Some Nigerians now claim and secure passport of other nationalities in West Africa to ease their travel overseas and also to escape from the consequences of their malfeasance at home. Chinedu Eze writes on how the Nigerian Immigration Service is foiling their game.
Nigeria is seen as huge market for air travel not only because it is the most populous country in Africa, but it has citizens that are eager to travel overseas.
According to industry analysts, millions of Nigerians have it at the back of their mind that one day they will travel out of the country and it is often said that to know that a Nigerian is doing well is when he has funded a trip overseas.
But cases of deportation and comments from the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) show that many of these Nigerians just want to travel without defined purpose. They just want to leave the country.
THISDAY spoke to many senior officials of the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) serving in Abuja and Abuja, especially those who work at the airport or had worked at the airport under the condition that their names would not be disclosed.
They noted that the dream of average Nigerian is to travel out of the country and this has been heightened by economic hardship “because when the economy is bad people migrate. More people are migrating from Nigeria now because of bad economy. It happened to Ghana in the 1970s and 80s when they came to Nigeria to take up menial jobs.”
“But today Ghanaians are not the ones migrating; Nigerians are the ones leaving their country because of hardship, coupled with the fact that at the best of the times they like to travel, so you could see the huge number of people leaving the country by air and by road. It is the same situation that is playing out in Venezuela; their economy is bad, worse than that of Nigeria, so South American communities are worried and looking for a solution,” one of the Immigration officials said.
For years many Nigerians for different reasons have been obtaining the passports of other nationalities in West Africa for different reasons. According to Immigration officials, some of the Nigerians obtain these fake passports when they have committed crimes or they were deported and their passports seized or when they believe it would facilitate their being accepted in some countries, which the Nigerian passport might not allow them to access.
THISDAY gathered from Immigration official at the Lagos airport that among the Nigerians that do this include those whose passports have been seized by NIS, Nigerians who are arranged by agents to travel overseas for cheap labour and prostitution and Nigerians who seek for asylum from some countries in Europe, the US and Canada.
THISDAY learnt that according to the law, NIS seizes the passports of Nigerians deported to the country for a minimum of two years but could be seized indefinitely and such people are not allowed to travel again.
In order for them to travel, they illegally obtain passports from countries such as Ghana, Senegal, Guinea, Mozambique and others, adding that most of the time these passports are “oluwole”, which means that they are fake and Immigration detect most of them at the airport.
The Immigration official also told THISDAY that there is syndicate of agents who recruit young Nigerians and send them to various countries as maids, for prostitution or engagement in other cheap labour.
He said with passports from other West African countries they are given easy access to Europe, Middle East, Asia, the US and Canada and the immigration of the countries of their destination subject them to less scrutiny compared to if they travel with Nigeria’s green passport.
The official also explained to THISDAY that those seeking for asylum find it easy with the passport of other countries in West Africa than with Nigerian passport, “although with crisis in many parts of Nigeria and emasculation of freedom of some groups, Canada and other countries are now granting asylum to Nigerians who come from crisis ridden areas like Plateau, Borno, Zamfara, Benue, Taraba and members of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).”
THISDAY spoke to another senior Immigration official in Lagos who confirmed the reports and said many countries in the world are stringent in processing travellers with Nigerian passports.
“Those who are doing this believe that if you are holding a Nigerian passport, it may be difficult for you to access some countries especially North African and Middle East countries. They have this belief that if you are holding a Senegalese or Mozambique passport, for instance, it may be easier for you to penetrate United Arab Emirates (UAE) than a Nigerian passport because they seem to have sympathy for them. The way you will be subjected to if you are holding a Nigerian passport would be different from the way you will be subjected to if you are holding Liberian or Nigerien passports.
“Again, they believe that Nigerian passport attracts more attention than most of these other small countries,” he said.
The Immigration official further explained that some deported Nigerians whose passports are seized on arrival by Immigration claim to have lost their passports and obtain police report and court affidavit to back their claim as they request for new passport, which they succeed in obtaining.
