December 11, 2023

Immigration Marriage

Feel Good With Immigration

Nigeria: Public Sector Reforms – Killing Corruption Before It Kills Nigeria

More hands need to come on deck, very urgently, to become champions of the anti-corruption struggle, if Nigeria will ever survive its on-going fiscal crisis.

After the initial experience of concern and shock at the fairly elaborate attempt to tar one of the heroines of public service in Nigeria, and the painstaking effort in seeking the truth and deconstructing much of these spurious allegations, I came to the hard realisation of how corruption has become a fairly formidable institution in Nigeria. Yet, we can ill afford the business of the country to continue as usual, as determined by different cabals, who have garnered humungous resources to destroy reform endeavours.

Corruption has been one of the biggest banes of progress in Nigeria, leading many – through the decades – to privatise public assets to the detriment of the welfare of larger sections of the populace. This phenomenon that has afflicted many actors across the private and governmental sectors of the country, has more so gathered huge traction in the dawn of the Fourth Republic, since 1999.

The cost of corruption through earlier periods till the present has seen to the massive deterioration of public services and infrastructure, large-scale immiseration and lack, taking many down the Hobbesian lane in which life has been short, nasty and brutish.

If – according to informed estimates – over $400 billion has been lost to corruption in the oil and gas sector alone since Independence, then it is easy to extrapolate that cumulatively, this must have risen to the loss of a few trillions of dollars in the federal civil service – through the years – as a result of the pernicious activities of all sorts of public officials.

Naturally, since corruption has evolved an alternative wealth and power structure, it has equally acquired the capacity to fight back those seeking to tame or control it. Yet, with the present fiscal out-turn of the country, in which governments at all levels, and especially at the federal level, are struggling to meet their obligations to citizens, it is more than high time that we kill corruption in Nigeria, or corruption will completely kill our country. Hence, the need for purposeful reforms across governments and its key institutions.

At that, those finding themselves at the driver’s seat of reforms are unique targets of the various cabals that have taken over the public system in expansive endeavours to privatise public resources and income. These cabals and the actors who run them take on reformers and wage war against them in highly attritive manners that seek to destroy their integrity and pooh-pooh their characters, while drawing huge question marks over their senses of honour and uprightness.

Awareness of such antics makes one quite unusually sensitive to the situation of Mrs Moremi Onijala, whose unusual forthrightness one has had the good fortune of observing and admiring from a distance over the past decade, and who has recently become subject to a very vicious and apparently coordinated attack in her present station. This made me seek out a private understanding of some of the allegations being levelled to render what is most certainly her good work in the Ministry of Interior, where she is currently serving, to nought.

From the poisonous brew that has been concocted by a group – naming its cohort as Femi Adewale, Jimoh Abdukarim Sule, and Ikenna Maurice – surely pseudonyms raised to mask their cowardice and real intentions – it addressed a petition to the Honourable Minister of Federal Ministry of Finance on some contrived infractions that can barely stand the torch of scrutiny.

This malicious assemblage strung together and staged a series of convoluting allegations, having suspect truth-value, as would be subsequently deconstructed. The claims range from the attribution of a single-handed creation of a department within the Ministry of Interior, which was ‘re-designed’ in the image of the accused – Mrs Onijala, and staffed with a deputy director of her choosing and rogue consultants, in order to perpetrate fraud.

Also, that the operations of the Department of Citizenship and Business that she heads in the Interior Ministry have been wilfully subjected to endless delays in the effort to stake for illicit pecuniary gains, and that the meddling of the department in the monitoring and approval of Expatriate Quota Positions (EQPs) once made the former Comptroller General of Immigrations to petition such incursions into his exclusive powers. Moreover, that the delays in the approvals of EQPs and business permits equally made Dr Jumoke Oduwole, a Special Adviser in the office the Vice President and Secretary of the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC), to query the Interior Ministry, Mrs Onijala, and her department.

