I Initiated A Lot Of Reforms In Interior Ministry – Abba Moro
Comrade Patrick Abba Moro, a grassroots politician from Benue State was the Minister of Interior in the immediate past administration of ex-President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. Born on July 3, 1958, Moro was also chairman of Okpokwu Local Government Area of Benue State between 1998 and 2006, before he contested for the ticket of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2007 Benue State Governorship race, but lost gallantly to former Governor Gabriel Suswam.
The lecturer/unionist turned politician was equally Chairman Governing Council, College of Education, Oju, Benue State between 1991 and 1993; Pro Chancellor/Chairman of the Governing Council, Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Abia State from February 10, 2008 to August 26, 2009 and Pro Chancellor/Chairman of the Governing Council of the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, Benue State, from 2009 to 2011 before his appointment as a Minister of the federal republic of Nigeria.
In this interview, Moro, a staunch, consistent and loyal founding member of the PDP, argued that his former principal, Jonathan, did a lot through the transformation agenda of his government to take Nigeria to the next level. The 1980 UNILAG graduate of political science likewise spoke extensively on his experience and achievements as the Minister of Interior, noting that he did everything possible to motivate workers that were under his watch and carried out a number of innovative reforms in the various agencies and institutions supervised by the Interior Ministry.
You served as a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the last administration. How was the experience like serving your country at that level?
I was very excited when I was appointed a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the first place. And when I was eventually assigned the portfolio of the Ministry of Interior, I was very, very enthusiastic because it was at a time when various challenges of internal security and cohesion were on the front burner of national discourse. And so, I felt that as a former teacher and somebody who has been very critical of the society as it were, given the level of our poverty, given the level of our underdevelopment that I was going to afford myself that opportunity of contributing very positively to the development and advancement of Nigeria. So, I was very, very excited. And particularly when I looked at the configuration of the Ministry of Interior as it were, I felt that that was certainly an appropriate place to start the kind of revolution, the kind of reform that I had articulated all along even as a teacher. And so, it was a very interesting experience. But I must say to you that it wasn’t an easy task because I came to a system where there was this mindset of people of government work not being anybody’s work. They look at government’s work as everybody’s work and nobody’s work. And they see participation in governance as an opportunity to partake of the eating of the national cake. As a matter of fact, when I came to the Ministry of Interior, the morale of the staff was very, very low. From operational facilities available for work down to the welfare of the staff, especially the issue of lack of promotion as at when due, especially of the parastatals, the morale of the staff generally was very, very low. But of course, I saw life always as part of my orientation as a challenge and so I felt that faced with these daunting challenges of raising the attitude and the morale of the staff was essentially a great part of the work that I had to do; part of the achievement that I had to record in the Ministry of Interior. And so, I set out to address most of these issues frontally. And I am happy to note that by my own estimation and by the estimation of keen observers of the Ministry of Interior and of the development of the country, I left the Ministry of Interior better than I saw it. We created an atmosphere of one family in the Ministry of Interior. We saw ourselves as one body, one family whose sole purpose was to contribute effectively to the development of Nigeria.
What precisely would you say were the landmark achievements you recorded as Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria under the Ministry of Interior?
