Time was when the passport office operated in Ikoyi, Lagos, by the Nigerian Immigration Service was the definition of chaos and graft, but the reforms instituted in the office have initiated a transformation that may be replicated at passport offices nationwide, Chinedu Eze writes
These days, the first thing to notice when you arrive the passport office, Ikoyi, Lagos, is the orderliness, cleanliness and immigration officers moving about their business with purpose and professionalism rarely seen before. The cacophony and chaos of old is gone. When THISDAY paid an unscheduled visit to the passport office recently, it discovered that the new Passport Control Officer and Deputy Comptroller of Immigration (DCI), Segun Adegoke was introducing sweeping and dramatic reforms that have eased the time it takes Nigerian citizens to renew and apply for new passports.
Under the new regime, Adegoke, who was not in the office on the day of the visit and declined to speak to THISDAY when contacted on the phone, has made Nigerian citizens the focus of attention. The objective, some immigration officers who spoke on the transformation, is to ensure that the customer is satisfied with no extra cost and with the utmost respect accorded to him or her.
Fortunately, the reforms instituted by Adegoke have not gone unnoticed. The Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), Mr. Mohammed Babandede, who is just as focused on improving the services of the agency that he heads, has been very supportive and provides the guidance and encouragement that have spurred the DCI to make the necessary changes at the Ikoyi passport office.
The new measures instituted by the officials at the passport office have been so significant that applicants who visit the office cannot stop talking about the positive changes and the respect given to them by immigration officials.
One official who preferred not to be named because he was not authorised to speak on the subject, said the feedback they have received was while several Nigerians have been amazed at the changes they have seen and the short turn-around time it takes for them to get their passports, others say they could not believe that such efficiency and professionalism could be found in a government institution.
It was not just NIS officials that were happy with the reforms instituted at the Ikoyi passport office, as applicants who spoke to THISDAY on the day of the visit were also full of praise for the progress. â€œI know that it takes one person at the helm of affairs to change a society,â€ an applicant, who identified himself as Simon said.
Explaining, the immigration official told THISDAY: â€œMost of the highly placed people in society visit the passport office at very short notice and would want to process and collect their passports within the shortest time possible. We make bold to say that their expectation have most times been met and in line with our sincere desire to be proactive as well as professional in our service delivery since Mr. Adegoke took over.â€
Before Adegoke took charge, the Ikoyi passport office was beset with many challenges, ranging from overstretched infrastructure to a poorly motivated workforce. The office needed backup for most of its equipment such as laminators, passport printers and cameras to churn out travel passports each time there was a breakdown.
Then there was the problem of the archiving unit, which is still handled manually and cannot accommodate the current level of production, creating a massive backlog, which does not make room for efficiency.
But one of the major problems of the Ikoyi passport office was overcrowding. Nigerians applying for passports, especially renewal of old ones, milled around the place which was overrun by touts, racketeers and others to create chaotic and an unruly environment that defied the past management of the office.
The seeming lawlessness was contagious such that banks which did business there joined the fray and instead of building befitting offices in the complex, chose to operate in over-heated shipping containers, thus magnifying the lack of orderliness in the premises.
Such sore sights discouraged many applicants who used to go to the Ikoyi passport office to get their passports. Not knowing how to wade through the crowd to bring their request to the management, some of the applicants were known to patronise touts to push their requests, hence the illicit deals that thrived in the Ikoyi passport office for many years.
But all these, according to officials and applicants who THISDAY spoke to, have become a thing of the past under Adegoke. â€œNow, you can walk to his office, no matter who you are, and make your request and get a positive and immediate response. He is now changing the attitude of the officers and men in the passport office, albeit, with some resistance,â€ said one oil company worker, who had just been issued a new passport in 48 hours despite the shortage of passport booklets.
THISDAY learnt that on assumption of duty at the end of January 2017, Adegoke was reportedly shockedÂ by the crowd that besieged the passport office as soon as the gates were thrown open at 8 a.m. everyday.
â€œMost of them used to come for image acquisition without their files being completed, some to collect processed passports that had not been sorted out. So Adegoke then adopted the strategy of using 8 a.m. to noon to sort out produced passports and commenced issuance immediately after sorting was concluded, while everyone was patiently seated.
