She wears a permanent smile and punctuates every interaction with different notes of laughter. Like a witness of truth, Caroline Wuraola Adepoju, the Comptroller General of Nigeria Immigration Service needs no prodding for responses to show that she has nothing to hide. This accidental Nigeria Immigration boss is a tomboy who still prefers her jeans and trousers and never aimed to lead the service which providence thrusted on her. She spoke with Ahamefula Ogbu on her early life, career, family and plans for the service among others. Excerpts
What motivated you to join immigration or any uniform service in life?
I must be honest with you, I actually knew very little about immigration when I joined, the only thing that I knew about uniform job was with the military, the police and the customs. My father was a customs officer so it is not as if I set out to work as a uniformed officer but fate brought me here, this is providence. I was guided by the hands of God; actually through my Dad and my uncle both of whom were Customs officers, they introduced me into Nigerian Immigration service and I was brought into this service by Mr. Damlak, he was the Director of Immigration because this new title was not being used that time, they used to refer to the head of immigration that time as a Director, so actually it was providence, I must be honest with you.
What was your ambition on joining immigration?
My aim, everything I do in life is from service point of view, I just want to be my best wherever I find myself, I just want to offer my best at every point in time. I did not know that it was possible, I didn’t set out targeting the top, I just wanted to be my best at every point in time, whatever job I was assigned, I wanted to be my best. I didn’t plan that one day I will be Comptroller General really but at any point in my life, any duty I was assigned, I wanted to do it to the best of my ability; that was it.
Can you tell us about your early life, where did you grow up?
I was born in Ile Oluji but I grew up knowing myself actually in Ibadan. Both of my parents were teachers at one time or the other but my father left the teaching line and went to study Law from the University of Ife and became a lawyer. His first job as a lawyer was with the Board of Customs and Excise, that is what they used to call it in those days and I think I knew myself at the age of three living in Ibadan with my siblings and my mom.
My father was not always at home; he was living in Lagos when we were in Ibadan. I am the second of four children from my mom, I have other loving siblings from my father. My father had other wives but we are all one big family but I am the second of the four children from my mom, my mother being the first wife of my father so I didn’t start school in Ibadan, I started school in Lagos, Salvation Army Primary School, Freeman Street in Ebute Metta.
My mom was my first teacher, she taught me in primary one but in 1972, my Dad was transferred from Lagos to Port Harcourt and he said he would want me to live with his mom; he just completed his new building in Ile Oluji, a big building then and it was just his mom and my cousin living there, he said no, that the house was too big for just two people that I should also come and live with his mom just to keep her company, that was when I came to Ile Oluji and I changed my school then from Salvation Army to St. Peters Anglican Primary school in Ile Oluji. So I had memorable childhood but I love my experience in Lagos more than my experience in Ile Oluji because I was living with my parents and when I came to Ile Oluji it took me some time to adjust to the community. I was happiest when I was living with my parents. In Ile Oluji, I was happy too because I was one of the best pupil in the primary school. I completed my primary school in Ile Oluji. I conveniently led my class. Throughout my stay in primary school, I was ever first so when I got to primary six I was made the head girl, it made me happy and very special.
I grew up in a polygamous home; like is typical with every polygamous home, our mother could have frictions but never with us kids, my father tried and made sure that he united us, all the children, we were like one big family even though occasionally the normal rancor between co-wives will come up but it never affected us the children; Daddy tried very hard to make sure that we were one so it was good. From St Peters I proceeded to Christ School, Ado Ekiti and it was nice, a mixed school, that is a co-educational school, boys and girls and we were happy. Our teachers worked very hard on us, they cultured us morally and in terms of education, our teachers worked very hard. My first Principal was Chief Rufus Fasoranti, the now Afenifere Leader, he was like a father to all of us and we had other good and dedicated teachers like late Okeya, Mrs. Patience Adamolekun. Okeya was from Emure Ekiti and Mrs. Adamolekun is from Iju, that is in Ondo State and many other teachers; they were devoted, they taught us and we had very good teachers in the sciences, most of them were Indians, Mrs. Jacobs, so many other people, Mrs. Ayodele, they worked very hard on us. My favourite part of school was the time we use to spend in the assembly, singing, I love to sing. I told you I was ever first in primary school, when I got to Christ School, they flung me back, very brilliant scholars, people like Dele Jegede, an engineer now, Nike Shamo who is late, many other people. I remember my very good classmate, Kayode Fayemi, Ambassador Eniola Ajayi, Dr. Ayodele Teriba, many of them like that doing very well. Christ School produced great alumni like the present Minister of Mines that is Dele Alake. It trained many prominent sons of Ekiti like Bolaji Akinyemi is from Christ school, Kofo Osunloye, now Mrs. Olaosebikan, some my seniors, some my mates and I was very happy at school.
