Without a major shake-up in some government establishments, the anti-corruption fight of the Buhari administration may never make the required impact. Three years after the commencement of the Treasury Single Account(TSA) policy, some government agencies are flagrantly carrying out illegal activities in breach of the policy. One of such agencies is the Nigerian Immigration Services (NIS), which has been described as a cesspit of corruption.
The TSA has been able to increase fiscal efficiency and curb corruption in other FG establishments, but this has not been the case with the NIS, as blatant acts of extortion and misappropriation continue unabated. It has been revealed that the NIS has not been remitting a large chunk of the funds it generates into the TSA as stipulated by the government. Instead, its operatives have devised several methods by which they extort money from citizens and expatriates alike, without putting such transactions on record.
A recent report on Sahara Reporters revealed that President Buhari has been petitioned over gross irregularities perpetrated under the current NIS comptroller-general, Muhammed Babandede. The latest petition, dated July 13, 2018, was written by some officers of the NIS under the auspices of Progress Officers. It was signed by Abdulateef Muhammed and contains allegations of massive corruption in the service. The Progress Officers accused Muhammed Babandede of condoning corruption in NIS. They also alleged that billions of dollars were being diverted by the current management.
Another accusation is that the NIS is extorting money from expatriates, charging a one-month pass with additional 300 dollars or 2000 dollars for those who require indefinite extension, which ends up in private pockets. Also, the Progress Officers revealed that NIS lacks appropriate expatriate interview system, and as such only grants one-month pass to expatriates irrespective of their purpose of visit to the country. This ensures that there is no proper record of transactions and funds generated, and it is a gross violation of the TSA policy meant to check corrupt practices within government MDAs.
Also, there is a ₦2,800 shipping charge collected by the NIS for international passports produced by foreign companies. The entire process is engulfed in opacity to ensure continuous enrichment of forces within the agency. There is also an allegation that the resident permit is printed abroad, in a firm owned by some senior NIS officials. All these funds are not remitted into the TSA, neither does the government have any record of such transactions.
Emphasizing the dangers inherent in this embezzling trend, the petitioner said; “Sir, in this era of terrorism, we believe allowing such sensitive documents to be handled by foreigners who have little or nothing to lose is a tough thing to swallow, not to talk of the fluctuation of dollars, which in fact gives room for siphoning of money because at it is, it is very difficult to determine how much the government should be expecting from such services.”
On June 29, 2018, BusinessDay reported that the NIS violated the TSA through improper implementation of the Visa on Arrival policy. Foreigners coming into the country were indiscriminately charged about $110. Although the policy has been cancelled by the Comptroller-General of the NIS, the funds generated in the process were stashed in two fictitious companies- Online Integrated Services and NewWork. The supposed tech-inclined third-party companies have no identity online, not even a functional website.
On the NIS website, the ECOWAS passport for adults aged 18 and above costs between 15,000 and 20,000 naira. However, applicants reveal that if you pay the stipulated amount, you may not get your passport in months but if you double that amount and give directly to a NIS agent, you can get the same passport in a day.
The corruption going on at NIS has not only denied the Federal government of funds that could be available for projects, it has also cast a doubt on the government’s commitment to blocking all revenue leakages.
While the media space is awash with reports of the gains associated with the TSA policy, which include reduction in corruption and increase in fiscal efficiency, these gains are being threatened by noncompliant agencies like the NIS. It is obvious that the Federal government must move to clamp down on this agency and halt its incessant undermining of the TSA.
Tomori is an Oyo State-based social commentator.