The Minister of Interior, Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo recently launched the much-anticipated International Passport Automation system during a recent review of facilities of the Nigeria Immigration Service facilities in Abuja on January 8, 2024.
It significantly reduces the human interface that creates hurdles in the passport application process and guarantees the security of passports.
Towards its implementation NIS has deployed document verification personnel across all local government areas in the country to improve document verification.
Of the minister, it can be said: the trend continues. The trend of ground-breaking performances, that is.
At a recent dinner at the Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu ABAT Media Centre, Babatunde Alao, the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to the Minister of Interior, remarked on how well his principal, Dr Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, had done since his appointment. The young man deserved every encomium that was poured on him, because he has not stopped breaking new grounds.
He started with frontally taming the demon in the passport office that made frustration with issuance of passports one of the reasons citizens made a habit of regretting their Nigerian nationality.
An analyst was so impressed by his performance, within only a few months of his appointment that he put him in the pantheon of “high performers – persons with clear visions, tall ambitions and the capacity to deliver to the expectation of the public – elected or appointed to Nigeria’s public sphere.”
However, there is a very significant difference in the resonance of his accomplishments and those of his predecessors-in-greatness. The latter are associated with concrete structures – such as universities, radio and television broadcast stations, stadiums and skyscrapers and initiation of programmes spanning socio-economic strata.
Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo doesn’t need such structures to claim his membership of the club of high performers. All he has needed is the courage to change the mindsets of bureaucrats in his assigned ministry; to change their negative ways to respond to the needs of the people with more civilized, more transparent and more timely service.
His latest breakthrough is in the area of application automation to the Nigerian passport issuance process. He has set January 8 for its commencement. He gave details of the automation project while inspecting facilities of the Nigeria Immigration Service in Abuja, alongside the Comptroller General of the Service, Wura-Ola Adepoju, on Monday. He said the development implies that Nigerians will be able to apply and complete their passport application process online –without human contact. Evidence that he isn’t just seeking publicity is to be found in the philosophy that underpins his actions.
On automation, the training for which started on January 8, he says the demonstration of the solution will be “live and direct for Nigerians to have a good feel, a sweet experience based on the Renewed Hope of Mr. President.” He continues: “We have been able to reduce human contact in passport acquisition to the minimum.”
Perhaps the most telling of his policy change is the reversal of the many man-made encumbrances regarding change of passport data by Nigerians, especially married women. He calls this a “stupid practice”.
In his words, “There is one stupid thing I have seen and it is that a woman gets married, changes her name and then she has to come to Abuja all the way from, say, Kaura Namoda or Enugu just to come and effect a change of name in her passport. It is absurd. I can’t just figure out why, when you want to change just your name, you have to be in Abuja. I have asked the immigration people, is it that immigration people in Abuja have more than one head than those in the states?” he asks.
Meanwhile, he is also doing what you are not likely to find with most other MDAs — he has announced plans for a forum to unveil the agenda of the ministry for 2024, which will be rich on knowledge transfer and training of officers on passport issues.
It’s down to the work ethics that he subscribes to. He says: “Any day I think I no longer have the zeal, I will do what honest people do – I will go, because Nigeria, as a country, does not deserve 99.9 percent. It deserves 100 percent from us. That is what public service demands”.
Training has started and, on January 8, the demonstration will be presented “live and direct for Nigerians to have a good feel, a sweet experience based on the Renewed Hope of Mr. President.”
On the ministry’s strides so far, he says with a well-merited feeling of satisfaction: “We have been able to reduce human contact in passport acquisition to the minimum.” This enabled the clearance of a 200,00 passport backlogs within three weeks.
Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo has, by his sterling performance so far in such a short time, demonstrated that leadership is not all about building structures named after initiator; it can also entail the ability to change outlandish policies and procedures and outlawing practices that offend public sensibilities and not at par with global best practices.
To assure the public that he still has more spectacular actions on his sleeve, he insists that, despite the popularity that his action on passport issues has earned him, they remain the least of the magnitude of challenges in one of the most strategic ministries.
Under his watch, new firefighting trucks were commissioned, which significantly improved the quality of the work of the Federal Fire Service, leading to considerably shorter response time.
The Ministry ensured decongestion of the nation’s correctional centres by paying off N585 million fines for a number of inmates.
Helped by his IT background, the minister initiated a system for the harmonization of the country’s identity data.
He actively coordinated with international communities and multinational companies to enhance internal security.
He has inspired an ongoing review of the country’s visa policy to reflect the principles of reciprocity.
He has committed to the provision of Pension Trust Fund for paramilitary personnel; as well as ensured an improvement of their salaries and welfare packages. As a result, over 32,000 personnel of agencies under the ministry — NIS, NCoS, FFS, and NSCDC – have been promoted.
Soon, he’ll turn attention to securing the nation’s borders. for the country. The bright prospects in sight are Nigeria borders secured enough to curtail illegal migrations; halt cross-border movement of small, yet lethal weapons and more effective coordination with Nigeria Customs Service and security agencies to curtail smuggling and organized crimes. He has also passed the test of gender-sensitivity in policy and programmes.
All of which suggests that Nigeria’s developmental challenges – however hydra-headed and multifarious — are not insoluble. What is required, which Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo has exemplified at the Ministry of Interior, is focused, responsible, responsive and proactive leadership.