Let me say that one of the first things that I did in the Ministry of Interior, first and foremost was to focus on the human component of the instrument for work in the Ministry. And that was ensuring that the welfare of staff was adequately addressed. When I came to the Ministry of Interior, one day, in the early days of my assignment, I worked round the ministry and I came to a bus, a broken down bus and I saw mattresses and beddings. And I asked what was happening? Why were we having mattresses and beddings in broken down buses? And they told me it was the home of staff of the ministry that were transferred to the Ministry who were not paid their 28 days allowance with which to settle and because they had nowhere of settling they converted the broken down vehicles as their homes. And expectedly of course, I directed that their 28 days allowance be paid to them immediately and within weeks those persons were able to get their pays and got their homes to stay. Equally, driving out of the office and into the office, I saw vehicles of other ministries, virtually brand new. And looking at vehicles of Ministry of Interior, old-fashioned vehicles and at a particular point I discovered one day that vehicles were broken down on the roads. I met one on one particular day broken down with a staff standing by for the driver to effect repairs. And so, what I did was to invite service providers of the ministry and contractors who were working with the ministry and to say hey! What is your social corporate responsibility to this Ministry? What have you been contributing? You have been working with this ministry certainly you’ve been making some profits. So, what have you given back to the ministry? The offices were in a state of disrepair; the vehicles were bad. I inherited vehicles that had lasted close to a decade in the ministry. And so, I invited their conscience and implored them to make social corporate responsibility contributions to the ministry and pronto three of the service providers volunteered to purchase buses for the use of the staff. And I can tell you today that Irish Smart Technologies that is involved in the procurement of our international passports immediately responded and contributed a 32-seater bus. The Socket Works Solutions another service provider for the ministry also contributed a 32-seater bus for the staff use and the third company, service provider was CONTEC Nigeria Limited that organization that is involved in the supply of CEPAC cards for aliens contributed a 32-seater bus. And in addition to Socket Works Solutions contributing a 32-seater bus, they also contributed 1000KVA generator for the use of the ministry. And so, I made the work of the ministry, the collective work of the ministry – the staff, the contractors, everybody got involved in ensuring that the Ministry of interior assumed the competitiveness of other ministries. And so we started wearing new looks of what a ministry should look like. And in addition to that I took bold steps to ensure that one of the teething problems of the ministry, especially of the parastatals, the lack of promotion of staff took priority over most of the things we were doing. And so, I set out to ensure that the backlog of promotion arrears that people had was rectified. As at the time I left the office in 2015, we had brought our promotions to 2014, meaning that everybody that was qualified for promotion was promoted whether it is in the Prisons, or it is in the Civil Defence Corp or it was in the Nigeria Immigration Service and the Fire service. Unfortunately though, we had handicaps in the existence of establishment vacancies. And so if there are any persons today who has not been promoted as at when due when I left office, it must be as a result of unavailability of establishment vacancies in such departments. Otherwise virtually everybody was promoted. And I can tell you with pride today that it was my time that the staff of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps got their appointments and placements regularized. You want to recall that the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps was merely a voluntary organization in the beginning. I ensured that the verification exercise that was undertaken after the legalization of the organization was dusted and published. And of course, we set up a committee immediately to implement the recommendations of the committee that carried out the verification exercise. And I am happy to inform you that today the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps can compete very favourably with any other Civil Defence organization in the world. As a matter of fact, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps is now a full-fledge member of the International Civil Defence Organization. And of course for the first time before I left office staff of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corp got their first promotion since their inception.
Sometimes ago the immediate past Comptroller General of the Immigration Service, Mr. Martin Abeshi, said you didn’t achieve anything as Minister of Interior. What do you have to say about that?
It was very laughable for somebody who was a Comptroller General of the Nigerian Immigration Services to say that I didn’t achieve anything as Minister of Interior during my tenure. First of all, let me say that it was during my tenure that he was promoted to the position of Deputy Comptroller General.
Did he (Abeshi) not deserve the promotion?
He deserved the promotion. Most of the persons that had stagnated promotions deserved promotion. But they were stagnated. Even though they were due to for promotion, promotion exercises were not forthcoming. It is on record that by the time I came to the Ministry of Interior people had stagnated on one position for upward of 14 to 16 years. And I can tell you that in the last exercise of promotion that we undertook in the Ministry of Interior we promoted somebody who had last been promoted in 1995. Where the leadership of the organization especially of the Nigerian Immigration Service didn’t like your face they will not declare vacancy for your position. These were the issues that I tried to correct. A situation where people are left behind to pay compliments to their contemporaries, who joined the services at the same time with them, certainly will lower morale. And so we tried to reposition and reform the system in such a manner that everybody that attained the requirement for promotion got promoted. We tried to redress the situation and ensure that everybody get fair treatment in the whole concept of promotion.
Besides the issue of ensuring fairness in promotion and welfare of staff, what other significant feats can you point to in your kitty as Minister of Interior?
