19 February 2019, Sweetcrude, Lagos — Operatives of Nigeria Immigration Service have stopped Port Health Service from operating at the departure side of the Nigeria-Benin Republic border in Seme.
Our correspondent who visited Seme border on Monday observed that port health officials who were stationed with Directorate of State Security, Customs and Immigration at Nigeria’s end had vacated their seats.
The investigation revealed that the port health officials had been forcefully chased out of their duty post on February 2 by gun-wielding NIS officials.
Mr Emmanuel Onile, Officer in Charge, Port Health Service at Seme, said that he had petitioned immigration authorities on the intimidation of PHS officials by immigration at the border.
“Around 12 hours on Saturday, February 2, the leader of PHS afternoon shift called me that a NIS officer, named Kawo, asked them to vacate the departure end of the border, according to instructions from his boss.
“My staff replied that PHS team was posted to the border post by Federal Government and they cannot leave the place.
“My staff told me that the immigration officer left and later came back with about 20 gun-wielding NIS officers who forcefully sent PHS men away and took away their chairs.
“They have since stationed one of their officers at the entrance to the departure hall.
“Again, the same NIS team went to the pedestrian walkway to drive away PHS staff.
“This is not the first time the immigration officers are doing that to PHS Officials in Seme because we are not armed,” Onile said.
Onile said that the Minister of Health, through the Director of PHS, mandated the health officials to perform entry and exit screening of passengers at the port of entry and exit at seaports, airports and land borders.
“We are to look out for international travelers that may pose a public health risk to Nigeria and the neighbouring countries.
“Presently, there is Lassa fever outbreak in Nigeria and there is Yellow Fever outbreak in about 14 states.
“World Health Organisation has declared Nigeria as a Yellow Fever endemic country and instructed us that anybody entering Nigeria or leaving the country must be immunized and have proof of the immunization.
“Also there is Ebola Virus Disease in Democratic Republic of Congo and the Minister of Health has instructed PHS to step up her surveillance activities at all points of entry and exit.
“Our duty is to check the number on the yellow card, whether it corresponds with the number on the passport as well as check the countries earlier visited, whether it is endemic countries or not,” he said.
Onile said that since the beginning of February, PHS officials were only allowed to operate at the arrival side of the border, adding that they were not allowed to work in the departure area.
“Departure is as important as arrival,” the port health official said.
Contacted, Mr. Babatunde Yusuf, Spokesman, Seme Border Command of NIS, however, denied sacking port health officials from their duty post at the border.
According to the immigration spokesman, it is the responsibility of NIS to enforce vaccination card compliance by travelers carrying ECOWAS travel document or international passport.
“But whereby immigration is aware that a traveler is sick, such passenger would be referred to PHS officials for proper attention.
“We are security operatives, we have classified information about some people who cannot travel out of the country.
“PHS are not trained security officers and they want to be at the departure points.
“It will be a duplication of work if by the time immigration clears a passenger, PHS will do the same thing.
“Meanwhile, the Benin Republic has removed her own PHS officials from the departure side because they are disturbing the free movement of the travellers.
“If we suspect anybody having health issues, we will contact PHS.
“The problem is that the passengers cannot differentiate between PHS and NIS officers because of the similarities in their uniforms.
“My Comptroller is just trying to create free movement for the passengers,” he said.
Yusuf said that the Immigration authority would address the issue.