First, as I perceive and understand it, in order to create a clear context for much of what would follow, it is worthy to note that the Department of Citizenship and Business (DCB) is possibly the main cash cow of the Interior Ministry, and in the past three years, since the start of the reform efforts that brought in Mrs Onijala, as set against 2018, the revenue profile of the Department has grown in significant leaps. Now comprising a three-tier structure, in the Citizenship Division of the DCB, as against the measly close to N120 million that was earned in 2018, there was a major upsurge to almost N493 million in 2019, to over N477 million in 2020, and to about N667 million in 2021.

In like manner, as against the N125 million made in 2018 in the Business Division of the Department, N643 million was made in 2019, N406 million in 2020, and almost N337 million in 2021. And from January to April alone this year, the newer Inspection division that has just started operations has made almost N43 million. These are colossal amounts of money that have never come into the government treasury – not because there were never such major revenue inflows, but due to the fact that these sums were made to rather flow into the private pockets of officials. Systems have now been put in place to block the illicit direction of these flows into the rightful place, permanently; hence the angry attacks of the reform efforts and actors that are now being witnessed – which would escalate, if not quickly contained.

Cutting to the chase of the wicked allegations that have currently been spun, it could be considered as quite cruel to claim that a Director in a Ministry could singularly create and staff what is construed as a self-serving a division – the Enforcement, Investigation and Inspection Unit – within the federal civil service. Such is an impossibility, which is only and strictly within the remit of those who are statutorily empowered to do such. The fact is that the Unit was established by the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation (HCSF), in acting upon the request of the Ministry of Interior in 2021. This was in order to implement reforms in the administration of EQPs and business permits and the licensing of places of worship, etc., which had been subject to abuse and racketeering. Prior to then, there had been many petitions of the untoward activities going on around these approvals from such bodies as the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the National Assembly.

That stated, nevertheless, much of the present complaints about the Unit and the DCB can be seen as due to the fact that many prefer the old ways of conducting government business, which enable officials to assist in facilitating fake approvals for clients and thereby profiting hugely from these at the expense of government and its revenue accruals.

And, more so, the Inspection Unit was created, endorsed and supported by stakeholders during the National Stakeholders Conferences on EQPs in April 2021 and the Conference of the Conduct of Statutory Marriage in May 2021.

It is well known that a dangerous cabal exists around the Ministry of Interior – comprising of some members who were identified and removed from the Ministry, working together with some still serving and retired personnel of the Immigration service – who have benefitted tremendously from fraudulent activities involving EQPs, business permits, etc. With the implementation of reforms around these business and fiscal instruments of government, this cabal has been relentless in sponsoring attacks on Mrs Onijala – the driver of reforms – as pushback to the regime of accountability instituted by the Unit, making things no longer business as usual, and diverting the huge funds that the country had been haemorrhaging back into legitimate coffers of government.

An associated allegation to the foregoing has been the claim that there has been a deliberate refusal to process and forward applications for business permits and EQPs until there is “robust” gratification made to facilitate things by frustrated and embittered applicants. Actually, it is the other way round as the accuser is now being accused. Its is a known fact in the Department of Citizenship and Business/Ministry of Interior that the refusal of Mrs Onijala to be bribed in order to overlook the unrelenting cache of fake documentation being brought forward in order to secure business permits and EQPs, is what has led to the distortive petition and its array of dubious allegations. Hence, corruption is fighting back, since it is no longer business as usual, and illicit income streams are being drained out.

In relation to the issuance of business permits and EQPs, as observed, there is no doubt that much of the delays encountered in the system are due to inexorable activities of crooks and corrupt people, who habitually seek to game the system through the submission of fake documentation. This couples with the untimely submission of required supportive documents and the lack of timely responses to queries to applications. One could however admit that a few technical glitches in the automated processing system, which the partner in charge, Messrs. Anchor Dataware Solutions (ADS), tries to respond to as quickly as possible is another source of delay, even if not a core issue. In addition, submitted documents for the processing of business permits and expatriate quotas are not able to be immediately authenticated because the eCitiBiz platform used does not have document-readable software for this. I agree that this is a concern that the Unit would have to look into and quickly resolve.

There is the allegation that Mrs Onijala as the Director of Citizenship and Business ‘re-designed’ the Department in her own image for pecuniary gains, that she put herself in competition with the Ministry of Interior as such, and selected her own staff with ‘stealth’, whilst employing some rogue consultants.

