matter the institutional frameworks that you put in place in fighting corruption, unless an aggressive policy towards changing the attitude toward corruption is put in place, institutional frameworks can be mere palliatives. So here we try as much as possible to live by example by ensuring that if you have files in our office you don’t have to come and see any officer before your files are attended to. If you have applications in the Ministry you don’t need to have any connection in the Ministry to have it treated. If you have any business transaction with the Ministry, at least from the level of leadership, we ensure that activities of the Ministry are carried out as transparently as we can for everybody to see. Through these series of sensitisations and the apprehension of people who have committed these infractions against the law, we provide a level of deterrence to others. I give you this example, in the recent past the Ministry and some officials have been fingered in job racketeering or scam to the level that accusations were levelled against some persons or insinuations made about some officials extorting money from people to the tune of sums ranging from 250,000 to N500,000 for a job slot, depending on the perception of the kind of employment they were looking for. We set our dragnet and in the process, the intelligence units of the various services have apprehended some people. Some of them have been paraded before the public on television, others have been charged to court and are being prosecuted, others have been jailed for five to seven years on conviction, and others have been handed over to EFCC for further trial. I also have other examples of persons working in some of the services under our purview, who by pretence extorted money from unsuspecting members of the public with the promise of giving them employment. One of our prison officials, who claimed to be a personal assistant to the Minister, whose duty actually is mail running and based in Jos has been recently apprehended and is under investigation for possible arraignment in court. Here we have zero tolerance for corruption. Where it is detected, appropriate government regulations are applied. Some involved in land scam have been dismissed. Just this morning I have approved a disciplinary procedure for some of our officers in Taraba State who extorted money from some people under the guise of providing them jobs. So the process is ongoing and it is our hope that as long as people are exposed for their corrupt practices and attitudes and dealt with within the ambit of existing regulations, that it will serve as deterrent to others.
What would you say are the major problems you have encountered in the implementation of Mr. President’s Transformation Agenda?
We have some major challenges. First of all, the services of the Ministry of Interior especially the NIS and Prisons Service inherited obsolete regulations and laws which dates as far back as 1963. These regulations are so obsolete and not in tandem with the dynamics of these systems that they do no longer meet the expectations of modernity. Generally, like any other agency or MDA we have the challenge of limited funds. As in life generally, our needs are numerous, but resources available for attaining them are limited. But of course, government operations are not just about money. What we have therefore done in the circumstance, is to prioritise our operations, apply the resources which include the human resources and expect to get the best results that we can get. A major challenge in our drive towards executing the Transformation Agenda of the President is the challenge of change; where you have entrenched interests that resist change that you must contend with; a hurdle we must necessarily cross over to achieve the change we desire in order to transform. It is one of the first obstacles that I attacked when I came in, in order to pull together to recommit ourselves to do the right things, in order to achieve the desired results. To a significant level, it has paid off. We believe that as government revenues improve, and as we try to overcome the challenge of obsolete regulations and entrenched interests, that this ministry will be able to achieve the desired results.
There would be some that you are very proud of or passionate about?
Yes indeed, the greatest challenge we face in our prisons today is that of prison congestion especially against the backdrop of our having entered into agreement of readmission and prisoners transfer. It becomes a huge challenge especially when you realise that more than 70 per cent of our prison inmates are on the awaiting trial list. The steps we have taken in that direction is first of all to digitise our surveillance system, to introduce a new hub of technology in our information management systems, to create the necessary database that will give us a correct picture of our prisons-who is there and for what reasons and for how long. While we are proposing to introduce non-custodial alternative punishments for infractions of the law, we equally try to expand our physical infrastructure to accommodate people who are already there. If you go to Awka, Ilorin, Oturkpo or Gashua, you will find that the prisons are undergoing some restructuring, rehabilitations and fresh construction. We are hoping that by the time we finish these reconstructions, and rehabilitations, a sizeable number of prisoners would have been dispersed and prison congestion will reduce. Only recently we commissioned the new prison command in Bayelsa State in conjunction with the Bayelsa State government. By the time we have an attempted jailbreak in Ahoada in Rivers State, we had slightly over 500 prisoners in a facility meant for 350 or thereabouts. Recently when I visited the Bayelsa Prisons I discovered about 300 of the Ahoada inmates who were from Bayelsa had been moved to the new facility in Bayelsa thereby making the Ahoada facility under-occupied right now.
