Over the years, the NIS has witnessed series of changes since it was extracted from the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) in 1958. The Immigration Department, as it was known then, was entrusted with the core immigration duties under the headship of the Chief Federal Immigration Officer (CFIO) and the first to sit on that chair was in the person of Mr. EH Harrison. The department in its emergent stages inherited the Immigration Ordinance of 1958 for its operation. At inception, the department had a narrow operational scope and maintained a low profile and simple approach in attaining the desired goals and objectives of government. During this period, only the Visa and Business Sections were set up.
However, on August 1st, 1963, Immigration Department came of age when it was formally established by an Act of Parliament, Cap I71, Laws of the Federation Nigeria. The head of the department became known as the Director of Immigration. Thus, the first set of Immigration officers were former NPF Officers. It became a department under the control and supervision of the Federal Ministry of Internal Affairs (FMIA) as a Civil Service outfit.
Following some structural reforms and Government white paper on October 1st, 1992, the designation of “Director of Immigration” was changed to “Comptroller General of Immigration Service”, thereby granting the Service a para-military status.. Thus the last Director of Immigration became the first Comptroller General of Immigration (CGI) in the person of CGI Garba Abbas.
Subsequently, the Service has come a long way in its march towards reformation and restructuring to be better positioned for the implementation of modern migration management. This period saw changes in the organizational and operational structure of the Service and which were inevitable towards accommodating the added responsibilities as well as emerging regional and sub-regional political alignments. These included the introduction of the ECOWAS and African Affairs division, Aliens Control and Border Patrol Management and such other added responsibilities for the Service.
Furthermore, in 1988, the Service was saddled with the responsibility for the issuance of all Nigerian travel documents which included the Nigeria Passports.
The Service embraced the use of ICT in its operations with the introduction of the Machine Readable Passport (MRP) in June 1998 and the Combined Expatriate Residence Permit and Aliens card (CERPAC) in 2001. Since then, it has continued to take giant strides in the use of ICT in its processes and operational procedures, notably the introduction of online payment for its facilities which opened the way for the e-revenue collections in Nigeria, thereby becoming the pioneer government agency to embrace e-payments.
In attempt to improve on the MRP and in line with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards, the NIS introduced the e-Passport on May 17th, 2007 under the leadership of the then CGI CJ Udeh OFR, thereby putting the Federal Republic of Nigeria on the pages of history as the first country in Africa to introduce the e-passport and among the first countries in the world to do so. The use of the e-passport has become a major tool in the fight against trans-border criminality as it contains the biometric details of holders thus making multiple acquisition and identity theft difficult.
In due recognition of Nigeria Immigration Service’s stride as exemplified above, ICAO, the global body that regulates standards for travel documents admitted Nigeria into its Board as the sole African representative in 2009.
As a result of this development, the e-passport machines have been installed in all the states of the federation and some Nigeria Missions abroad while, the NIS has been sending its personnel for passport intervention to all regions of the world in line with the Federal Government foreign policy of citizen diplomacy. This implies taking the mobile passport issuing equipment to acquire and process passport for Nigerians in the Diaspora.
Another significant achievement in the realm of ICT development is the establishment of a well-equipped forensic laboratory for the examination of travel and other documents. It is also to be noted that NIS personnel manning this laboratory are highly skilled as they have been exposed to a lot of trainings locally and internationally on document fraud detection and techniques.
To further strengthen the legal framework for the NIS, the National Assembly passed the Immigration Act into law in May 25th, 2015. The Act thus repealed the hitherto obsolete 1963 Immigration Act and created an additional Directorate to be known as Migration Directorate for the Service.
From the inception of the NIS in 1963 till date, the Service has had three (3) Chief Federal Immigration Officers (CFIO), three (3) Directors of Immigration, Two (2) Acting Comptrollers General and Eight (8) substantive Comptrollers General with the current Comptroller General in the person of CGI Muhammad Babandede MFR. He is taking giant steps and breaking grounds with a view to upgrading and standardizing the operations of the Service while ensuring that prompt and efficient service delivery to its numerous publics is not compromised.