Weighing the security implications of Brown Card

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Two days to the formal inauguration of Bola Ahmed Tinubu as Nigeria’s President, 385 foreign nationals were formally conferred with Nigerian citizenship at an event hosted by the Ministry of Interior in Abuja.

During the occasion, the immediate past Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola announced that the ministry had gotten the approval of the Federal Executive Council to execute new pathways to permanent residency for eligible foreign nationals through the issuance of Brown Card. Consequently, he said he was bestowed the power to, among others, execute and clarify existing guidelines to provide Permanent Residence to foreign nationals who desired to invest in Nigeria in line with established guidelines.

Aregbesola made pointed reference to the fact that acquiring Nigerian citizenship is currently unattractive to foreigners because of the 15-year waiting period as a major eligibility criterion. While he is happy that the country conferred citizenship status on the highest number of foreigners under his tenure as Minister of Interior, he said the figures are far too low to be celebrated. Aregbesola may be right, as only 671 foreign nationals have been conferred Nigerian citizenship since 2011.

According to the past minister, granting of citizenship to foreigners is intended to attract foreign investors, resourceful individuals and people with rare talents and unbounded energy willing to come into the country to boost the socio-economic and political foundation that will elevate Nigeria into one of the 20 great economies of the world. As true as this may sound, what may, however, be in contention is whether the introduction of a Brown Card would not amount to creating more problems that may negate the targeted result. Of more concern is the effect that the introduction of such a system of documentation could pose to the already weakened security architecture of the country.

President Tinubu in his inaugural speech made it clear that security shall be top priority of his administration. To this effect, he said his government shall reform the country’s security doctrine and its architecture, stressing clearly that improved security interventions under him would go beyond increase in number of personnel and commodities, but targeted investments in better training, equipment, pay and firepower. Such is the approach that one expects to be employed in the management of naturalization and residency status of foreigners in Nigeria.

Concerns are rife that the introduction of a Brown Card would provide a pathway for fraudulent foreigners who are looking for escape routes from the existing systems that keep them in security check. One of the changes that Brown Card seeks to make to the process of acquiring Nigerian citizenship is to reduce the waiting time of 15 years as part of the eligibility criteria to five years or less in comparison to what obtains in countries like United States, among others. As a matter of fact, this could only be achieved through a constitutional amendment process, as acknowledged by Aregbesola, in his May 27 speech. What this means is that a Brown Card cannot become a bona fide document until Nigeria’s constitution is once again amended, which may not occur soon.

Another issue that was raised as part of the reason for pitching the idea of a Brown Card is for it to serve as a means of fast-tracking citizenship for foreign husbands of Nigerian women. This is already being handled under the Special Immigration Status and Niger Wife, which is already being handled by the Nigeria Immigration Service through its technical partners. Instead of introducing a fresh programme, the existing programme could be strengthened where loopholes have been found. What we may see happen with the introduction of a parallel channel of granting permanent resident status and citizenship as proposed is that unscrupulous foreigners, especially those who evade paying for the services under existing programmes or enter the country for nefarious reasons would ride on the fact that Nigeria wants to use the brown card to increase the number of foreign nationals with Nigerian citizenship to find their way into the country.

A confirmation to this is already being reported by a Civil Society Organisation under the guise of Save Nigeria Movement. The group had in a statement by its convener, Reverend Solomon Semaka, hinted that some persons masquerading as agents are already making contacts with foreigners in the country for them to pay as much as $5,000 with the promise that they would grant them the Brown Card. This portends a bigger draw down for Nigeria’s image, as the country is currently battling to cleanse itself of the blemishes of the internet fraudsters popularly known as yahoo boys.

It is also pertinent to note that deploying a parallel programme that competes and possibly conflicts with operational modules of existing ones waters down the security system of the country, which has been grossly compromised by unscrupulous foreign nationals who come into the country with ulterior motives under the guise of investors. Agreed, the country needs to make more earnings from Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) which could be facilitated through granting of citizenship and permanent residency to worthy foreigners. But a hasty introduction of a parallel platform alongside existing ones could be counter-productive.

What could be done is to upgrade the operational scope and modules of existing ones to avoid unhealthy duplication of roles. Above all, the country would naturally become attractive to foreigners, like US, UK, Canada, among others. This could only become real if the country is secure and prosperous. Anything that would render the country’s security system porous will surely breed counter-effects.

Onche Odeh,