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Nigeria: New Immigration Law Enacted

(June 5, 2015) On May 25, 2015, outgoing Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law new immigration legislation that repealed and replaced the 1963 Immigration Act. (Jonathan Signs Anti-Violence, Immigration Bills into Law, INFORMATION NIGERIA (May 25, 2015).) According to Victor Ndoma-Egba, the Senate Majority Leader, the purpose of the legislation is to establish a “legal framework that reflects existing realities in modern migration management in line with international best practice,” including with regard to the penalties imposed on those who commit immigration offenses. (Senate Moves to Pass Immigration Bill, NAIJA247 NEWS (May 6, 2015).)

One key way in which the new law differs from the old one is in the process by which immigration cases are handled. According to the 2010 version of the new law (apparently the most recent version available online), a new immigration court will be established for the purpose of “quick dispensation” of immigration cases. (Immigration Bill, 2010, SB 350, § 50, Nigeria Senate website.) It seeks to accomplish this in part by allowing the Attorney General to establish mobile immigration courts, which will enjoy the same jurisdiction as the Federal High Court, “at recognized ports of entry” in the country. (Id.)

The new law also differs from the old one by extending the length of detention of persons charged with immigration offenses. The legislation provides that a person against whom any charge is brought that may result in deportation may be remanded into custody for a total of 90 days pending trial. (Id. § 51.) The 1963 law capped at two months the detention period of a person accused in similar cases. (Immigration Act, 1963 (Aug. 1, 1963), § 43 , Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre website.)

Another key difference between the two laws is that the new law imposes stiffer penalties for violations of its terms. The general applicable penalty for an offense under the new legislation is, on conviction, a minimum of one year in prison and/or a fine ranging from Nigerian Naira NGN50,000 (about US$251) to NGN2 million (about US$10,000). (Immigration Bill, 2010, § 59.)

The penalties applicable to certain specific offenses are even harsher. For instance, if a violation of the terms of the legislation is committed by a corporate body “on the instigation or with connivance of or [is] attributable to any neglect” on the part of the body’s high officer, the officer would, on conviction, be subject to a three-year prison term and/or a fine of NGN2 million. (Id. § 55.) If the corporate body is convicted of an offense, it would be subject to a fine of NGN2 million, and the court may force its dissolution. (Id.) The same penalties apply to a commercial carrier and its high-ranking officers. (Id.) In contrast, under the 1963 law, the highest penalty imposed for violation of its provisions was a maximum six-month prison term and/or a fine not exceeding NGN200 (about US$1). (Immigration Act, 1963, § 48.)

Note: the penalties and other provisions discussed above are those cited in the 2010 draft and may have been changed in the version of the bill that was ultimately enacted.