In this exclusive interview with Desert Herald, Hon. Umar Bature, Chairman House Committee on the Interior, bares his mind on the duplication of duties in the nation’s civil service and other burning issues affecting the Interior Ministry. Excerpts:
As the Chairman House Committee on Interior, what have been your challenges so far?
Since I started as the head of this committee in October last year, I deliberately refused to issue any comment with regards to any aspect of that Ministry, until I understood what the ministry is all about. One of the things we did was to have a synergy with the senate so that we will be in the same block to have meeting point. That is why we first start with Prison reform bill, the interior Ministry is an important Ministry in any country, but in Nigeria we have a little bit politicked the Ministry, I said this for two reasons. In most country the police and the customs are under the interior Ministry, but in Nigerian we have the Police Affairs Ministry and the Custom under the Ministry of Finance. I have nothing wrong with professional separation, but the coordination aspect of it all, that should be done by the interior Ministry. Armaments are shipped into Nigeria Customs don’t report to interior Ministry because they are not under the Ministry, yes I agree they can take customs to finance for the Monetary aspect of it, but the operational aspect of Customs should be under the interior so that everybody in Custom should be monitored by the interior Ministry. Most agencies under the interior Ministry are having overlapping role, however I don’t have a problem with them dealing with their Profession independently, and I think we are going to look into where they are overlapping. We have started with the prisons because that is the major areas where we really need this reform. As you heard some of these prisons were even established as way back as 1904. So some have stayed about one hundred and ten years it shows that many of these prisons have been over stretched, and because of the current change of crime and things. There is no prison in Nigeria today that is not in the heart of towns, Kano prison, Kaduna Prison, Sokoto Prsion, Ikoyi Prisons mention them. So we need to look at them holistically, we need to bring these reforms, we need build new prisons, separate the awaiting trials, those convicted, so that you don’t have a kind of problem of people developing certain bad ideas, and even people dying. So these are the challenges that we face, and we believe there have not been adequate funding, and the new thinking is that we should be able to do something, be able to act on these issues that confront the prison system in the country in terms of the challenges.
What is your take on the proposed reforms in the Nigerian Prisons and what are your major areas of focus in the sector?
I say it is going to total, if you listen to what the resource persons said in the last public hearing perhaps what the concept of what prison should be, we aspired to change the from prison to correctional, we agree to that because if you call somebody a prisoner, his or her confidence is lost, but if you said he is going to be corrected you will see some kind of improvement. If you put the living conditions of the prison you will see that it is rot, the buildings and every other structure are no good shape. Infact if you put people there and after serving their jail term, you find out that are another thing differently which is not good to society he is coming to join in, but these are the kind of things we are looking at in reforming the prison.
Don’t you think this is what accounts for lack of reformation of culprits after serving their jail term?
Absolutely, you see prison is meant to be correctional, where people are corrected to enable them to make good their live styles, and be committed to the family and the society at large. So what we are saying is that by the time you go to prison and come out you supposed to be a better person. That is why we are looking community services, you will be able to serve and people will know that you are doing this service, or even be a labourer, a court clerk.
How is your committee addressing the issue of illegal immigration as result of porous borders?
Just like I told you earlier, if we finish with the prison, we are going to look into immigration; immigration has to do with the entry and exit of Nigeria. Don’t forget that Nigeria is part of the ECOWAS protocol that allows free movement of people but that does not we shall allow anybody to come into Nigeria without proper immigration qualifications. Overtime is still the same Nigerian matter, lack of proper funding, lack of adequate training, and then we have sat down there and think they are going to perform magic, and then we are not going to have change then. Now you have the new e-passport, new passport, how do you now correspond that to the training and exposure of our immigration officials?, the embassies should be manned by our immigration officials, it is their role, not the role of the embassies to that. That is we are now saying they must improve and am happy the president has listened and have shown a lot support in term of building new borders because we have borders that have no light and how do you work in such areas, for examples their borders in areas like Maiduguri and other parts of the country that don’t have light.
In the light of this how do you carry out your functions effectively?
Well they are doing their best because they are Nigerians, but I believe you Journalist are they ones that will bring out these things to the eyes of the people so that the government can look into them. At least these cases in the border account for why people come to the country without control.
There has been this kind of issue of expatriate quota and the business permits given to foreigners who come here to do business and sometimes most of them who are here to do business don’t have genuine permits. Is your committee also looking into this?