Between your parents and your grandma, who inculcated the values you espouse?
My parents. My Mom like I told you, she is alive but she was a teacher in her days and she was very strict, a God-fearing woman, a strict disciplinarian that was raised by the Roman Catholic Church. She used to pride herself as going through all the convents in Ondo State, St Luis here both in Ondo and in Owo, a trained teacher. I was a bit rascally as a child but my mother did a lot of work on me; she used her cane, her words and by the grace of God like I said my teachers in those schools they tried. They inculcated in us that if you know you are naughty, start pretending that you are good and eventually you will be good. I knew I was a bit naughty but I changed and I started…I know I used to be disrespectful of my seniors in school but our teachers said we should try and be our best and when parents and teachers make good efforts they are very productive. My Dad also you know started life as a teacher, he was a disciplinarian too but not as tough as mummy.
What indelible experience in discipline will you not forget in a hurry?
The words will never leave my mind in a hurry, my mother taught us many things, she taught us that if you are speaking in public among your friends and you are hearing your own voice alone, you must be cautious, that means you are talking too much, she taught us to be respectful to people. Mom used to say when you are talking to elders there is a way you look at them that they will not feel as if you are disrespectful, mom tried. She used her cane and she used her words but I think her words were more impactful than the cane.
Between your mom and dad who were you closer to?
Of course Mummy; like I told you, daddy was a polygamist and had to go out to work a lot so we spent more time with our mom.
How did you meet your husband?
Interesting story. I met my husband in Ile Oluji, that’s one thing I really thank God for; I met my husband in Primary school at Ile Oluji. He told me one day that the first day I opened my moth to talk to him, he decided that he was going to marry me. I was in primary four and he was in primary five, so I met him right here but we didn’t get close; well we grew up together as friends but he didn’t ask me to marry him until we finished university; we are distant relatives.
Did you people attend same University?
No. My husband attended University of Ife but my first Degree was in Maiduguri then my Master’s degree in Ibadan, so I’m a proud alumna of Maiduguri and Ibadan.
What does love mean to you?
Respect. To me I think respect is the best form and expression of love. You can be mad with them but you can still respect them; You can disagree with them but you will also know that they are not bad people, that you can look at life from different perspectives, respect is important to me in every relationship.
What determined the choice of your husband as I’m sure he wasn’t the only suitor?
I will confess to you that my father chose him for me. My father told me that if I marry an Adepoju, there is no way I will regret it. My father knew my husband’s parents, they were senior to my father. Their father was a very respected person in the community, committed to his family and my father said his son was most likely going to be like his father. My father insisted that I marry him, not like giving me any option, he insisted, so I married him because my father wanted me to marry him and I am grateful because it is the best decision I have taken in life.
Were there other suitors or distractions?
Yes, oh naturally. Even in my secondary school, I had a friend that we were inseparable, everybody knew us together in school; of course we were good friends but nothing much to it. Like you will know a childhood, I don’t want to say sweetheart because my husband is now my sweetheart and of course other people showed interest but my dad would not hear of any other person except this Adeleye Adepoju.
What experience do you think shaped your life generally?
My experience in marriage shaped my life. It was rough at the beginning of my marriage and I must tell you, my husband is three months younger than myself but I learnt to be submissive, to respect him and because I had no choice than to make the marriage work, I learnt a lot, to be prayerful, to be committed and to be submissive so all these things shaped who I am today.
How often did he make you cry?
Laughs for a while…I cannot remember but we had it rough initially and I told him it was a bit stressful for me and he told me to calm down. I told him that I might leave and he told me it was not safe for me to leave, that he loves me but all he wanted was for me to understand him. He used to reassure me that all he wanted was for me to understand him.
What do you consider the biggest trial in your marriage?
Laughs long again…The usual things, I understand that marriage can be challenging initially. I have to say all these so that it will encourage people especially when it relates to money because when you start out early in life you have to start from somewhere. It is usually rough like the usual things men do, he did all those but by the grace of God he is sure footed, he is committed so I give thanks to God.
What do you consider your happiest moment in this marriage so far?
Every day since we got out of the woods, I’m always so happy. God blessed us with responsible obedient children, my husband loves them so much, I love them so much so every day since we got out of the woods my husband makes me feel so special so I thank God for that.
Is any of your children exhibiting the form of rascality you displayed growing up?
Funny enough I’m so grateful to God, none of them is manifesting that, my children are calm, all of them. I think there must have been something particularly… I don’t know what to call my childhood particularly because I use to like maybe I was very tomboyish because my mother had us, we would have been five, we lost one at birth remaining four and among the four, I was an only girl so I was a bit rascally and I think that was the only challenge. My children are not like that, they are calm.