â€œWithin a few hours, the crowds disappeared because persons whose passports were ready had been attended to within the shortest time,â€ an official who was impressed by the changes Adegoke brought to the Ikoyi passport office told THISDAY.
Before he took over security was also lax, the official added. There were reports of theft, so the DCI took immediate action to secure the office. â€œIt is obvious that the idea of security has moved away from the traditional state-centric approach to one that is people-oriented security approach.
â€œThe Passport Control Officer met with every group and persons who had anything to do within the office and charged each and everyone to be part of the policing of the premises. Security of lives and property within and around Ikoyi passport office is key to our stay here as immigration officers,â€ the official told THISDAY.Â
He further revealed that other than the internal changes, the DCI has met with heads of the state liaison offices in Lagos and enjoined them to always identify and issue identification letters to those who come from their states to ensure that the letters are properly issued to only persons from their state. Adegoke was quoted to have said that effective collaboration with this group of government workers would assist in no small measures to reduce fake breeder documents in processing passports.
â€œArrangements have been made with the Lagos State judiciary to send a representative of the court for issuance of affidavits and other legal breeder documents within the passport premises. Also, on the issue of touts, which is another serious problem here, we are making efforts to surmount it. The activities of touts and miscreants who hang outside the passport office on a daily basis portend a serious operational danger, so conscious efforts have been made to reduce touting to the barest minimum if not completely eliminated.
â€œThe stakeholders meeting he had with downloaders within the Ikoyi passport office, the meeting with liaison officers of various states in Lagos, and the planned interface with local government representatives in Lagos, are all tailored towards making touting a non-profitable venture at the Ikoyi passport office,â€ the immigration official explained.
In addition, since he took over in January, Adegoke, it was gathered, has inculcated a set of behavioural standards anchored on the NIS Service Charter for its officers and men. He has introduced mechanisms to ensure that business integrity processes are established and fostered. He is planning to install scanners at the gate to screen applicants and their bags, introduced community policing by and among traders and officers, and has also reached an agreement with stakeholders for the provision of technical assistance where necessary.
Adegoke has also directed Skye Bank, which operates in the premises with a shipping container, to establish a more befitting facility and provide seats for its customers in order to encourage orderliness and comfort for applicants that patronise the bank. Adegoke has also created orderliness in the processing of applicants for scanning and capture of their photos and finger prints, while the old system whereby there seemed to be a disconnect between immigration staff and the applicants has been erased by the new helmsman who reaches out to the applicants from time to time to explain the processes and gives them options to wait or come back later while their passports are being processed. Expectedly, this humane approach has created a friendly atmosphere in the Ikoyi passport office.
Adegoke, according to his officers and men, is also working with them to sanitise the Ikoyi passport office to ensure that applicants are not exploited and that there is proper accountability and documentation. He also plans to electronically document the archiving system to cut down the volume of paper work and create space for more office accommodation.
THISDAY learnt that NIS still offers the 32-page passport to Nigerians for N19,000 and the 64-page passports for N24,000 and despite the fact that Nigerian passports are produced under a public private partnership arrangement, which ensures that payment for the passports is sent to the headquarters, the Ikoyi passport office was able to generate about N104 million in January alone.
Adegoke has also eliminated the system whereby applicants are made to pay for the 64-page passport when it is not available, only for applicants to be issued the 32-page passport. THISDAY learnt that the new man in Ikoyi has insisted that applicants must pay only once and if the type of passport they requested and paid for is not readily available, they should exercise a little patience and wait for its availability.
Within a few months Adegoke, who it was gathered has a law degree and international experience having worked for the United Nations refugee programme in Sudan, has fashioned out and continues to work on a transformation template that could be replicated in passport offices nationwide. This could not have come at a better time seeing that the Comptroller-General of NIS, among other agencies of government, are at the vanguard of championing the current administrationâ€™s policy on ease of doing business in the country. Beyond its passports offices, it is hoped that the same can-do spirit is extended by the NIS to border control and other services it renders.