Before the recent scarcity of the Nigerian International Passport Booklet that further exposed the gross corruption within the Nigeria Immigration Service [NIS] among its officers, rank and file, very little was known of the level of decadence in this all important government institution.
Though the NIS was not expected to be different, it was but disheartening to discover that the service is even worse than most, if not all.
The acute shortage of passport booklets in recent times, which is still foisting a lot of hardship on Nigerians wishing to acquire it, has led to long queues at immigration offices across the country which in turn has increased patronage of touts most of whom are Immigration Officers or their agents who hang around Immigration offices soliciting for clients.
According to the NIS though, the scarcity is because all the components of the e-passport are manufactured abroad. The fact that the booklet is produced in South Africa; the chip by a Netherland-based company and lamination of the data page in Malaysia, before final delivery to Nigeria, is a perfect scenario for officers and touts to prey on Nigerians applying to acquire international passports.
The scarcity started in 2016 when the company stopped supplying the 32-page passport booklet and demanded for an upward review of the price of the booklet, citing increased cost of production due to the low exchange rate of the Naira to the Dollar.
Till date, the scarcity has persisted, despite assurances by the NIS that passport booklets are available.
In spite of these promises and assurances by the government and NIS, African Travel Times Magazine [ATT] investigation however, uncovered brazen and endemic corruption that has eaten deep into the service.
At the FESTAC, Ikeja, Ikoyi offices all in Lagos State, even Abuja the headquarters, Calabar, Kaduna, Kano and Abeokuta, there is no passport procurement procedure.
In all the offices visited by this publication, our team witnessed first-hand institutionalised touting by men and women of the service running from one desk to the other processing applications for a fee.
For instance, a standard international passport that is advertised by the NIS costs ₦8,750 for Nigerians between the ages of [1-17years], including address verification fee of ₦2,000, all together makes it ₦10,750; ₦15,000 for Nigerians between the ages of [18 – 59 years], including address verification fee of ₦2,000, that makes it ₦17,000.
For Nigerians between the ages of [60 and above years], they will pay ₦8,750 including address verification fee of ₦ 2000, which makes it a total of ₦10,750 for a 32 page Booklets.
Meanwhile, the 64 page booklet is ₦20,000 and ₦2,000 address verification fee making it ₦22,000 across all ages.
With the above rates well publicised and advertised on the NIS website, officers and touts still charge as high as ₦35,000 for a 32 page booklet and ₦75,000 for a 64 page booklet for desperate applicants, some of whom have waited for months and sometimes duped by touts and even officers of the service.
In fact, African Travel Times reporters and contributors witnessed outbursts by frustrated applicants, who had been duped or unnecessarily delayed by the people handling their applications just to extort more money from them.
Also, applicants are made to pay as much as extra ₦3,000 on the day they are eventually scheduled to be captured, an exercise which does not necessarily guarantee timely production of applicants’ passports. This situation has made many applicants lose valuable appointments or even paying for new applications altogether.
On the average, this investigation also discovered that a junior officer can handle between 15 to 40 passports a month, middle level officer between 50 to 100 and a senior officer between 100 and above depending on how aggressive or strategically positioned that officer is in their work schedule within the service.
Succinctly put, the system was deliberately collapsed to create room for touting by officers.
The Publisher and Editor of this publication was made to cough out ₦2,000 extra after the number one man at the FESTAC office approved that he should be given priority as a journalist whose valid passport pages were used up. They insisted in collecting the money under the pretext that the officers in some offices must be bribed before they append their signature.
That was a passport that was handled by the boss of Immigration and the Public Relations Officer of the FESTAC office of the NIS.
While waiting for the passport to be issued, African Travel Times editor could hear officers grumbling over one of their bosses having about 500 passports being processed in his name in which he gets bribed ₦5,000 on each booklet. Quick arithmetic shows what comes to just one senior officer as bribe.
At the time of this publication, there were still many applicants who had their information captured since 2016 and earlier this year that have not collected their passports.
Abroad too, there have been series of complaints of lack of proper procedure for the procurement and renewal of passports at Nigeria’s High Commissions and embassies as well as lack of courtesy and inefficiency of staff of those missions.
The question is, if Nigerians can be made to go through all the aforementioned, what is the fate of foreigners that must procure visas before and on arrival in Nigeria?
By Our Correspondent