Nigeria's New Immigration Law
The Minister of Interior, Lt-Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau (retired), has launched The Immigration Regulations 2017, which is to operationalise the Immigration Act 2015. The new policy updates the structure and functions of the country’s immigration service in relation to immigration, passport, visa, resident and work permits, and smuggling of migrants by land, sea, air, etc. Highlights of the new policy include modernising migration management in response to changes arising from technology, human trafficking, terrorism, etc.
In the words of the minister, the “objective of the Immigration Regulations 2017 is to provide the legal framework for the effective implementation of the Immigration Act, 2015 and consolidate existing immigration regulations. This new document therefore replaces the outdated Immigration Act of 1963…The Immigration Act, 2015 made some profound provisions such as the establishment of migration directorate, dealing with issues bordering on smuggling of migrants and so on. I can assure you that with the Immigration Regulation 2017, NIS has been strategically positioned to combat all cases relating to transnational organised crimes.”
Without doubt, the new immigration regulation has come at a very good time. Given its size and population, Nigeria is a very important country within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). As the region’s largest economy, regardless of its many challenges, Nigeria is perceived by many as the economic hub of the region and promises to remain so as Nigeria becomes better managed. For example, the country has been in recent times a target for many herdsmen who, according to Nigeria’s security and law enforcement agents, have been responsible for killing of many Nigerian farmers in different parts of the country: Enugu, Benue, Southern Kaduna, Ondo, etc. It has also been a destination for groups engaged in cross-border human and drug trafficking, as well as movement of illegal weapons across national borders within the ECOWAS region.
We, therefore, believe that updating the Immigration Act 2015 is a right step toward enhancing peace and security in the country and in the West African region as well. However, unveiling of the regulation should not be viewed as an end. It is equally crucial for those charged with implementing the policy to remain committed to its goals by ensuring adequate funding of the programmes of the policy, especially new initiatives for migration management through divisions of regular and irregular immigration. More specifically, provision of additional well-trained staff for border control, particularly for those who access the country by land must be a priority. From recent experience, the population of those who enter the country from official and unofficial routes has grown phenomenally, to the extent that it has been possible for herdsmen to enter and exit the country with droves of cattle with or without knowledge of immigration officers.
The Ministry of Interior should seize the advantage of the new immigration policy to seek policy harmonisation within the ECOWAS region on review of the ECOWAS Protocol on Right to Free Movement of Persons, Goods, Services, and Capital in response to the dynamics of post-colonial inter and intra-regional mobility. Even though ECOWAS has not been declared a Borderless Country yet, the swell in the number of undocumented violent herdsmen from other countries in Nigeria gives the impression that West Africa is a borderless community. Such worldview or vision is dangerous to peace, law, and order in the community at large and individual countries as well. There is thus an urgent need for deployment of biometric ID cards for ECOWAS citizens that need to cross borders.
In addition, undocumented foreigners already in the country should be identified as required by the new regulation. Such persons should be prosecuted and punished, if they have violated any law of the land and be deported and marked as “Inadmissible Migrants.” On the home-front, the interior ministry ought to insist that every street in the country be named and every house be numbered and each citizen and resident in the country be given, as a matter of urgency, biometric identity cards to yield data that can facilitate modern migration management.