Gradually as we continue to expand our structures and reduce custody of prisoners through alternative arrangements we will achieve further decongestion. Another project is the Passport Office in Soka which was completed by the current administration. It had been literally abandoned before now. Knowing the significance of passport issuance and of course Mr. President’s charge of minimum delay in the issuance of travel documents, resources were mobilised and today it is ready and in use. At the headquarters of NSCDC also there is a series of ongoing work. Only last month, we commissioned the Administrative Headquarters of the Corps in Soka too. In Katsina we recently commissioned the admin block and a set of classrooms of the Academy there. We also commissioned the admin block and a set of classrooms of the Conflict Management Academy in Abeokuta. So across the services, a flurry of activities is taking place to ensure that we provide the necessary physical infrastructure. By the grace of God and the determination of officers and men of the services we will get there.
What would you have to say about the recent NIS recruitment saga, especially why the services of a consultant was employed?
Well I believe at this point, all that needs to be said about the tragedy of March, 15, 2014 in which some Nigerians precisely 16 of them lost their lives to the stampede that occurred has actually been said in our presentation to the National Assembly. And I wish to state that with due respect I would reserve further comments on the incident pending the release of the findings of the Senate Committee on Interior and our further appearance before the House of Representatives committees. I want to say it is very unfortunate. The loss of lives is highly regrettable but I hope that by the time the findings of National Assembly come out in addition to other interested parties who have set up machinery for finding out what really caused the stampede that led to the deaths of Nigerians, we will be in a better position to appreciate the circumstances.
We understand why you don’t want to talk about this matter since it’s already being investigated but what message do you have for the families of the deceased as well as those who were injured?
I have said before and I want to repeat here that I am a parent, I have relations, I have friends. I have the utmost respect for the sanctity of human life. Our approach was to ensure that some Nigerian youths get employment in a very open and transparent manner, away from the past where you can only get employment if you have connections, or godfathers, unfortunately by the last lap of our preparations, it turned tragic. I sincerely commiserate with those who lost their loved ones. I sympathise with those who were injured. The National Assembly has intervened, the President has intervened and made some pronouncements and I hope sincerely that God in His infinite mercies will grant the families of these who lost their lives, the fortitude to bear the loss. As human beings when tragedies like this occur, you wish you could rewind the clock and start all over again, but unfortunately it is not within our capacity.
On a scale of one to 10, how would you score yourself and the Ministry vis-à-vis the Transformation Agenda set targets?
Let me say here that I am a student of history. I don’t think I should be a judge in my own case. I never attempt self-pontification. I don’t engage in the voyage of self-adulation. I have a contract with Mr. President and there are performance indicators enumerated in the contract and the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has the performance contract as his assessment mechanism. I can however tell you that we have in the prisons KPI on prisoner recidivism where prisoners who have been acquitted and released from prison exhibit the tendency to return to prison. There is a drastic reduction in this practice. This is so because, we established vocational and skills acquisition centres in prisons to enable inmates acquire knowledge and skills to enable them integrate more effectively into the larger society on discharge. Some of our prisoners have acquired primary and secondary School Certificates (WAEC/NECO) within the confines of the prisons. About 50 of them are undergoing various courses with the Open University; one of them graduated recently. The propensity of ex-prisoners to commit crimes in order to return to prison has drastically reduced. We just commissioned the flag house of the NIS in Kebbi State which has been completed and I just signed the certificate for them.
What would you like to be remembered for or what legacy would you like to leave behind?
I want to leave the Ministry of Interior better than I met it. By the time I leave, I want the attitude of the average worker in the Ministry to be transformed to focus on working to reposition the Ministry. I want to be remembered for transforming the Ministry. Virtually all our systems are being automated. I want to set a standard of performance and development such that any other minister coming after me cannot afford to perform below that standard.