By Kenneth Jukpor
Mr. Dominic Asogwa is the Controller of Immigration at Seme Border Post. In this interview with MMS Plus newspaper, he bares his mind on the recent activities of the Service at the border highlighting their exploits, challenges and proffers advice to travelers using the Seme border route. He also explains the crucial role of the Service in projecting a good image of the nation. Enjoy it:
What are your activities here at the Seme-Krake joint border post?
Our activities here are primarily to monitor the movement of persons in and out of the country. We are also here to ensure national security and know the mission of everyone coming into the country as well as those leaving. We encourage those coming into the country to bring in investments. Hence, one of our cardinal objectives is to attract Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) into the country that would create job opportunities.
Remember that Immigration is the first point of contact for anybody coming into the country. So, our relationship which people either makes or mars their perception of the country. With training and retraining embarked upon by the dynamic Comptroller-General Muhammed Babandede our officers are well placed to discharge their statutory functions in accordance to the existing rules and laws, while also observing international best practices. We don’t generate revenue here at Seme. We don’t issue facilities also. Our job is purely security to enable us have proper records of people going out and those coming into the country. We also have to ensure that criminals and terrorists don’t get into the country.
What happens to those illegal migrants who attempt to come into the country or leave the country without proper travel documents?
We don’t call them illegal migrants. We would rather call them irregular immigrants. The Immigration Service is not in a position to allow people transit through the border without travel documents. Our duty is to ensure that anybody passing through the flank is doing so with the proper documents. However, if we can establish beyond reasonable doubt that an individual is a Nigerian coming into the country, we would welcome the individual and admonish him or her to go the nearest Immigration office responsible for issuing passports to obtain passports before leaving the country again.
Recently, you met with several transporters. Can you give us an insight into what transpired in the meeting?
I invited all the transporters using this border route, about eighteen of them ranging from ABC, Chisco, Cross Country, among others. They all responded fine. I told them that security is the duty of everybody and they are strategic partners in movement of persons within this flank. You cannot talk about ensuring national security without taking such initiative to the offices of these transport companies. I invited them for us to interface on our strengths and weaknesses because I observed that at times they decide to smuggle people into the country without passports. I made them understand the position of the law and Nigerian Immigration Service as regards people travelling outside the country. It is imperative that these transport companies have to do a first interview with people coming to use their facility or vehicle. They must also make sure that they have the travel documents. Some weeks ago, I saw one of the transport companies carrying people without travelling documents and I refused their departure. They claimed ignorance and I told the Public Relations Officer to invite them so that I can educate them.
Last two years, the Comptroller General, Muhammed Babandede launched a booklet “Passport To Save Migration” which talks about what is required to get a smooth and free movement or access to any country that you intend to go to. I called them when I assumed duty in 2018 but I think we need to continue to re-orientate ourselves on what we are supposed to do.
They came in their numbers and they were happy. This is also in recognition of the number of repatriated Nigerians we are recording here. This year, in Ghana, we have recorded a sizeable number of Nigerians that have been repatriated and some of them don’t have travel documents. About 95% of them said that they organized buses and passed through irregular routes. However, we decided to call them and sensitize on the need to do the right thing. We also urged them to buckle up and address the reasons why they have not been adhering to the laid down protocols. They need to have their passengers travel with genuine travel documents in line with the approved standards.
Has there been punishment for the defaulters?
We have the consequence as enshrined in our Immigration Act of 2015. If you go against any immigration rules, you will be prosecuted accordingly. There are punishments especially for people forging passports and going without genuine travel documents. Some people might mutilate a passport and try to use it to pass a recognized border. The punishment ranges from 2 years to 10 years imprisonment depending on the offence.
The Seme-Badagry axis is a trade corridor and we have observed that there are some officers of Immigration that have constituted road blocks to extort people. What have you done to curb this menace?
As a matter of fact, some of them may be on illegal activities. The Comptroller General directed that no Immigration checkpoint should be mounted on the road. We have only two recognized checkpoints within the flank here. They are at Agbara and Gbaji. However, we also have border patrol officers that patrol the flanks and also stop vehicles interminably. We have been educating them on the need not to form a checkpoint and they have been cooperating. We have Border patrol command and Seme command but we do everything jointly because it is the same uniform. Now that we have observed this, there will be the need for us to sensitize them and curb such practices.
Recently, the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) in collaboration with Borderless Alliance, launched a handbook on ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme that will promote cross-border trade on cereals. How does this aid your activities at the border post?
My job is on human beings. Do you have your travel documents to go where you are going? Those truck drivers driving all these trucks, there is a place provided for them. The major objective of our stay at the border post is to monitor personnel. We want to know those that are going and coming into the country. You can discover who people are through their passports and checking their travel documents. It is very necessary for everyone to go out and come in with their travel documents as well as genuine passports.
However, one of the challenges that we have in the country is agencies not knowing their rightful duties. When agencies don’t understand their roles, they will just do anything they like. I am one of those that is yet to be convinced as to why Shippers’ Council should be in the border. Shippers’ Council should go to the Apapa wharf or Tin Can port. Agencies should be able to understand their roles so that they don’t duplicate functions that will make travelers to be unhappy.
How has the ultra-modern Seme-Krake joint border post enhanced your job?
It has improved my job tremendously. You can see that the border post is well structured and we have recorded increase in movement of persons because of the new edifice. Despite the challenges, it has helped us to monitor people. Previously, people make use of different places to cross from Seme into Nigeria, but now, people use the right channel. We are interacting with them to know their various missions into Nigeria.
On the issue of people using ID card in place of international passport to travel through the border, please shed more light on this and what is your advice to Nigerians?
My advice to Nigerians is to make sure that they obtain their genuine travel document before embarking on any journey outside Nigeria; otherwise, they would become illegal migrants. The genuine travel document recognized by law is the national passport or ECOWAS travel certificate that you can only use to travel within the member states. These are the veritable travel documents used within this flank.
You would be surprised to learn that some individuals would bring national ID card, voter’s card, driving license and would want to use it to travel. This is not in line with our statutory functions and that is the challenge. This is why I called the transport owners for sensitization to allow only genuine travelers pass through the border.
Sir, it seems that you were not comfortable with the plan by the Customs to close the Atlas park and others. Can you tell us the reason why you initially opposed that move?
The plan is good. I know that it has been closed. I would have closed it earlier but I didn’t have the logistics. We all agreed that the park had to be closed. What I proposed was gradual or a kind of step by step closure not an outright closure in view of the two communities that interact. There should be a process. You have to sensitize the people and the communities around because in everything you do, you have to take them into consideration.
Don’t forget that these are inhabitants, citizens with rights and people already going about their lives and businesses in the area. We can’t just clampdown on them. So, I convinced my colleagues that it had to be a gradual process and that was what we did. We are now encouraging them to use the pedestrian which was not there before and let them know that we are coming to do some things. We do not need to force them, we just have to tell them that this is government policy.
As the Vice Chairman of the Joint Border Security Agencies, would you say that there is synergy among agencies at the border in ensuring that both humans and goods do not evade proper checks?
We have Joint Security Agencies Committee for Nigerian Security Agencies working here. I am the vice chairman and the Comptroller of Seme Customs Command is the Chairman. It is imperative that we have to work together because we are working for the same government. Despite the fact that there are challenges such as the lack of knowledge of agencies on their statutory roles in border management, we still work together. It is important that agencies define their roles so that the roles do not conflict with others. There is perfect understanding among the strategic security agencies working here. We cannot make progress in the bid to protect national security if there is no synergy.