There is a misconception, immigration, don’t issue expatriate quota, they only implement; it is in the hands of the ministry of Interior, they company approached interior for expatriate quota and the interior Ministry approved the number and what the immigration will only do is to ensure that the number is not exceeded and then National investment council then ask investors to come to Nigeria and invest and they will allocate a certain quota to them. What they only do is to notify the immigration; they said okay this is a member of this and that, so the abuse comes in when the immigration people lie to increase or abuse, but actually they don’t approve expatriate quota it is solely in the hands of the investment Promotion council.
How do you justify the functions of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) since its inception?
The civil defence I have an idea of what they do there, why because I believe we have duplication of roles, recently I was in Switzerland attending of International Civil Defence Organisation and I discovered that a lot of countries, the fire service, emergency agency and the civil defence are in one unit, because the role of the civil defence is to rescue and fire fighting. In Nigeria why don’t we have one unit where you have firefighting agency, emergency agency and civil defence and they fall under one organsiation. Let me give you an example, we have federal fire service, you go to the airport you also have fire units. You go to the Ministry they also have fire fighting units now, where they award contract themselves, however these works suppose to be done by the Federal Fire Service. If you have coordination all these suppose to be in one unit and you will see effectiveness. These are the things that happen every day that is why we believe NEMA, Fire service and Civil Defence under one body and now divide their duties and this will reduce the cost.
Sometimes Nigerians even forget that they have fire service, as sometimes when the need arises, you hear stories like there is no water, their equipment are out of shape etc. What do you think should be done?
Why because, let me give you a typical examples, all the fire engines in the ministry are pulled in one place and when they are pulled in one place, that is to divide them around Abuja networks, and go round in the ministry how many engines you can bring into the pool and if you divide Abuja into 65 sectors and how many of them can found in Abuja. There is fire unit in, in Federal Secretariat if there is fire in National Assembly for example somebody need to be called, that is because there is no coordination. But if you put these together we things we will be achieve more than achieve when not together and that will reduce the burden on the Interior Ministry.
Are there efforts by your committee to bring these offices such as NEMA, Fire Service, and Civil Defence, anything to go by?
I think this is my thinking now, why because I have seen in other countries and I want to see how we could take the idea, though it is going to be difficult, because all these agencies have laws establishing them, so the government needs to say we need to come together.
There was time when it became apparent for the NSCDC to carry arms, however many people supported including the National Assembly, do you support them carrying arms?
That is what I am saying, what I have found in Interior Ministry is just duplication of role, now civil defence you gave them particular role, which is first line, and they don’t have weapon. You see the sophistication of criminality now in Nigeria goes beyond use of baton as a weapon, I support civil defence will be the first line that should be well equipped in terms of weapons, be it guns, and other ammunitions and communications gadgets. If you look at the civil defence, they are the first line, and the police will now come in after they have taken charge as the first line, so if they do that the police don’t have much work to do. So I don’t have a problem with them having ammunitions. And I believe once you have the first line in order, the second line will be easier and also the third line.
What is your general assessment of the Civil Defence Corps?
Honestly speaking I must commend the Commandant General, I have known him, for over a period of time, and I can assure you people now have more confidence in the civil defence than in the police. They have performed enough that they to be commended.
The Interior Ministry is in charge of National Holidays, civic responsibilities and reciting of the National Pledges, however most these things are not done properly. Some Nigerians don’t even know how to recite the anthem. What do you think should be done by the interior ministry to check this?
It is not about the Interior Ministry alone, it is the commitment of you as an individual to the country, and it is your duty to know how to recite the National Pledge and National Anthem all you have to do is to understand why you are Nigeria and do it.
The issue of the National Identity Card which is being spearheaded by the National Identity Management Commission, has been on, and recently when the N30 billion was mapped out for a new National Identity card, tongues came wagging, do you see anything coming out of this project.
You see the law that establishes that organization in 2007 have made all data management in Nigeria to remain under one umbrella. That organization has done a lot of work between 2007 and now. And what they have done in the next three years the issue the called National Identification Number to all Nigerians, which will carry all your data, biometric and others. It is a number you will live and die with. So that when you go to the bank for example they don’t need to go looking for your Identity card, they will only use your number to get your identity. There two different sides of this project, the front end and the back end. The front end is things like Identity Card, Drivers License, International Passport, while the back end should be with the organization itself. Yes, initially I have same fear that you have but when I came and we scrutinize them, found that the actual N30 billion you are talking about is not once but it is spread out for 3 years. And after those three years this project will now be a commercial venture by this organization.
The issue of Community service which your committee has brought in as one of the things to be expected in the prison reforms, do you think it will work?
Why not, that is one of the areas that will be used to address the prison congestion, minor offences instead of conviction, Minor offences, should be punished through using community service and what matters is that you have been convicted and you have done your community service. We expect that in the nearby years after the expected prison reforms Nigerian prison will be more of a correctional facilities.