He said that to forestall that from happening again, Immigration record all lost passports and send the records to all the international airports, so when the traveller comes with his passport it is cross-checked before it is stamped for approval.
“In most cases, some Nigerians apply for lost case (lost passport) and what are the requirements to be qualified as a lost case? Affidavit, police report, declaration of age, but since we realise that there is a lacunae in the system, we now release all the lost cases because once you said you lost your passports, we can trace the passport number and make it invalid.”
According to the Immigration official, a Nigerian citizens may not be allowed to travel for these reasons, “Insufficient fund, invalid visa, invalid passport, no return ticket, doubtful mission; for example, if you said you were admitted to study overseas and you have no admission letter and if the traveller has no hotel reservation; then if the person has subsisting cases like deportation.”
When THISDAY contacted spokesman of Nigerian Immigration Service, Sunday James to throw more light on these issues, he said that he was attending Command Course in Sokoto so he would not comment on any public issue.
But Immigration officials said they have closed the international airports against those who travel with fake passports from other African nations. According to the officials, because Nigerian passport cannot be faked due to the fact that it has biometrics, these illicit operators fake passports from other countries to gain their way out of the country.
“Because we closed the airports for them, many of them resort to travelling overseas by land, hence the several numbers of Nigerians that get drowned in the Mediterranean Sea but our people are also working hard to close the porous borders to also stop them from leaving by land.
“You will ask yourself why leave your beloved country to go and die in a desert? They are not deterred by the number of deaths that occur on that suicidal journey to Europe through North Africa,” the official told THISDAY.
Immigration explained that when they discovered that those deported whose passports were seized and others who obtained passports from other countries were using them to travel overseas, “we try to stop them at the airport but if they escape and travel, we call the embassies of the countries they travelled to.
“We also discover that some of those who use other countries’ passports go through agents who immediately they arrive their destination destroy the passports and force person to serve them until she has offset the money they spent in taking her out of the country. They force them into prostitution and exploit them until they get all their money back. Some of them who are travelling don’t even have a dime on them. Many of the passports of those travellers are seized,” Immigration official who spoke to THISDAY said.
An Immigration official who had served at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos for several years told THISDAY that in the past some Nigerians resorted to using Ghana passports and “we tried to stop it and they started using passports of other West African nations”
He explained that in China when Nigerians want to extend their stay Chinese government would refuse but it grants extension to those with Ghana passports, adding, many countries are not comfortable with green passport.”
He noted that some Nigerian businessmen in China obtain business visa but when it expires they would ask for extension.
“In the past Chinese authorities used to grant them extension but recently they have stopped doing so but if you have Ghanaian passport they will grant you extension. This is one of the reasons why some Nigerians go for Ghana passport.
“But I don’t understand why two weeks should not be enough for a businessman to manufacture his goods and ship them to Nigeria. I am convinced that if you make all the necessary arrangement before you leave Nigeria, you should be able to finish all the transactions in two weeks but some of these Nigerians want to stay longer than necessary to do other things,” the Immigration officer said.
THISDAY also learnt that due to the influx of Nigerians to Saudi Arabia, Saudi authorities has written to the federal government, requesting that young people, especially girls should not be allowed to come to the Kingdom.
The letter was said to have emphasised that girls should not be allowed to their country; unless there is good reasons for them to travel, backed by facts and approval from the Saudi embassy.
“There are reports that many girls who depart Nigeria through both land and air find their way to Saudi Arabia where they are engaged as maids, but the Saudi Arabia government has made it clear that such people should not be allowed in the Kingdom,” the officials said.
Immigration said that many Nigerian girls who ended up in Libya had Europe and other parts of the world in mind and some of them even ended up in Mali where they stay and hoped they would get the chance to go farther to their aspired destination, “but some of them end up in North Africa and many of them die.”