These – as one found out – are quite absurd allegations, as there has never been any external consultant hired to select staff for the department or to carry out the duties of civil servants in the department. Hence, the burden then becomes that of those making the allegations to supply the proof to back up their claims in this regard. It has also been revealed that the Deputy Director of the Department, Mr Adesina, said to have been brought in by Mrs Onijala from the Finance Ministry in 2021, was actually deployed to the Ministry of Interior from the Ministry of Police Affairs in 2021, and not the Ministry of Finance, where he had served much earlier until 2009.

In terms of the complaint of the former Comptroller-General of the National Immigration Service, as laid out in the petition, that the Enforcement, Investigation and Inspection Unit was eroding his exclusive powers of control over Expatriate Quota Positions, the erstwhile CG had sought anchors for this in legislation, including the Immigration Act, 2015 and the Immigration Regulations, 2017.

However, it is equally evident from the legislation appealed to, in Section 3 of the Immigration Act, and Section 12 of the Immigration Regulations, and the Ministers’ Statutory Powers and Duties (Miscellaneous Act of 1958), that citizenship integrity and internal security in the country are vested in the Minister of Interior, who is responsible for policy formulation and execution with relation to the granting of expatriate quotas in the country. The Minister is also vested with the powers to review, amend or cancel any EQP. More so, the CG of Immigrations and his office derive their authority from powers delegated to them by the Minister, hence the Minister can also order – similarly – the NIS to liaise with the Unit in carrying out his directives.

That stated, nevertheless, much of the present complaints about the Unit and the DCB can be seen as due to the fact that many prefer the old ways of conducting government business, which enable officials to assist in facilitating fake approvals for clients and thereby profiting hugely from these at the expense of government and its revenue accruals.

In reiterating an earlier point, as observed, a number of the delays experienced in the processing of EQPs, business permits and cognate licences could be associated with pressing tasks as the development of new policies and the implementation of projects, such as the National Action Plan on Statelessness. This could slow down the requirement of appending the physical signature of the DCB to each page of manually typed approval letters. In view of this, the automatic download of approval letters and business permits are close to conclusion, and this will go live this April 2022.

Moreover, it has been noted that the delays in responses from the Department has also been due to the insufficiency of power supply, which is more of a general challenge affecting the entire country. This is in addition to the shortage of staff, which became more pronounced during the high point of the COVID-19 pandemic (which fortunately has been addressed by the HCSF through the posting of staff who are currently undergoing training to carry out technical functions).

It is claimed by the naysayers that the so-called delays caused by the DCB has impacted the flow of foreign direct investments into the country negatively. However, the truth of the matter is that since resuming at the post, it has been found out that the DCB introduced some innovations – with the permission of the Minister of Interior and the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry – to enhance the workflow in the department, such as trainings on the laws undergirding the administration of expatriate quotas, business permit requirements, alongside those related to statutory marriages. Also the organogram of the department was re-designed, including the process workflow, to reduce the interface with clients, while a revised handbook on Expatriate Quota Administration in Nigeria was finalised, in addition to bringing the Guidelines on Citizenship and Statutory Marriage up to date with international best practices.

It has been emphasised that the DCB has nothing to do with the preparation of documents of applicants, even as a strict guideline has been put in place to ensure that complete and proper documentation that are genuine are the only ones accepted. And, that the technical partners to the Unit would update the software on the platform utilised in accepting applications to ensure that timelines only apply when applications are complete.

It is on record that Mrs Onijala worked with the Attorney General Federation on the Amended Legal Notices on Statutory Marriages, awaiting the approval of the president, which have conferred local governments with the authority to conduct statutory marriages, following compliance with the requirements of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. She also identified new revenue streams, including an upward review of fees on Business and Citizenship services, in line with current realities.

While it is unfortunate that a lot of the delays are attributed to the DCB, the facts remain that all applications are processed from the Briefing officers to the DCB, the PS and the HMI. Delays could possibly arise from any point in the chain. Consequently, the technology involved in processing applications is now being reviewed so that any point where fake documentation is seen and a query is raised about this to the organisation involved, the clock on that application will be paused till the appropriate document is uploaded on the platform.