By - Tobi Idowu
President Muhammadu Buhari recently gave a directive for the registration of ‘irregular’ migrants in the country by the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS). The directive, which was conveyed by the Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, was relayed at the unveiling and commissioning of the Migrant ‘e-Registration and the Passport Data Processing Centres in Abuja on Friday, July 13.
Among other things, the reason adduced for the e-registration was to aid internal monitoring and integration while also enhancing national security. Notably, the registration process will be carried out at no cost to the migrants.
Ostensibly to make the process easy and ‘attractive’ to migrants, a generous window of six months, otherwise termed ‘amnesty period,’ has been thrown open by the Federal Government of Nigeria so migrants could willingly submit themselves to be captured in Nigeria’s database.
As well as requiring no monetary payment, all the processes involved come at no penalties to the migrants, it should be noted.
In the words of President Buhari, “ I am declaring a six-month amnesty period for irregular migrants already in the country to submit themselves to the Nigeria Immigration Service for the purpose of this registration which will be carried out without any payment or penalties.”
The government’s move has elicited different interpretation as well as questions. For one there is the issue of Illegal immigration into Nigeria which has over the years become a big issue, posing a huge security challenge. The issue is not helped by seriously porous borders, which have aided the difficulty in the fight to curb insurgency and proliferation of illicit arm. While there are 84 regular routes to the country, illegal migrants could get into Nigeria through about 1,497 other illegal migration points!
The question that is being asked is, is the registration of migrants already in the country a start of a much comprehensive process at checking the menace of influx of undocumented migrants into the country?
It is no surprise, therefore that criticisms from some observers of the Buhari’s administration have trailed the announced process. Mostly the Federal Government has been accused of scheming surreptitiously to confer Nigerian citizenship on foreigners.
The observers argue that the nature and timing of the registration are some of the pointers to the President’s clandestine motives to fill up the country with an “army of occupation” through the backdoor.
A former presidential adviser, Echefuna ’Rotimi Onyebeadi was unequivocal in faulting the premise of the planned registration.
According to a report on the same subject from Onyebeadi, a professor of Engineering Economics and Strategic Management, in a letter published on July 13, 2019 by a News Paper titled “From Ruga To E-Registration Of Immigrants: What Next?’ he accused the Buhari government of trying to “confer unsolicited and unlawful citizenship on illegal immigrants.”
He lampooned the insensitivity of Buhari’s government especially on its inability to act contrary to the widespread accusation of favouritism towards the President’s Fulani ethnic group. The professor referenced the recent outcry that greeted the shelved RUGA programme.
Onyebeadi wrote, “The outcry of Nigerians on the attempt by Buhari’s government to forcefully acquire native lands for these alien Fulani herdsmen through the ‘suspended’ RUGA is yet to die down and, now, just a few days after, as though in a relay race, this unlawful conferment of citizenship on illegal immigrants by the government through the backdoor has been brought up”.
“Why is this government hell-bent on populating the already pauperised and over- populated country with alien Fulani wanderers? Why does Buhari want to confer citizenship through the backdoor on aliens under whatever guise, to the detriment of Nigerian citizens? Are these not the same people the Buhari government is creating RUGA for?”
Continuing, the don argued: “There are existing laws guiding naturalisation of foreigners which, again, this government is trying to jettison as usual with impunity and reckless abandon with the introduction of this obnoxious e-registration of illegal immigrants to the unsuspecting public.
“Documenting illegal immigrants should necessarily lead to returning them to where they came from. But, no, the Buhari government is determined to implement a certain unconstitutional hidden agenda that is gradually unfolding everyday by his government’s actions, inactions and responses, which are averse to the well being of the country.”
For Kayode Ajulo, a legal luminary, even while he has no issues with the idea, questions need to be asked of Nigerian immigration officers who had allowed illegal immigrants to penetrate Nigeria unchecked through northern borders. He offered that that kind of act raises suspicion.
“It appears that there is a type of conspiracy against Nigeria when it comes to the influx of illegal immigrants. For instance, go to most of the borders in the southern parts of Nigeria, they are properly manned by customs and immigration officers,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sunday James, NIS spokesman and a Deputy Comptroller of Immigration (DCI), denied any hidden agenda behind the process. He accused government’s critics of mischievously adding an ethnic hue to the process in order to misconstrue it.
Arguing that there is a difference between illegal and irregular migrants, James informed newsmen that “It is not illegal migrants; it is irregular migrants across the country we are registering. What we are doing now is to register every non-Nigerian.”
“People are trying to misconstrue this directive by Mr. President. People should stop giving ethnic colouration to good plans by government. It is good for Nigeria. At least, it would help in our security situation, governance and planning,” he added.
But the issue at hand goes beyond registration of migrants, according to Yinka Odumakin, the spokesman of Afenifere, a Yoruba socio-cultural group. The major issue is the continuous shielding of suspected criminals by the Federal government.
“The registration of migrants will not force the government to enforce the law against criminal herdsmen/terrorists, which the government is not doing at the moment. The exercise cannot make the government to stop acting as the media office of Miyetti Allah. There is no level of registration that will make Nigeria a safe place if the government is not run to protect all citizens as against special interests,” he offered.
It ought to be stated, however, that the documentation of all persons residing in the country is a much needed process. It aids government’s plans and policies. However, Buhari’s government must do more to win over the trust of the people, especially on its policies. Unfortunately, it appears government, via curious actions and obscure pronouncements, is not so keen on gaining people’s confidence.
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