An investigation by David Hundeyin, Nigerian journalist, has revealed how Muhammad Babandede, immediate past Comptroller General of the Nigeria Immigration Service, promoted passport racketeering and northern interests during his stay in office.
According to the investigation published by West Africa Weekly, under Babandede's watch, deep-seated opacity was institutionalised at the Immigration office such that there was no transparency regarding staff pay scales, deductions and entitlements.
While the sources mention different things that Babandede could have done to protect NIS staff welfare and morale, they all have one consistent criticism of him - his alleged ethnocentric posting policy. During his tenure they say, desirable NIS postings such as NIS offices in Lagos, were given exclusively to northerners, while the southerners working there were all posted out. The Ikoyi immigration office I am told, is now staffed almost exclusively by northerners - a state of affairs that would be impossible if the roles were reversed.
Under Babandede and even in these early days of his successor Idris Jere, the sources say, many northerners in the NIS, encouraged by the prebendalist disposition of their superiors, are keen to let everyone know that it is “their turn” and they are in power. Following Idris Jere’s appointment a source claims, the next most senior Deputy Comptroller - a southerner from Lagos - who might have been next in line to succeed Jere, was promptly transferred to Sokoto. At press time, I have been unable to independently verify this.
A source quoted in the report said: “He (Babandede) tried to make some moves such as the passport express centres, but it didn’t work out because he was just there to make money before he retired. He didn’t really care about fixing any systemic issues like staff motivation or the ISTL contract. All that one was not his business.”
Another source also said: “It has now got to the point that you don’t know what will come in at the end of the month, and whatever it is that comes in - you just have to take it like that. The deductions vary every month so we don’t know how much we will take home. So tell me as a man with people depending on you, how else will you survive if not through ‘egunje’ (bribes)?”
The report also revealed that the former immigration boss introduced an ethnocentric posting policy.
Sources quoted in the report said during his tenure, desirable NIS postings such as NIS offices in Lagos, were given exclusively to northerners, while the southerners working there were all posted out.
The investigation also revealed how Abdullahi Liman, a Deputy Comptroller in charge of the Ikoyi Passport Command of the NIS, promotes "extreme racketeering" considered to be one of the major reasons behind Nigeria’s passport shortage.
Liman is also said to be running rackets within the NIS to restrict access to passport booklets in large population centres like Lagos so as to create a lucrative black market, the sources are also clear that they believe that the NIS simply does not have enough passport booklets.
Every single source has a terrible story to tell about Abdullahi Liman. Liman they say, is responsible for the northernisation of the Ikoyi Passport Command. Even worse one source tells me, under Liman’s tenure, the atmosphere at the Command has taken on explicitly polarised ethnic and religious overtones. Take this anecdote from one of the sources for example:
“You can imagine that you are in the middle of doing a capture, then all of a sudden your colleague who is also capturing will just stand up and leave his station with a crowd of people there - because he says he is going to pray. You now end up doing his work for him, can you imagine that? This did not happen before Liman came in.”
Liman they say, is in the habit of pointedly using Hausa to converse with his subordinates at work, which automatically puts every southerner working under his command at a real career disadvantage. Speaking English - or in fact any other language but Hausa - at work is now a career demerit at the Ikoyi Passport Command under Liman’s watch.
The investigation also revealed how Olayinka Sonayon Fisher, Nigerian diplomat in mid-to-late 1970s, indicted for cocaine trafficking, became an integral part of IRIS Smart Technologies Limited (ISTL), the company handling the issuance of Nigeria's e-passport.
The report, citing U.S. court records, showed that Fisher allegedly used to be part of an intercontinental cocaine smuggling ring.
The court documents also showed how he used his diplomatic immunity at the time to traffic shipments of cocaine into the U.S. on their behalf.
It revealed that in spite of the allegations against him, he signed the Nigeria's e-passport contract for ISTL under President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003 due to the country's failed system.
ISTL is affiliated with Malaysia’s Iris Corp, which carries out the actual security printing services including the supply of e-passport booklets.
Meanwhile, the Malaysian company subcontracted by ISTL to print the booklets, has found itself facing corruption probes by Malaysian authorities over its activities in other African e-passport jurisdictions such as Guinea.