Since the inception of the Nigeria Immigration Service whose sole responsibility was the control of entry and exit out of Nigeria and principally the issuance of international passports to Nigerians, you won’t believe that it didn’t have a Corporate Passport Office. It was when I assumed office that I completed the passport office that you know today as the passport office in Nigeria Immigration, what they call White House, an annex to the corporate office of the Nigeria Immigration Service. It is there for everybody to see. I can tell you that Nigeria Immigration Service today has two set of passports – a 32-page passport and 64-page passport. It was under my watch that (former) Mr. President Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan GCFR launched the 64-page passport. That is the first time since the life of the Nigeria Immigration Service that the booklet of the Nigerian passport was reviewed. We made it possible for people who are going to invest substantial sums of money in Nigeria to get VISA very easily to come to Nigeria by reviewing the VISA regime. And one of the highpoints of that review was the introduction of the acquisition of VISA at ports of entry. We went further to reposition the Nigerian Immigration service to effectively discharge its duty of patrolling our borders. First, we identified the number of controlled borders that we have in the country. As at the time I left office it was 84. At the same time as at the time I left office we had also identified 1, 497 irregular border entries. Before I assumed office we had eight centres for Combined Expatriate Resident Permits and Aliens Cards (CERPAC). It was discovered that this eight was grossly inadequate. I gave approval for 28 bringing the total now to about 36 covering the 36 states of Nigeria and the FCT. Certainly, this was a milestone. Before I came to office we had only 15 Nigerian Missions issuing Nigerian passports and VISAs with Immigration Officers. I introduced 23 additional centres and as I am talking to you today, Nigerian Immigration personnel are in charge of issuing Nigerian VISA and passports in 38 Nigerian missions. By the time I signed the performance agreement with Mr. President (former President Jonathan), one of the items was the issuance of VISA and passports to Nigerians and foreign investors within 24 hours. Before then it was weeks. It takes weeks for investors to get Nigeria’s VISA; weeks for Nigerians to acquire Nigerian passports. As at the time I left office, it is on record that people were acquiring Nigerian passports within 36 hours. In one of my supervisory missions, I was in Washington and a Nigerian came all the way from Florida to acquire Nigerian passport and by four O’clock of the same day that he came from Florida to acquire Nigerian passport he got his passport ready for him – less than 24 hours. And so, depending on the challenges that people faced ranging from machine malfunctioning and the rest of them before I left office you could get Nigerian passport in a day. And before then, and I’m sure a responsible Immigration officer knows too well that we bought numerous data capturing machines for the Nigerian Immigration Service for the sole purpose of passport issuance intervention that where we didn’t have immigration officers and where we noticed that there are many Nigerians especially in Asia we sent immigration officers from Nigeria here on passport issuance intervention. And it is on record. The money realized from passports and VISAs runs into billions. In 2014 alone, 986, 871 e-passports were issued to Nigerians, translating N9, 249, 483,600 generated locally, while the Nigerian Immigration desks at Nigeria’s missions abroad, where we are currently issuing e-passports generated the sum of $15, 346, 980 – this also include VISA revenue. In 2013, we generated N7, 444, 761, 250 and offshore generated $12, 176, 625 VISA revenue inclusive. And so, these are very ambitious reform initiatives that we undertook that has yielded results substantially to the development of Nigeria. Therefore, I think that it is very uncharitable commentary by anybody especially by somebody who should know to say that Abba Moro did not achieve anything as Minister of Interior. Also, as Minister of Interior, I ensured the construction of so many infrastructures in Immigration. The list is endless. Flag houses, corporate offices for immigration all over the place. We achieved all these against the backdrop of the fact that throughout my period as Minister of Interior, i never got up to 50% release of my budget. The highest I got was 48.5%. Yet, we involved external bodies to complement our efforts through the Public Private Partnership model. That is how we were able to undertake most of the projects that we did. And so, I leave my tenure in the Ministry of Interior to history to judge. But I can tell you without any fear of contradiction that I tried my hands at very many reform initiatives in line with the transformation agenda of the last administration and we recorded some achievements.
In an interaction with the House of Representatives Committee on Interior some months ago, you did say that the Nigeria Immigration Service lacked the capacity to produce passports. What exactly did you mean by that statement?
