Despite Efforts to Entrench Transparency, Fraudulent Activities Pervade Passport Offices Nationwide

Chinedu Eze

Despite the efforts by the Minister of Interior, Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo to ensure transparent passport processing and to make applicants receive their passports in less than 36 hours after application, the system still encounters delays as obtained in the past, THISDAY investigation has revealed.

Inside sources in the National Immigration Services (NIS) confirmed that fraudulent activities by touts and others still hold sway because of the stringent conditions attached to the process.

Last year, the Minister of Interior promised that from February this year, no Nigerian would wait for more than two weeks before obtaining his international passport and also assured that soon passports would be delivered to the homes of applicants.

So far, none of these promises has been fulfilled even as THISDAY investigation revealed that many Nigerians who request for passports cannot fill the forms online because of their level of education; so, they seek the support of touts and others who carry out the filling of the forms and payment online.

THISDAY learnt that this is common among traders in the markets in Lagos, in South East and among many Nigerians in the northern part of the country.

It was learnt that some applicants who approach passport control officers are assigned loyal NIS officials who in turn charge additional fees.

THISDAY also learnt that the request for local government identification, date of birth in addition to National Identification Number (NIN) for reissuance of passports has made it very difficult for some applicants to obtain new passports.

As a result, they resort to engaging the services of touts who cook up all kinds of documents as local government identity and print them in colour in order to meet that requirement.

An Immigration official explained to THISDAY that the Ministry of Interior wanted to disengage from the foreign organisations that hitherto printed passport booklets for Nigeria and in doing that government has to build new data base, hence the request that applicants should supply all the needed data, even on reissue of passports.

Informed source also told THISDAY despite the fact that the Minister of Interior approved the installation of solar power at passport offices in the country, and approved N2 million to Passport Control Officers (PCOs) in states for purchase of diesel for generators when the solar energy cannot provide electricity, the PCOs and other NIS officials and their collaborators still engage in sleaze.

“The truth is that you do not get your passport before one month, so the idea of getting it in two weeks is not possible. Passport booklets are available but few weeks ago the 10-year booklet was scarce and I have to confirm if it has become available. Truth is that the problem is even worse now in some passport offices. Touts are still doing their thing unchecked. The same racket still goes on in the reissue of passports and nobody is doing anything about it,” an insider told THISDAY.

Another Immigration official from the headquarters in Abuja told THISDAY, “The truth is that there are some Nigerians who are not lettered enough to go online and fill their passport form. If you go to Alaba, Aria Aria in Aba and other places you will see young men and women who can afford travelling to anywhere but they cannot fill those forms online. They engage others to do that for them and they are willing to pay. If you go to the north, most of them cannot fill those forms online; so, their brothers and sisters who are Immigration officials help them to fill those forms.

“Then around the passports officers are cybercafes mostly owned by top officials of Immigration, which are managed by their relatives or friends. There is no way you can trace he cafes to the officials but you will know it is not easy for ordinary person to open such café around Ikoyi Passport Office, for example. So, as long as the conditions given for the obtaining of passport cannot be met by the majority of the citizens, fraudulent activities will continue to go on. Some people who don’t know how to write their names will meet the PCOs and ask, how much is it going to cost? You state you price and help them out. So, government should be realistic about all these.”

Before the new conditions for reissue, applicants were only needed to bring their old passport and their NIN, but now they have to include identification from the local government, birth certificate and the other requirements.

Many of the Nigeria Immigration officials believe that the idea of taking the printing of passports from the old contactors to the new has nothing to do with patriotism, but other people making money from the deal. However, the Minister proved them wrong when he spoke about it when he visited the Lagos airport to inspect the e-gate in May.

 “We realised that the NIS, the data center, was not really there. And of course, we were leveraging on a private company’s data center. Of course, we appreciate them for that assistance, but we think that it is better sometimes to create a permanent solution to problems, rather than quick fixes.  We could have done it in February. It is not a problem doing it. But I tell you, we had to build a data center from scratch, to be able to keep the integrity of our data and our national security intact. It is very key. It is more important to me than what anybody might feel. So it is about national security. And I can assure you, we have completed the data center now, which is one of the biggest we have in Nigeria. 

“It is a tier 4, 1.4 pentabyte data center. It is comparable with anyone you can find anywhere in the world. The command and control center that we have built in Abuja, even International Air Transport Association (IATA), came to Nigeria from the headquarters in Canada and confirmed that this is comparable to even the best in the world. Because we believe, under the renewed hope administration, Nigerians do not deserve what is good, they deserve what is best. What can be compared all over the world. We must not belittle the expectation of Nigerians. So in view of this, we built the data center. We have sorted the passport delivery solution. They’ve done the final presentation in terms of the technology deliverable, because of the ease, we have to integrate it to the available application and, of course, the tracking solution, which will all be embedded in the application that we have at this particular moment, so that you don’t create multiple lines of failure,” the minister said.

He projected that his plan for two weeks processing time for passport and possible delivery to applicant’s home might begin in June, but in the first week of July, the status quo remains.

“So, we are looking at about two, three weeks after 1st of June, maybe 2nd or 3rd week of June, we will be able to start, and we are not starting from everywhere, because sometimes if you overload the system, you can cause the system damage. You can crash the system. You can shock the system. So what we are doing is we are going to start the home delivery for Lagos, for Rivers, just Lagos, Rivers, which is Port Harcourt, Kano, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kano, Abuja, those four places in Nigeria. and of course, the US, the UK in the Diaspora. We are starting with these two countries in the Diaspora, so we use it to do a proof of concept, test it, and see that it works,” the minister further said.

Although, his projection did not materialise as planned, industry pundits assert that there is no doubt that the inister has shown sincere commitment to make passport access easy for Nigerians.

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