• Tuesday, April 23, 2024
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For me, it is Nigeria first, Nigeria second, and Nigeria always –Tunji-Ojo, Interior Minister

Tinubu never appointed me Ondo APC leader – Tunji-Ojo

Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo strikes you as charismatic, outspoken, courageous, and visionary. He is a young Nigerian engineer, entrepreneur, philanthropist, politician, and the current minister of interior, instituting reforms in every aspect of his ministry’s constitutional mandate.

With his impressive performance at the Ministry of the Interior, many Nigerians now consider him an example of responsible leadership. Many say he has become a clear example that Nigeria can work and, indeed, work very well. He is providing solutions to critical problems bedeviling the citizenry, as evidenced by the way he has resolved the passport conundrum.

In this exclusive interview with BusinessDay’s Bashir Ibrahim Hassan, General Manager, Northern Operations, Tunji-Ojo shares insight on what has motivated his performance so far, as well as his ambitious plan for the Ministry of Interior, particularly in the areas of border security, visa policy, and the general management of internal security.

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You seem to have demystified the business of issuing passports to Nigerians. What are you doing differently?

Let me say this clearly, for me, it is Nigeria first, Nigeria second, and Nigeria always. It’s all about patriotism, it’s about knowing fully well that the essence of leadership is service, and aligned with the renewed hope agenda of the President. As I always say, we were not appointed by him to give excuses, but to perform and to deliver on the renewed hope agenda. So it was more of determination, devotion to duty; and of course, the ability to be able to energize people to deliver service; to engineer time management. We moved from a scenario of one shift to three shifts and the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) has three different teams, having different shifts at that particular point in time.

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We were able to do a needs assessment across all our passport offices to know the number of printers they have, and the number they need. It’s about being empirical, being statistical, and being data-driven in terms of your approach towards your methodology to finding solutions to problems. As an engineer, I have to be very empirical in my approach to bringing solutions, knowing full well that the era when rights are seen as privileges is gone. This is the time when a right is what they should be able to get under the atmosphere of a seamless experience.

What is your broader vision for the interior ministry?

It’s very simple. It is for the Ministry of Interior to perform its statutory role of enhancing citizenship integrity, and provision of internal security for Nigerians under the umbrella of President Bola Tinubu towards ensuring that Nigerians can sleep with their two eyes closed, and be able to provide a single point of contact for identity database system; as well as quick response period for the fire service.

Obviously, to also invest more in prevention rather than curative solutions. We have to change the mentality and try to see how we mitigate disasters, attacks, and issues rather than finding solutions when they come.

So, in essence, I want the Ministry of Interior to be very proactive, in terms of meeting up with the yearnings of Nigerians, making sure that Nigerians can sleep with their eyes closed; and of course, protecting our border space and ensuring that we have a safer country fit for all. That’s it basically.

How do you plan to achieve this broad vision of yours?

Well, as I said, it’s about patriotism. The only reason why I’m here is because I’m a Nigerian, and I am committed to the ideals of what makes us Nigerians. For me, it’s about devotion and dedication, and it’s about the ability to study, to do research, and to be able to leverage ideas, opinions, and suggestions from diverse angles.

As I always say, there is no straight bullet to the challenges that we face. It has to be a cocktail of solutions — we have to get solutions from all angles and blend them to meet the yearnings of our people.

We have critically created a work plan, implementable strategies, and methodology of approach, in terms of how to tackle all these issues one by one.

From the issue of decongestion of our Correctional Service to skill acquisition, and even enhancement of mental health of our inmates and their psychological upliftment knowing fully well that though they are in custody, it does not make them lesser beings. Their mental health is very key, and we will work to uplift them psychologically.

We will also protect our correctional centers and provide adequate facilities needed for our inmates. The fact that they are inmates does not deprive them of certain fundamental rights that they should enjoy and they should be treated as Nigerians. They are Nigerians and they have to be treated with such levels of respect that they deserve.

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Also, for the fire service, we have planned our strategy in terms of using the fire service to create hundreds of thousands of jobs through what we call the Fire Rescue and Safety Office officers that we will bring on board. This is because most of our commercial places should have these people who are first responders in case of emergency. The fire service will now be like the train the trainer so that it becomes a hub for job creation, a hub for enforcement, and a hub for adherence to compliance processes. So, we have lots of ambitious plans for the fire service.

For NIMC, NIMC has a major role to play in the harmonization of data and of course, the provision of a single point of contact. We have been able to put a place in the whole strategy, and we’re going to do that over some time with key performance indicators.

