By Ileowo Kikiowo
President Muhammadu Buhari took over the leadership of a broke and nearly bankrupt country five years ago. Since then, there is no gain saying that different sectors of the economy that were moribund at the time have now been revitalized.
When he took over power five years ago, Nigeria was in a recession. Government was borrowing to pay workers salary; industrial actions from different labour unions, particularly in the health, education and energy sectors were a monthly occurrence. Foreign debt was humongous, and Nigeria’s main stay and earner of foreign exchange – crude oil – was being stolen at an alarming rate.
However, President Buhari arrested the decay. He began by laying the foundation for a working and prosperous economy. This culminated in Nigerians rewarding him with a second term for a job well done. Shortly had he begun the second term that he put together a formidable team to drive his vision which he campaigned on namely; Security, Economic Rejuvenation, and Anticorruption or what can be termed Transparency.
On internal security, the president, in his wisdom, created the Ministry of Police Affairs out of the Interior, and placed Ogbeni Rauf Adesoji Aregbesola in charge of other critical areas of internal security which the Interior Ministry oversees. Ogbeni, as fondly called by many, is a man whom many have come to love and others love to hate. He had previously served excellently well as the governor of the State of Osun, the state of the virtuous, which was adjudged one of the most peaceful states in Nigeria whilst he held sway.
Since resuming as the Minister of Interior 12 months ago, the minister carrying President Buhari’s vision of SET – Security, Economic Rejuvenation and Transparency – set out to work on revamping the entire internal security architecture strategically placed under his supervision for efficient service delivery.
He started by paying an inspection visit to all the agencies under his supervision. They include; Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) which had just been reformed from the old Nigerian Prison Service, Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Federal Fire Service (FFS), Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), and the Civil Defence, Corrections, Fire and Immigration Services Board (CDCFIB). Though some people assume that the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) was under the supervision of the minister, but that is not the case. Many innocently confuse this because President Buhari entrusted the task of leading a committee on Citizen Data Management and Harmonization in the hands of the Minister of Interior. The committee has since completed its work and submitted far-reaching recommendations to the President.
So what then has Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola been doing at the Ministry of Interior? In the next few paragraphs, I will highlight some of the things he has been able to achieve in the past year.
At the Nigerian Correctional Service, for the first time since forever, there was a wholesale Custodial Centre Decongestion. No doubt, this is one of the most remarkable achievements of the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration during this second term. Past administrations had tried to decongest the Custodial Centers but could not. In all, above 5,000 inmates (don’t forget, they are no longer called prisoners), have been released from the system. This was made possible by the pardon and amnesty graciously approved by President Buhari. The process is ongoing and many more who meet certain stringent criteria will benefit from the programme. All of these are being done in a way to avoid recidivism whilst ensuring the lives and properties of Nigerian citizens are secured and national security not jeopardised.
Modalities are being put in place to operationalize the parole system, so that first time minor offenders or others who have no reason to be incarcerated can serve their terms at home or other designated places. Furthermore, three nos 3,000 capacity each custodial centers are currently under construction in three geopolitical zones of the country to avoid overcrowding in some facilities that are stressed. Construction for another three nos 3,000 capacity each custodial centers in the remaining three geopolitical zones should commence in the next budget circle if all things go as planned.
Also, of note are the reforms being carried out in the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS). Recall early this year, the United States Government placed restrictions on some classes of Visas for Nigerians over issues that border on National Security. However, in response to that, the Nigerian Government has now launched the Migration Information Data Analysis System (MIDAS) in the five international airports of the country. Likewise, over 136,000 stolen passports information has been uploaded on the Interpol I-24/7 platform. Before now, the NIS had no ability to upload directly to the system.
Also, the agency now has eyes on the official Nigerian Borders by adopting digital technology to monitor them. Fourteen Forward Operations Bases has been activated and late last year, Ogbeni Aregbesola, on behalf of the government signed a contract with a technology firm to upgrade the country’s capacity for monitoring the entire border stretch of the country in real time. The contractual engagement will develop a robust e-land border management system that will deal with close to half of our border surveillance and management system.
This is not to say there were no challenges on ground when Ogbeni took over the mantle of leadership in the ministry. Hey, even some of the challenges still subsist, but the administration is doing its best to surmount them. A good example here is the scarcity of passport at some select immigration offices in Nigeria and outside the country. Good news is, the challenge has been taken head-on by the administration and it will be resolved. The solution among other things will include the removal of human contact as much as possible in the passport process from application to collection. Third party data capturing centers are currently being set-up and customers can opt for their passport to be delivered to their doorstep. This is achievable and will be done.
The Federal Fire Service in five months after the minister took over, responded to 2,615 Fire Calls, saving 726 lives and assets worth N1.629 Trillion across the country. A Fire Service is as good as the fire engines and fighters it possesses. Therefore, the administration of President Buhari graciously approved for the Service, the purchase of around 100 ultramodern firefighting trucks and engines. The last time any equipment was procured was sometime in 1996. The equipment in the inventory before the advent of the administration of President Buhari were those procured between 1985 and 1996, and since then there was no procurement. It will also interest you to note that 2,200 fire fighters have been employed, trained, commissioned and deployed into service. For the first time in Nigeria’s history, Federal Fire Service stations and presence now exist in every state of the federation.
The Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps continue to blaze the trail by providing security for critical national infrastructure. Thanks to the service of brave men and officers in the Agro Rangers Unit, food production from the North which witnessed perennial herder/farmers clashes in the past has improved considerably as they continue to provide security for farmers and herders.
Of interest to President Buhari is citizen dignity and integrity. To actualize this, a new unit called the Citizen’s Integrity Unit was established. They oversee and nip in the bud, the perennial cases of rape, extortion and dehumanizing treatment Nigerian citizens are subjected to.
At the main ministry, Ogbeni’s Midas touch can also be felt. The expatriate quota application system has been fully digitized. Furthermore, Nigerians will soon be able to access the Federal Marriage registry in all the local governments in Nigeria and also some certified private and religious organizations will be accredited as prescribed by the Marriage Act to conduct statutory marriages that will be acceptable by all embassies and foreign organizations.
August 21st, 2020 marked exactly 12 months since President Muhammadu Buhari graciously deployed Ogbeni Aregbesola to the ministry. If he continues these giant strides in ministry, in no distant time, the entire services and agencies under his supervision will be highly efficient and effective in service and public goods delivery.
It was President Barrack Obama that said in 2009 during his visit to Ghana that “Africa doesn’t need strong men; it needs strong institutions”. However, I dare say as much as we need strong institutions, we also need strong men, men of courage, vision and vigour like Ogbeni Rauf Adesoji Aregbesola to continue to drive policies and agenda for strong institutions being built by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Kikiowo Ileowo is a Technical Assistant to the Minister of Interior.