The plan by the Federal Government to register illegal or irregular immigrants over a six month period, after which their statuses as citizens would be regularised, as announced about a forthnight ago is ill-timed, ill-advised and unconstitutional. It should be known to the Federal Government that the citizenship of Nigeria is not granted by Presidential fiat or mere registration.
The Federal Government had directed all foreigners in the country to register with the Nigerian Immigration Service within six months under the migrant e-registration programme of the agency. President Muhammadu Buhari, who gave the directive at the inauguration of the migrant e-registration and passport application processing centre at the NIS Headquarters, Abuja, had said any alien who failed to comply would be declared an illegal migrant.
The motive for tje registration, as explained by Buhari, who was represented by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, is to aid internal monitoring and integration while enhancing national security.
“It is on this note that I am declaring a six-month amnesty period for irregular migrants already in the country to submit themselves to the Nigeria Immigration Service for the purpose of this registration which will be carried out without any payment or penalties,” the president had stated, at the event.
It is ironical that Nigeria would be considering legalising the status of illegal immigrants, at a time the country is battling a metley of security challenges. As a matter of fact, illegal immigrants have been fingered in some of the security breaches. In 2018, President Buhari was reported to have said at a meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, that killings in Nigeria were fuelled by gunmen from the Sahel region, who were trained by the late president of Libya, Muammar Gaddafi, and later found their way into Nigeria.
What manner of government confers citizenship on illegal immigrants which the government itself, has fingered as being responsible for security breaches in parts of the country? The 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, as amended, already specifies the procedure for naturalisation for those who desire citizenship of the country and conditions that must be met by the applicants, some of which are that the applicant must be of good character, show clear intention and desire to domicile in Nigeria, and ability to contribute to the economic development of Nigeria.We then ask if the immigrants have satisfied the conditions as specified. Even the ECOWAS Protocol on free movement of citizens in the member countries does not grant automatic citizenship to migrants. There are procedures that must be followed and there is nothing to show that these conditions have been met.
Why then has the government chosen to jettison those laws in favour of e-registration for the illegal immigrants? How do you confer citizenship of a nation on a people who have not sought such citizenship? What is the rationale of this policy at a time when Nigerians face all manner of harassment in Ghana, South Africa, USA and even Europe and the Middle East? These are some of the questions begging for answers.
But beyond the issue of the registration of illegal immigrants and conferment of citizenship status on them, the question of how the immigrants gain entry into the country, through our poorly manned borders remains unanswered. Nigeria, according to reports, has at least 1,400 illegal and unmanned borders. The country, in our view, should concern itself with securing its borders, not leaving them available for everyone to come in and then be granted a legal status thereafter.
Nigeria is already grappling with the challenge of exponential population growth without commensurate growth in infrastructure and services. To add this stock to the population, in our view, apart from the security challenge it poses, will double the pressure on existing infrastructure. We are of the view, therefore, that the government should discontinue this policy forthwith and send the illegal immigrants back to where ever they came from.