By Omoba Kenneth Aigbegbele
Alcaeus (c 620–580BC), Greek lyric poet once said: “Brave men are city’s strongest tower of defence.” Also, according to William Hazlitt, a British essayist (1778–1830), “The world judges men by their ability in their professions, and we judge ourselves by the same test; for it is on this that our success in life depends.” May I also be permitted to use the words of Johann Wolfgang Von Goette, a German author (1749–1832), who said: “The man, who is born with a talent which he was meant to use, finds his greatest happiness in using it.”
Indeed, CGI Muhammad Babandede is on the wings of destiny and finding happiness in doing what he has been led to do by his Creator. The 11th Comptroller-General of Immigration will continue to be a reference point, not only in Nigeria, but Africa and the globe for the monumental edifice and global acclaim he is leaving behind on the sands of time and indeed a very big pair of shoes for anyone to occupy when he will be leaving the Service. And, the nation he had served meritoriously for 36 years and some months will applaud him and his monumental achievements.
He was given birth to in Jigawa State, Nigeria, in 1963 and obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in History/Islamic Studies and also has a Master’s degree in Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice, a training that really prepared him for the journey ahead with strict disciplinary tendencies and fear of his Creator. He has traversed all the nooks and crannies of the Nigerian Immigration Service, dutifully in all cadres.
In service, he respected constituted authorities, including his colleagues and juniors and maintained a lifestyle of a leader, even when he was still a junior officer. Leadership traits have always been in him and whether group or team he finds himself, he gradually becomes the leader of the team and works as a team player, an added advantage that has given him leverage in all his undertakings.
He has attended series of Immigration courses both home and abroad and was instrumental to the establishment of the National Agency for Prohibition in Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) where he built his name as a Migration Czar before coming back to the Immigration Service heading the International Airport at Lagos; became Deputy Comptroller-General Operations and Passports, a position he attained by January 2014. He also served as ACG Passports at the Immigration Headquarters between December 2012 and January 2014. Muhammad Babandede was bestowed with a national honours award of Member of the Order of the Federal Republic (MFR).
A leader like Muhammad Babandede is not arrived at easily. His ability to make every team member feel valued and belong is a rare quality. He has been the driving force of the Nigerian Immigration success. Truly, he is one-of-a-kind, even though it is tough to say farewell and good bye, but the guidance and support over the years enjoyed by officers and men of the Service will live in their memory even after they exit the Service, this has left an indelible mark in their hearts. As it is said, Sir, “you came, you saw and conquered.”
CG Babandede is, no doubt, a dogged personality, a no nonsense officer that is not scared of fighting against impartiality. He is such a man of honour and integrity, an intelligent officer who knows his onions. In fact, there is nobody that fits or can outdo him since his appointment as CGI as his achievements are not a surprise to most Nigerians who had already known him in his hey days at NAPTIP.
Immediately he took over the mantle of leadership as the Immigration boss, the new Migration management scholar went straight to work by internally enacting laws and rules that would take care of the welfare of the officers, rank and file, upgraded most of the training schools for enhanced manpower and training; increased staff morale and high esprit-de-corps, enhance discipline, promotions of staff that had challenges from one level to another. He, as well, built Nigerian Immigration Barracks within the country, built Command structures with social amenities; built Fire Service Command at the Headquarters; graduated a lot of officers and men from Migration Management like never before from the Immigration Command and Staff College (ICSC) Sokoto. A champion and advocate of the “Ease of Doing Business” and the NIS under him has resolved to champion timely cost, effective and efficient services to the various publics so as to safeguard national interest at all times in the course of discharging the NIS statutory duties.
In a bid to enhance border patrol, the NIS, under Babandede, is checking irregular migration and as well enhancing coordination of operational activities along the border states with state-of-the-art gadgets and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) equipment among the various border patrol bases to check border crimes and trans-borders irregular movement.
The NIS is saddled with the uphill task and responsibility of control of entry and exit of migrants in Nigeria through administration of entry of visa regime, arrival and departure procedures at ports of entry and patrol of the borders. All these are done more efficiently and effectively like never before in the annals of history due to the training and retraining of staff and the use of technology at the various border posts to check these anomalies, the CGI has made collaborating and partnership with traditional institutions a must so as to tackle border security and gather intelligence on the movement of foreigners in and outside the communities across the country and it has assisted in reducing the menace of these migrants.
To say you are irreplaceable is an understatement. Your leadership has been so important to the professional development of the NIS staff. Your attitude and leadership have made this NIS an incredible place to work and it has been a pleasure learning and growing under the watch of Babandede who has put his country first than self. Little wonder, there is a clarion call by all that he should continue and consolidate on his achievements and some are saying he should stay till the present administration leaves in 2023. The NIS, under the 11th CGI has embarked on robust technological upgrade, inter-agency and international synergy, capacity building and improved interfaces with all strategic stakeholders, especially members of the border communities to enhance border security and improved service delivery.
He has also enhanced services, performance measurement and accountability resulting in effective border security management reducing of Trafficking in Persons (TIP) and Smuggling of Migrants (SOM), administration and issuance of passports and other travel documents to meet International standards to especially the Nigerian public and has also developed people-oriented policies, projects and implementation of reforms never before seen in its history that have reduced physical distance and travel time to get services in hours of operation and reducing waiting time for the services rendered by the NIS.
He has instituted the Anti-Corruption Department to end the excesses of touts and passport racketeering and made sure there are no wastages in processing of passports, documents and others.
