Michael Olugbode in Abuja
The federal government has restated its commitment to ameliorate the challenges encountered by Nigerians during the process of applying for and obtaining the Nigerian passport by improving service delivery and streamlining of its operations.
Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, gave the commitment yesterday, while inaugurating the Ilesa Passport Front Office and Production Centre, of the Nigeria Immigration Service in Ilesa, Osun State.
Aregbesola, while noting that the surge in the number of applications necessitated the establishment of more passport front offices across the country, insisted that this was borne out of the determination of the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration to further make the process seamless.
The minister said: “In recent years, there has been an upsurge in passport demands by Nigerians. The first factor in this upsurge was the COVID-19 pandemic that affected our production schedule, due to restrictions on human movement. This created a backlog that we were trying to clear when an unprecedented number of Nigerians now decided to travel outside the country and applied for passport, thereby compounding the backlog challenge.
“Then of course, the panic buying syndrome kicked in. Many people who had no immediate need of passport then started applying, creating a deluge of applications. Thankfully, that is behind us now. The backlogs have all been cleared and we are producing on schedule in all our centres.
“Fresh application will take six weeks after biometric data capture, while renewal requires just three weeks. To respond to the challenge, we increased our production capacity. In 2021, we produced one million booklets. Last year, we increased production to 1.8 million, nearly doubling our efforts. We shall keep working at it to ensure that we provide for as many Nigerians that are desirous of the passport.”
Speaking further, he said: “The Passport Front Office we are commissioning today is one of the ways we are responding to increased demand for passport, especially to reduce the waiting time for biometric data capture.
“We have opened this front office in Alimosho, Katsina, Zaria, Daura and in several Nigerian missions abroad in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, where the enhanced passport is being rolled out.”
He explained that: “This front desk is not an express centre. It is also not a full-fledged passport office like the ones in Osogbo, Ibadan or Akure. However, a front office is where application will be made and biometric data of the applicant will be collected. It is a non-judgmental centre, meaning that no decision will be made here, but the application and biometric data of the applicants will be collected and forwarded to the NIS for processing and issuing.
“We need as many centres as possible to accommodate the huge number of those applying every day, day and night, on our online platform, to reduce the waiting time before data capture to the barest minimum. Our target is to reduce the waiting period for biometric data capture to not more than one week, after application.”
He noted that since his inception at the Ministry, the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) has been repositioned especially in the engendering of a passport production system and process that is in compliance with global best practices in technology.
He also urged new applicants for the Nigerian passport to apply early so as not to fall in the hands of scammers and other opportunities.
He lamented that: “One of the burdens we bear every day is of desperate travellers who needed a passport today to be able to travel tomorrow,” insisting that, ‘except for medical emergencies and overriding national interest, there is hardly any emergency in travelling. This is because travelling, whether for studies, business or pleasure, requires planning and it takes time.”
He urged applicants for the Nigerian passport therefore to apply early enough before their travel date to avoid cutting corners and falling into the hands of scammers and other opportunists, adding that: “It is important also that they apply by themselves at the Nigeria Immigration Service portal and not through touts and unscrupulous officials, which often bring heartaches.”
He said: “The reforms we have introduced to passport administration are meant to ease operation and confer integrity on the Nigerian passport. We are also linking passport with other identity platforms, in line with the national policy of creating a central identity database, for ease of national administration and national security.
“This is why NIN is linked with passport application. It is important therefore that applicants’ data, including order of name and date of birth sync with their record with NIN. Any discrepancy will stall their application for passport, until they are able to resolve it.”
Speaking at the event, Osun State Governor, Senator Ademola Adeleke commended the Minister for being a worthy ambassador of the state, reassuring him of the state’s support in all ramifications.
Adeleke who affirmed his resolve as a progressive, promised to complete all projects of the former Governor abandoned by the immediate past adminstration.
He said: “No matter the party you are, if you are a progressive, you are a progressive if you are doing what the people want. When he was Governor, he loved the people and the people loved him.
“All the projects Ogbeni left, it was abandoned for years. I promised the people during my campaign that I was going to continue the projects, that is what I am doing.
“As a civilised person, no matter the party you are, you will always love progress. That is what I will always continue to ensure that all developmental projects are continued. As a federal minister from the state, we are proud of your achievements and we will continue to be proud of you.”
Earlier in his address, the Controller General, Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Isah Idris, commended the leadership of the Ministry of Interior, for providing transformational leadership for the service.
Idris said in the last few years, efforts have been concerted to make sure that Nigerians are able to easily access the Passport and other services, in guaranteeing internal security, in the most convenient way.