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Again, I Wept for Nigeria the Day I Visited Nigeria Immigration Service Office

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Again, I Wept for Nigeria the Day I Visited Nigeria Immigration Service Office

By Collins Mbakwe

It is no longer news that monumental corruption and a high level of impunity have characterized the Nigeria Immigration Service for years now. My recent visit to the immigration office, Maiduguri Borno State, and further investigations on some other immigration offices across the country adumbrated the fact.

 

First, let me state that on October 23, 2014, I visited the immigration office in Maiduguri to process my E-passport. I paid about twenty thousand naira, which is the government-approved price for it. The process was quite smooth, as the following day, 24th, the passport was issued to me.

 

Alas! My recent visit for renewal of the said passport left me with utter disappointment. The processing officer I met at their Maiduguri office, told me that the government price for passport renewal was 22,000 naira.

 

Then, I enquired to know when I would collect the passport. He told me it would take up to 6 months thereabouts. He told me the reason for the delay was because they no longer get enough booklets as before.  On hearing that, the surprise was written largely on my face.  I was wondering why every sector or agency of this country keeps changing from sublime to ridiculous.

 

The officer further explained that if I needed it urgently, the price was sixty thousand naira. I screamed as I giggled in disbelief. As I sat confusedly on the sofa in the office, I watched as people kept trooping in their numbers to pay the sixty thousand naira.

 

At that moment, my eyes caught the bold writing on a piece of paper pasted on the wall just behind one of the passport processing officers. It read: SAY NO TO CORRUPTION. Seeing that, I got bereft of speech.

 

While I was still imagining the irony in the write-up, my eyes caught one pasted on the Deputy Comptroller’s office door. It read: DO THE RIGHT THING. Quickly, I heaved a sigh of indignation and snapped my fingers synchronously. Then, I wearily stood to leave. The processing officers paid no attention to me. They were busy after all.

 

On my way out of the office premises, one of the officers who saw me when I entered the processing office asked if I  was done. I explained to him what I was told. He confirmed that that was how it was. He said if I needed it in two or three days, that I should look for the sixty thousand naira. I left the premises totally disillusioned, wondering what the country has become.

 

As soon as I got home, a thought of me making inquiries from the  Immigration offices in the SouthEast found itself inside of me. I knew that corruption was usually on a larger scale in those zones, especially in my state, Imo.

 

But somehow, I felt processing the passport there might be better. With that, I called my people. Then I got the worst news. The passport processing officers there collect hundred plus to issue a passport without delay. I got completely devasted. It became clear that my hope of traveling has been blighted.

 

A week later, in an interview, the Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, said that the full digitization of Nigerian passport processes would be completed by December.

 

He disclosed this when he was featured on the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) Forum in Abuja.

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He said that full digitization would eliminate any form of contact between passport applicants and immigration officers.

 

According to him, this will eliminate the inherent corruption in the system.

 

The minister said that the project was one of the priorities of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.

 

“We are on it, and by December we will remove any manual processing of passports.

 

“Now, we still have some manual parts, because files are still manually opened.

 

“By December, particularly in the busiest passport processing centers, there will be no manual segment of the passport processing, every part of it will be digitized,” he added.

 

According to him, there is no shortage of passport booklets in the country, and advised applicants to begin the processing of their passports at least six months before the scheduled time of travel.

 

“If you need a passport now, start the process very early, do not begin the processing efforts two weeks before your traveling.

 

“If you don’t, already you have created problems for yourself, because the system, after capturing, which is the enrolment of your data, we harmonize it with the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) database,” he said.

 

Aregbesola also urged passport applicants to ensure their names and other information tallies with their details on the National Identity database.

 

“Every identity document must be the same to ease capturing,” he said, adding that even wrong arrangements of names could create delays in the processing of passports.

 

“You must understand what it is. It is a presidential order that the new passport regime should be such that all data and everything about you as an individual must be the same and harmonized.

 

“What you have in the passport, which is the most secured identity document, must be the same with every other of you, whether in the bank or at the national identity database.

 

“When you come to us to register, after filling your form online, you come for data capturing, and what you do there is to harmonize what you have filed in your form and your bio-data as we advance.

 

“So when your name doesn’t tally with what we have, your data information is not the same on the relevant platforms, we will have some challenges with passport processing,” he said.

Don’t patronize touts, corrupt NIS officials

Mr. Aregbesola also urged Nigerians to stop patronizing touts, scammers, and unscrupulous immigration officials when applying for Nigerian passports.

 

He said this was necessary to stop corruption in the system.

 

He said Nigerians must resolve to send the touts, scammers, and unscrupulous immigration officials out of business.

 

“An illegitimate business company had been created around passport.

 

“It requires commitment, dedication, and participation of Nigerians in eliminating and getting rid of such illegitimate business,” he said.

 

The minister said that as long as Nigerians want a shortcut to passport processing, challenges would continue to occur in the issuance process.

 

According to him, those who patronize touts and unscrupulous passport officials are the ones mostly facing challenges with the process.

 

He, therefore, said passport applicants must follow due process and help to eliminate corruption and infuse integrity into passport administration.

 

“Please, shun any appeal to get the passport through a third party, tout, or scammers, by, first of all, starting the process early.

 

“If I want to recommend, I will say begin, unless there is an emergency, begin the processing six months to either the expiration or renewal or getting a new one.

 

“If you start six months ahead, there will be no issue at all. And why are six months recommended by me? Because that is the minimum period that you can even process any visa,” he said.

 

Mr. Aregbesola said that within six months, no matter how reckless the human factor involved may be, there would be no anxiety.

 

The minister called on the media and the public to help curb the menace and encourage passport applicants to do the right thing at all times.

 

From the interview, Aregbesola confirmed the monumental corruption in the immigration offices across the country. His words also show that nothing is being done to fish out the culprits and bring them to the book.

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