From the morning of the 13th of January, 2020, the Federal Government is going to commence mass arrest of undocumented foreigners all over the country with Lagos expected to record the highest number of casualties, going by the high number of such affected persons seeking daily bread in the country’s most successful commercial state.
The six-month grace for the appropriate documentation is given by the central government is going to terminate at the midnight of January 12 and Saturday Tribune was told by the supervising agency for the documentation that no extension grace was on the card.
Saturday Tribune was told by the top echelon of the service that while undocumented migrants above 18 years without evidence of proper documentation, having not participated in the ongoing registration, would be arrested after the grace period and promptly deported, Nigerians harbouring them or having them in their employment would be jailed seven years or made to pay a fine of N1 million.
Those who usually facilitate the “illegal” movement of young girls and boys from neighbouring countries into Nigeria for the purpose of linking them up with those in need of domestic servants in homes across the country, popularly known as “agents”, now stand the risk of a 10-year jail term or a fine of N1 million.
The practice of helping such migrants from countries like Benin Republic, Togo, and Mali to come into Nigeria illegally and fixing them up for a fee is very popular in Lagos and Abuja, despite the campaign mounted against it by the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP.
Speaking to Saturday Tribune on the procedure for the Migrant E-Registration exercise, spokesperson for the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Mr. Sunday James, explained that any migrant not captured on the Migrant E-Registration database by the 12th of January, 2020 would be arrested and prosecuted.
“Migrants in every state of Nigeria, including Lagos, have till the 12th of January, 2020 to comply or we go after them. There is a document containing the entire procedure and we expect that all migrants would have completed their registration before the deadline,” James said.
Saturday Tribune is also in possession of the Migrant E-Registration document which gives a detailed procedure for registration of non-Nigerians living in the country with the Lagos centre located at Alagbon, close in Ikoyi.
Going constitutional to back up the planned punishment for the Nigerian accomplices, James pointed at Section 67 subsection (1) of the Immigration Act 2015 which provide that: “Any person who intentionally or knowingly, in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or material benefit, enables a person who is not a national or permanent resident of a country to stay illegally in that country by means of a fraudulent identity document or any other illegal means; commits an offence, and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of seven years and a fine of not less than N1 million or both, and is in addition liable to refund to the smuggled person alimonies obtained from him/her in the cause of the commission of the offence.”
For those trading in the migrants through illegal employment, the sub-section (2) is for them. It stipulates that: “Any person who intentionally, in order to obtain a financial or material benefit from another person, engages in a fraudulent act or conducts purportedly for the purpose of procuring, facilitating or promoting the stay by that other person in a country of which he or she is not a national or a permanent resident, commits an offence, and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of 10 years or a fine of not less than N1 million or both, and is in addition liable to refund to the smuggled migrant alimonies obtained from him in the cause of the commission of the offence.”
Saturday Tribune first became aware of the looming deadline when a domestic servant in a household (name withheld) was frantically seeking information about the “card they said I need to come back to Lagos in the new year.” He is from the Benin Republic and possesses not a single document to connect his movement to Nigeria and establish his identity. He was notified of the registration by his equally-anxious employers who obviously want him back next year, after the annual visit, thousands like him, go to the country of their birth during the yuletide in December to return, before now, unhindered, in the new year. Despite always being in the company of his fellow countrymen in his area of residence, it appears none of them heard about it until the news got to his employers.
Findings by Saturday Tribune showed that many residents in different parts of the state from neighbouring countries like Benin Republic, Togo, Mali, Niger, and others are unaware of the ongoing registration as well as their employers who could be risking jail term welcoming them back after January 12, 2020.
That would be for those who ever get to make it back to Nigeria as the immigration service is said to have ensured that only those who are captured in the ongoing exercise would be allowed back to Nigeria either through the water or land borders, especially the latter, which are currently closed by the Nigerian government.
Those who succeed in slipping back into Nigeria, Saturday Tribune was told by a senior government official, would be tracked and prosecuted before getting deported. No monetary fine or jail term is attached to the foreigners’ migration offences by the Act setting up the NIS.
While those under 18 years may enjoy temporary relief, they too become endangered in any part of the state once they stay beyond 90 days and NAPTIP could move in for their employers for alleged child abuse and child trafficking.
When the spokesperson was asked how the cumbersome procedure of tracking offenders and arresting them would be achieved since most of their targets would either be in homes as domestic servants (Cotonou maids and young boys manning home gates) or doing menial jobs like maiguard, okada riding (for Fulani young men from neighbouring countries), he asked Saturday Tribune to leave that aspect of intelligence gathering to the service. He also responded to the possibility of migrants giving fake information.
“The process for authentication of information given by a migrant is confidential and restricted to the NIS. How we authenticate or go about authentication is our trade secret and professional approach to doing our job, part of which is the Migrant e-registration exercise ongoing nationwide.
“NIS, by the six months presidential amnesty, is carrying out sensitisation, campaigns and domesticated approach through state and local governments, royal fathers, ward heads and presidents of the unions the migrants belong to as a citizen, all in an effort to justify government’s effort not to cow anyone but to persuade them to do what is right and following right process,” James said.
Saturday Tribune, however, learned that the NIS, which has a police unit attached to it for enforcement, will be banking on tip-offs to conduct raids on homes where most of the migrants from the Benin Republic and Togo work as domestic servants. There is also the likelihood of a stop-and-search, particularly for Okada riders and young ladies suspected to be domestic servants but out on errands.
The registration is completely free, according to James, who noted that with the deadline looming, the turnout at the Lagos registration centre had been encouraging. He did not give figures.
Although James said enlightenment and advocacy had been done by the NIS, save for a young man from the Benin Republic who claimed to have concluded his registration and given a card to serve as his identification and another in the process of commencing his, nearly all illegal migrants encountered by Saturday Tribune were clueless about the exercise.
It has also been discovered that more than 90 per cent of the undocumented migrants, particularly those working as maids and security in homes, who formed the majority of such migrants, came into the country illegally, possibly through a long-running arrangement between agents/scouts who recruit them in their countries and bring them en masse to Nigeria and security agencies, Customs and Immigration, manning the country’s land borders sharing boundaries with the affected countries like Benin Republic, Togo and Mali.
The security agents at the land border at Idi-Iroko, Ogun State and at other points allegedly have a sharing formula with the agents or madams (Nigerians who place them in homes and collect their salaries from their employers on a yearly basis) on each illegal migrant allowed into the country.
In August, the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari shut all land borders to stem the tide of smuggling, though the policy has been discovered through real-time pieces of evidence to be ineffective in the core-Northern part of the country where Customs officials and policemen have been captured on video escorting smuggled rice into the country through the land border in Katsina, the home state of the president.
Despite the viral video evidence, no official statement was issued to address the alleged criminal act.
At the Sokoto State land borders too, around Ilela, motorcyclists were also captured on video moving hundreds of bags of the banned imported rice into the country. There was no definite official action on the discovery.
Smugglers too have been busy at the Idi-Iroko land border but they are always caught by the eagle-eyed men and officers of the Joint Task Force supervising the closure.