You are bestriding a big organisation, what are the challenges you have encountered managing Immigration?
First and foremost, I must say I have enjoyed the support of this government; My Minister, Dr. Olubunmi Tunji Ojo has been wonderful, a very innovative and exposed and patriotic Nigerian so he makes my work easy. Ever since he came on board he has brought in many reforms which makes my work easy. Most of the challenges we have is the posting, locating our officers, we get a lot of external distractions, people disturb us saying post that person here post that person there. No, it shouldn’t be so, I work with them and I know their capabilities, I know their persons so that is the major distraction, posting officers with the influence of outsiders is the major challenge. I must say I enjoy the cooperation of my immediate staff, Deputies, they are quite understanding they are trying but external pressure is a major challenge.
So how are you handling that?
Well, we still have to listen to people but as much as possible, we get the round pegs in round holes irrespective of external influences. Sometimes when important people, people you cannot say no to make requests, sometimes they listen if you give them reasons but it is a major, major challenge here.
What of recruitment?
Since we have guidelines like you are coming in depending on the rank in terms of educational qualifications and physical appearance, because of the guidelines that are there, you can only talk to us if the person meets the requirements though the government too has an influence because every section has to be represented, it is not bad.
There was a time I learnt ministers insisted that their children should go on external postings, are you still facing that?
Any immigration officer usually from the rank of Assistant Superintendent can go abroad. There is nobody that is not qualified, the only thing is that a lot of things have to go in like the training, the exposure in terms of rank, like I have said if you are a senior officer you can go but we have to make sure we include every part of this country; it is a privileged posting with a lot of benefits so different parts of the country have to be represented and the character because they are few and are going to serve a large number of our diasporas so we have to choose people who have the right temperament, right know how and all those things have to come to play. I am not saying the minister; no minister disturbs us but it is a general demand from the public.
You once headed the accounts department of the service, were you ever tempted to put your hand in the till?
No, never. Personally I am a very religious person and a person of high moral value. You don’t have to soil your hands. Never, I have never been tempted. You can talk to my subordinates who are close to me, the present head of the finance and accounts is a DCG, Mrs. Dora Amahian, you can put a call across to her, in fact I am notorious for being a bit thrifty when it comes to management of government funds. Some people use to say the way you manage government funds but my minister says the way you manage public funds is not no man’s business, it is our business and it should not be as if we are looting the treasury or mismanaging government funds. Money has never been a source of temptation to me by the grace of God. I don’t get tempted by that.
Won’t such consideration affect the release of funds for programs of the service?
It can only help me to be prudent in the management of our funds. My minister is very knowledgeable of the financial activities of my agency, my books are always open. We need a lot of funds considering the job that needs to be done in protecting our borders. You know that the Nigeria Immigration service is the lead agency in border management and border security. We have 4048 kilometers of land border, 800 kilometers of coastal border, we need them to be properly managed, properly manned and we need a lot of funds, my Minister is aware. Apart from budgetary allocation, we do sometimes require monetary intervention and the government under the Commander in Chief, Bola Ahmed Tinubu is aware and has seen the level of work the Nigeria immigration under my leadership is doing and they are committed to ensuring that they enable us to secure our borders.
What template do you have for the protection of the borders?
Every year we plan to recruit more personnel to have enough number to man the borders. We are looking at recruiting 4500 every year in terms of putting boots on ground; again we want to deploy technology. Nigeria has a contract with the Chinese government; the project is being executed by Huawei, we are deploying surveillance equipment in most of our border posts that will be relaying information to our command and control center in our headquarters. Like I said, we are buying more vehicles for border patrol. We have about 12 forward operation bases where our border patrol personnel rest and we want to build more to cover every 40 kilometers and my minister is actually spearheading that so that we can have that achieved.
We need patrol boats for our coastal borders, we do have some but they are not suitable for the purpose. I think to finance and to maintain them due to the diesel they gulp is almost impossible for us to maintain, we are looking at manageable patrol boats that we can be using to patrol our coastal borders. We have been talking about getting back our aircraft because the Nigerian immigration service used to have about two aircraft which had been ceded to the Nigeria Air force, now we are more ready to get new ones to be able to patrol our borders and do aerial surveillance. We want to purchase suitable drones, train our men and equip them. We are also going to train them in weapons handling; I have met the Chief of Defence Staff and I asked for assistance in training on weapons handling because we have suffered casualties in the hands of bad eggs; I want our men to be able to defend themselves effectively so we are doing more training and recruiting more men most of who we are deploying to the borders to ensure they are well secured but they need decent accommodation both for office and residential as well as patrol vehicles and arms too because of insurgency, banditry and terrorism.