That was what the then Comptroller General of the Nigerian Immigration Service, Abeshi, perhaps took exception to. He didn’t quite like that comment and he took on him and came out to say that I didn’t achieve anything as Minister of Interior. But that is the truth. What I meant was that because there was this indication that immigration could produce passport and I said hey! How? One, for you to produce passport you must have the facilities. Immigration Service is not trained to produce passports. One, you have to be trained to produce passports. Two, you have to have the facilities – the structural facilities to produce passports. You have to have the machines to produce passports. On the instructions of (then) Mr. President Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan GCFR, we had explored the possibility of withdrawing the production of the passports from Irish Smart Technologies to hand over to a government owned institution to produce our passports. On the instruction on Mr. President then, I went to Lagos to MINT to inspect their facilities with the possibility of ceding to them the production of passports and I discovered that even MINT didn’t have the capacity. MINT had the capacity to produce the Nigerian naira. But they lacked the capacity to produce the Nigerian passport. And they so told me. They so told me. But that if the Nigerian government could procure appropriate machineries for them within six months, they could be in a position to produce passports. And I said if the Nigerian government had the money in the first place to buy the machinery to produce the passports, there wouldn’t have been the need in the first place to engage the PPP model which is contractor financed practice to produce our passports. As it is today, Nigerian government is not paying a kobo for the production of passports. The private partner produces the passports, sells the passports and shares the profit with the Nigerian government. That is what is in practice today. So, if the Nigerian MINT, for instance, that is a major Nigerian printing organization doesn’t have the capacity to produce Nigerian passports, is it the Nigerian Immigration Service that will have the capacity? They don’t have the capacity. It was not an insult. It is the plane truth.
And it was not meant to be an indictment?
It was not meant to undermine their integrity. It was not meant to indict the Nigerian Immigration Service. It was just simply putting the situation in their proper perspective. Because as at the time we were meeting with House of Reps various organisations were coming to clamour for the House of Reps to recommend that they be given the responsibility to produce passports. Producing Nigerian international passports with the security gadgets and implications and the rest of them is not a picnic. And so, I said so and I stand by it, because that is the truth because I’ve worked there; because I know it. I think that the man in charge of Immigration then, Abeshi, only misunderstood my intention and went to tell the world that I didn’t achieve anything as Minister of Interior.
There is this general impression among Nigerians that the Jonathan’s administration under which you served as a Minister performed woefully and therefore did not in any way meet the yearnings and aspirations of the people. Is this not true?
Let me tell you that many Nigerians have been very, very unfair to the last administration of Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. The last administration of Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR, was anchored on a transformation agenda. And the essence was to transform Nigeria to the next level. Is it in the area of road transportation? Yes, we may not have gone all the way. But you are aware of so many roads that were flagged off in this country. The second Niger Bridge; the Oweto Bridge with its corresponding routes; contracts awarded for the Enugu-Port Harcourt road; contracts awarded for the rehabilitation of several roads in Nigeria; contracts awarded for the redesign of the dualization of the Keffi-Makurdi-Enugu road. Look at the new looks that Nigerian airports are wearing and the construction works that are going on there now. They were not started by this administration. They were started by the last administration. Only recently, the Kaduna-Abuja railway was commissioned. You know certainly it was not started by this administration. But government is a continuity. Look at the Lagos-Kano railway; Look at the Port Harcourt- Makurdi-Maiduguri railway line. All these are efforts that were engineered towards raising Nigeria to the next level. Is it in the area of power and housing? Look at the electoral process. Throughout the last administration of Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR, we’ve never heard of any inconclusive election. We never heard that you have supplementary election here because the election was inconclusive. Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan laid a foundation for a sustainable democracy and left the Independent National Electoral Commission as independent as it could be. In the run-up to the 2015 elections, there were urgings and promptings from various sections for Goodluck Jonathan to sack Jega. There were insinuations that Jega had a hidden agenda that was targeted at ensuring that Jonathan lost the election. But what did the man do? He said no! Let him be. Let him do the election, even when he had the powers to sack Jega at that time and put any of his cronies there. But he said no! He was not going to do that. And before the last counts of the result of the election, for the first time in the history of this country, Jonathan conceded defeat, picked the phone and call General Buhari to congratulate him because Jonathan had told the people of this country that his election as the President of the country was not worth the blood of any Nigerian. And he held on to his words.