For the Nigerian Civil Defence Corps, which is meant to secure critical national assets, we have to look at how to enhance their capacity, and how to also make sure that in areas where we are losing revenue, they can make such revenue through the provision of these services. This revenue can be used to enhance the equipment and training capacity, and to l also build cross-border alliances with other countries with similar challenges in terms of critical infrastructure. We have to build alliances in terms of training, knowledge transfer, and capacity building.

We are also looking at the Border Community Development Agency being able to develop our border communities and make sure that our border communities no longer become contagious communities.

It should be communities with basic infrastructures with the ability to enhance patriotism and national loyalty. So, we have to look at how we use the Border Communities Development Agency to achieve this goal.

There are also a lot of boundary commissions with the ability to define our border.

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How do you intend to decisively confront the porousness of our border?

It is about understanding that a safe border is a safe nation. We have to first digest that with the entirety of its true meaning; knowing well that a safe border is a safe nation. We have to deploy resources, both technological and of course human resources in that regard. We have to also arrest the negative trend of border communities becoming contagious communities, because they will enhance the performance of our officers, and will also provide a lot of leverage in fighting all these.

We have to also define some of our borders across the board. We have to look at resolving issues arising from them bilaterally and find lasting solutions to some of them. A committee has been set up under the chairmanship of the Director of Joint Services Ministry of Interior.

The membership includes the Boundary Commission, Border Communities Development Agency, the Nigeria Immigration Service, the Civil Defence Corps, and the Office of Surveyor General as members. This committee has been set up to enable everyone to bring their ideas to the table which will be harmonized into a workable border control policy for Nigeria that will be able to outlive and outlast me as minister of interior.

Internal security is directly linked to the economic development and prosperity of this nation, but kidnapping, banditry, cultism, and the like are almost at their highest ever in the history of Nigeria and this is no doubt a great challenge for you. How do you deal with it?

To enhance the issue of internal security, we’re working on the strategy, methodology, and approach. But I cannot disclose them for obvious security reasons.

What motivates you to work, what makes you think the way you think and do the work that you do differently? This should inspire the younger generations.

What motivates me is my love of my nation and my love for Nigeria. I am passionate about Nigeria because I believe in the potential of this country. And I understand the fact that this is the biggest black nation on earth. Nigeria is a sleeping giant and I believe that under the Bola Tinubu presidency in the era of renewed hope, the sleeping giant will finally wake up and take its place.

You’ve spoken about the issue of prison decongestion — what should we expect in the next six months and more?

The first thing I can assure you is that the over 4,000 inmates who are incarcerated in custody due to their inability to pay their fines would have been sorted. And I want to assure you that, in the next three to four weeks, we would have gotten that behind.

Then on the issue of prison decongestion, we have to understand that it goes beyond the Ministry of Interior. The Ministry of Interior must partner with the Ministry of Justice, the legal aid counsel and state governments. So, we will look at the planning document and see how to activate those particular points to ensure that we bring our partners under one roof to be able to decide on what exactly we need to do in that regard.

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Secondly, which is within our purview, we will activate the noncustodial responsibility as embedded in the Nigerian Correctional Service Act. We will look at bringing that as a means to bringing succor to inmates out of the Correctional Service.

We still have issues with NIN, what type of NIMC do you plan to give to Nigerians in terms of quality service?

All I will tell you is that NIMC is going to be the backbone of financial inclusiveness in this nation and NIMC is going to be the foundation for the enhancement of internal security and citizenship well-being of Nigeria. You can take that to the bank.

With the work that you do, how do you link it up with national and economic development, and the reputation of the country?

First, I always tell people that the Ministry of Interior is the greatest ambassador of Nigeria whether you like it or not. Our officials are the biggest ambassadors because the first person an average foreigner sees when he’s applying for a visa is an immigration officer. The first person he sees when he gets to Nigeria is an immigration officer.

Our visa and passport policy or immigration policy has a lot to do with economic development. And of course, if there is internal security, it will encourage business and development. So, the two are directly related. Without the Ministry of Interior playing its role to an optimum level, to the best of its capacity or capability, we might not be able to attain the highest level of national development.

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What legacy would you like to leave behind, and what support do you need from Nigerians?

Well, the legacy for me is very simple. What I would want, and pray for, is to be remembered as the man who believed that government business is not nobody’s business. Government business is everybody’s business; a man who is committed to making sure that Nigerians do not see a right as a privilege. That is the most important thing to me. And I know that in tandem with the renewed hope agenda. I want to be remembered as a man who will protect the rights of Nigerians as Nigerians, and Nigerians will never see a right as a privilege, never.

In the second part, which has to do with support, we need all the support and understanding from Nigerians. The journey, as the president keeps saying, might be a bit rough at the beginning, but Nigerians should just be patient with this government, and hold on to the renewed hope.