What are your plans for in-country production of passport booklets?
We are looking at all that. The issue of passport is a complex thing and the authorities concerned are looking into that.
I learnt instead of using Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company to print the booklets it is being outsourced while there are moves to award contract to build printing facility inside Immigration in Abuja…?
To the best of my knowledge the present technical partners that we have in terms of passport production and administration, the passport regime is more than production, there are a lot of technicalities and finances that are involved in passport regime, not just production. Our technical partners are doing very well, they are trying their best and I know that with time things will be better.
What plans do you have to check racketeering of passports?
Racketeering in terms of passport you see, that is why we have made passport application to be something that is online; we want to reduce human interface. Nigerians should be aware that they can apply for their passports online, pay online and book appointment online only for them to come into a passport office for their biometric capturing. There is a device from February to enable passport applicants to be able to track their application processes. Sometimes we do query passport applications, applicants will know and will be able to answer such queries. We are reducing human interface by digitising applications and that will reduce racketeering. Actually it is not only in Nigeria Immigration officers that people patronise. People talk to people around passport offices, some of them are touts, the passport regime involves a lot so some people actually make a profession out of assisting people obtain a passport and they charge them and these people are not immigration officers.
But it is in connivance with immigration officers or how do they process it through your office?
Like I said, all these will change when we digitise our operations, when people are ready to use our online facilities to process passports.
Have you ever looked at the possibility of connivance of your partners in passport processing? An example is that it takes you and one DCG to vary capture date but touts ask for 25,000 for it and if you pay, they schedule you for capture
All these things are possible but things will be better. I advise our compatriots not to be in a hurry and should check the validity of their passports, once it has less than six months validity you should apply, when you do that you will not be under pressure. When you are under pressure people will take advantage of you. We want our people to be aware that they should renew their passport early enough and then an average Nigerian who has the propensity of traveling should get their passport ready so that they will not be desperate, people capitalise on desperation to exploit. Graft is opportunistic, if you are not in a hurry they won’t exploit you.
Let’s look at this issue of extension of service. Jere before you extended, Paradang also before him extended and you have extended yours. Is this not delaying the career development of the upcoming officers?
Well it is like no man is a judge in his own case so I would rather be silent on that.
We learnt that officers spend as much as a billion and another N500 million to extend the service, how much did you spend to extend yours?
Anybody that knows me will know that I have never made that kind of money, it is not true but to the best of my knowledge, anyway no man is a judge in his own case so I would be silent on that.
Have you had a near life experience?
Sure. There was a day when I was serving in Ibadan, I use to drive myself between Ibadan and Lagos. My husband and children they live in Lagos and I work in Ibadan so sometimes maybe I will go to Ibadan and return same day and sometimes I will spend some time there. I think it was on my 40th birthday, my husband bought me a Corolla and that time it was automatic and I started driving with gearstick so that fateful day was a Friday and I usually fast on Fridays, my father thought us so around six pm when I wanted to break my fast, I had this pawpaw in my car, I was hungry. I was eating the pawpaw and driving and apparently my hand touched the gear and moved it from drive to neutral so my vehicle stopped and behind me was an articulated vehicle coming at full speed, so I saw it coming and I looked at it and thought oh so this is how I will end and as God will have it, the man struggled with the trailer and managed to only brush the side of my car, the boot was damaged but nothing happened to me.
As soon as the trailer hit the vehicle I saw my head, my arms and legs were there and I had the opportunity to jump out of the vehicle and we got a towing van to move it; that was my closest shave with death.
What of your happiest moment in life?
There have been so many, you can imagine having my first child, when my children were getting married, two of my daughters are married, look at me, a Comptroller General of Nigeria Immigration Service, I have had many happy moments in life.
Assuming fashion police raids your wardrobe, what are likely going to see?
I am not into much fashion, I’m a simple person, I wear anything that is good on me but I like to wear jeans, I love to wear trousers and shirts, that’s my favourite wear.
Since you are a woman in a good position and looking young, how do you handle advances by men?
God forbid, nobody talks to me about that… nobody, nobody, nobody. Do you have two heads? Nobody does that to me. You can’t just look at me, I will feel insulted if anybody tries that, at this level? No.
Are any of your children replacing you in immigration as you are leaving service in retirement?
Not at all, they are into other things, not immigration service.
What mark would you like to leave behind when you finally leave service?
I want my officers to have an immigration Comptroller General that they can touch and relate freely with. I like to eat groundnut with my subordinates. If I am passing and I see them eating groundnut I want to dip my hand and eat with them. I want to leave human face to leadership. I want to be touched I want to be felt; I touch people a lot, I want them to see that I care for their welfare while still discharging my duties.
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