By Hillary Asemota
The Save Nigeria Movement (SNG) a Civil Society Organization (CSO), has said the eligibility conditions and process for granting permanent residency status or Nigerian citizenship to a foreigner could only be reviewed through a constitution amendment by the National Assembly (NASS).
At the twilight of exiting office over the weekend, the immediate past Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, at the conferment of Nigerian citizenship to 385 foreigners in Abuja, urged the National Assembly and other relevant institutions to consider the adoption of the Brown Card as foreigners wishing to obtain Nigerian citizenship a priority.
He said: “We ought to have easier pathways to citizenship for foreigners than currently obtains.” He said.
The CSO in a statement issued signed by the Convener, Reverend Solomon Semaka, in Abuja on Thursday was reacting to reports that the Federal Government of Nigeria had introduced a Brown Card as a document that confers permanent residency status and citizenship on foreigners.
Part of the reasons adduced by the immediate past Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Oregbesola for introducing the Brown card is to shorten the 15-year waiting period for foreigners as eligibility criterion for being granted citizenship to five years as is the case in countries like the United States of America.
Reacting to this, Semaka said, “The Minister of interior acknowledged that only a constitution amendment could change the eligibility criteria for gaining Nigerian citizenship in speech delivered during the conferment of citizenship on foreigners on May 27.
“So any pronouncement to this effect that does not accommodate constitution amendment is only a wish.”
Meanwhile, the group has also said that statement deploying a parallel programme that competes with existing ones would worsen the already fragile security situation and the safety of the nation against foreign nationals who come into the country with ulterior motives that undermine the country’s security system.
“Introducing the brown card is tantamount to introducing a parallel platform for escapee defaulters in the payment for existing programmes.
“Our investigations have shown that unscrupulous agents have already started calling expatriates in their data base to pay as much USD 5,000 with the promise that they could grant them residency and citizenship application waivers in the guise of Brown Card, even when the process to its introduction is still a long way to go.
“This is the sign of things to come if you open multiple channels of granting permanent residency status to foreigners in Nigeria,” Semaka stated.
According to him, the focus should rather be to sustain and strengthen existing structures to tighten the security of the country, especially in this time of heightened global terrorism.
“Earlier this year, over 500 hundred foreign nationals were arrested with permanent voter cards. Also, a British national paper reported that Chinese nationals in the mining sector are financing terrorists groups in some parts of Nigeria to gain access to the country’s mineral resources.
“All these are pointers to the fact that some unscrupulous foreign nationals could take advantage of multiple channels of naturalization which could render Nigeria’s already threatened security more porous,” Semaka said, adding also that the focus should be to strengthen available programmes and not introduce other products.
“Just a couple of months ago, the immediate past Minister of Interior, Aregbesola, commended all the service providers engaged by the Ministry of Interior and its services/Board for their dedications to using the public-private partnership (PPP) arrangements for improving service delivery, and revenue generation for the Federal Government of Nigeria, while also calling for sustenance and strengthening of existing services being provided through these partnerships. That is the way to go,” he added.
The group has also expressed concerns and curiosity at the reported approval granted for the brown card at the twilight of former President Muhammadu Buhari Administration.
The group explained that what the Brown Card is designed to do is already being handled by NIS, through their technical partners, suggesting that any loopholes observed should be channeled through the existing programmes instead of creating new contracts that could be a further hemorrhage for the country’s weakened security.