On January 15, 2019, Nigeria’s number one citizen, President Muhammadu Buhari was issued with a passport with 10 years validity, signaling the official take-off of the signature project for the Babandede led NIS management. In particular, the launch of the National Border Management Strategy 2019–2023 emerged as the game-changer as highlighted by analysts and critics alike, who critically reviewed the annual performances of NIS and gave them an excellent mark during the period in question. The introduction of the National Border Management Strategy (2019–2023) was a major booster in securing our borders and frontiers from criminality in transforming the nation’s traditional observation border methods thereby enhancing modern e-border technologies for improved surveillance and monitoring structures in line with development across the world.
The launch of the Technology Building, one of the most outspoken and world-acclaimed technological centre pioneered by the Babandede administration is indeed a building to behold and a technological ‘risk’ worth taking by the large heart of the CGI who loves taking risks in order to make not only he Immigration great but the country greater as the glory goes to the country instead of him. The development is significant because it is the age of technological advancement and ICT and the NIS under Babandede took the bold initiative to drive this technology, while having all other military and para-military organizations in our search for an enduring peace, unity and security of our nation.
This is indeed a quantum and monumental leap in border management as the circulation of pictures/ photographs of potential troublemakers lead to their arrest at the point of entry and entry denials. But with the digital imaging and its accessories of finger print, retina like scan and voice print and identity disguise will be nearly impossible in the country as having data bank and data processing centre provides access to information at the touch of a button.
This makes it possible to monitor all entries and exits at our borders and have real time information on call immigrants. This development will indeed have a great impact in our security architecture. The technology building complex is a national command and control centre for all data coming from border management outposts, be it satellite, earth connecting stations and unmanned space vehicles. The centre receives and gives out still and motion pictures and audio signals in real time, coordinating seamlessly movements within the borders. It is worth mentioning also that the Migration Information and Data Analysis System (MIDAS) enabled the agency to coordinate movement of persons at the four airport borders and upload information on missing and stolen passport to the INTERPOL database.
The launching of the world edifice is indeed monumental, as it is a pat on the shoulder of the NIS for an excellent job well done and the launching of the Nigerian Immigration Service on the world stage is a thing unheard of in the annals of history of NIS. This has been done and achieved single-handedly by no other person but Muhammad Babandede which was commissioned by the President on the 4th of March 2021 at Sauka, Abuja respectively. The unveiling indeed provides a unique platform for security agencies in the country to truly synergize and harmonize efforts under one roof to frontally address and confront various national security concerns using the instrumentality of Information and Communication Technology.
Accordingly, with this latest world technology, the days of transnational criminal activities will be nipped in the bud. As the NIS has by this feat evolved into a world class migration management agency of the first order and will continue to play its pivotal role in the security and economic development of the country. For, according to the CGI Babandede: “This Technology Building could not have come at a better time than now as it has placed the service in a vantage position to confront the criminal activities of terrorists, migrants, smugglers/human traffickers and other transnational criminal elements who may want to use, or route their nefarious activities through, our international borders.”
Consequently, with the construction of this Technology Building; construction of 17 new Command Office Complexes, 37 Divisional Offices, Transit Camps at the Borders, 14 forward operations bases, an ultra-modern Auditorium in the headquarters and Command and Staff College in Sokoto and a whole lot of others too numerous to mention, the NIS under Babandede has indeed written their name in gold and on the footprints of sands for generations to come.
As a result of these legacies and milestones, the 11th CGI of NIS was bestowed by the Guild of Civil Societies and Media Executives for Equity, Justice and Transparency (GOCMEJ) with “The Most Outstanding and Distinguished Comptroller General of the Decade” award on Mohammed Babandede. Also, the award of “The Most Reformed Agency” was bestowed on him by the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC), for the Ease of Doing Business Agency in Nigeria.
There comes a time and a point in everyone’s illustrious career where you must choose between comfort and growth, between clarion calls from staff and stakeholders to consolidate on achievements. Although it saddens Nigerians due to the rapid development turnaround, repositioning and rebranding of the entire NIS, we are excited for the road ahead, Sir. Also, I’m happy about your new challenges ahead, your absence will certainly be felt, your leadership and guidance have been invaluable, you have been a mentor to so many of us here, and it’s truly appreciated. It will not be the same around without you. We wish we could continue to work together in the NIS family. But we are rest assured that there are more goals for you to accomplish, Sir.
CGI Babandede, Sir, as you bid farewell and thank President Muhammad Buhari for giving you all the support to achieve this feat and the Honourable Minister of Interior for his continued advice monitoring and supervising of the NIS and to also thank all the stakeholders from Project Implementation Steering Committee comprising NITDA, ONSA, DSS, NPF, NIMC, Galaxy Backbone, Julius Berger, Artec Practice Ltd, the UN Agency for Migration, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) for galvanizing support globally for NIS, the European Union (EU), governments of Switzerland, Japan, Germany and Denmark for their unflinching support, our gratitude also goes to the United Kingdom for ongoing support for Mobile MIDAS.
We thank you, Sir, for your guidance and support over the years. The knowledge you have passed and impacted unto me and the entire NIS has been so important in my career development. So, let me on behalf of Nigerians, this administration, raise my glass and toast to you. Best of luck in your future endeavours and cheers!
Omoba Kenneth Aigbegbele is of Citizens Watch Advocacy Initiative (CWAI) & President, Guild of Civil Societies and Media Executives for Equity, Justice & Transparency (GOCMEJ).