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Passport scarcity fuels racketeering among Immigration officials

A lady, Blessing Ekawu, recently got married. Her groom works outside the shores of Nigeria, thus the need for her to travel and join him, in…

A lady, Blessing Ekawu, recently got married. Her groom works outside the shores of Nigeria, thus the need for her to travel and join him, in preparation for starting a new home. In August, she filed an application with the Nigeria Immigration Service in Abuja for the issuance of an international passport to enable her travel to the country of residence of her husband, but that dream has remained in limbo as she has been unable to obtain the passport till date. 

The frustration of Ekawu has become the lot of so many Nigerians, who have been in the queue for more than 3 months, waiting to either renew their passport or process a new one at Immigration offices across the country. 

At each of the passport issuing centres visited, Daily Trust on Sunday reporters met exasperated individuals who lamented the frustration and pain they have been going through in the process of obtaining the travel document.

Findings by our reporters show that not a few Nigerians have missed scholarship slots for further studies, work-related opportunities and life-saving engagements, amongst others, while awaiting to be issued the passport.  

At the NIS headquarters in Sauka, Abuja, a young woman who gave her name simply as Linda, said she had been battling to secure the passport since she filed application over three months ago. Every time she visits the passport office “they keep saying it is not ready.”  

“I just got an opportunity for a fully-funded internship in Data Analytics and I have since gone past my schedule resumption, but all I get from my own government is that they will call me when the booklet is ready. For how long will I continue to wait?”  

The booklet scarcity is not limited to passport offices within the country as the social media is replete with a series of videos and posts from Nigerians, complaining of the hardship in obtaining a passport from the various embassies across the world.

A businessman who gave his name as Abiola told our reporter that he paid N143,000 to get his 64 page passport in three days at the Ikoyi passport office.

Banky T. Akinlawon said, “Here in Italy, after I made a request online for the renewal of my passport, I went for the appointment to thumbprint. But for 6 months, my passport was not released until I gave them the bribe of 180euros (N83,700 at N465/euro), and within one week they sent me my passport.

The 32-page booklet in Italy for an adult is $106.00 (N43,990); and  minors are expected to pay $77 (N31,955).

The 64-page booklet goes for $137 (N56,885).  

“I had to bribe them as my permits are due for renewal and didn’t want to lose it. Buhari is not the problem of Nigeria, we are our own problem. They told me if I needed it I would have to pay money; so sad.”  

 The cost of the Nigerian international passport for the new 64-page passport is N70,000 with a 10-year validity period and N35,000 for five years.  

The 32-page passport with a five-year validity period costs N25,000 at the Nigerian Immigration Service office.  

Server breakdown, scarcity of booklet delay issuance of passport

A senior management officer of the NIS told Daily Trust on Sunday that what is difficult to obtain is the 32-page booklet, which is non-available.  

The officer also blamed the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) for its inability to meet the six-week target for the issuance of a fresh passport and three-week re-issuance.  

Aside the delay, the breakdown of the server also affects the revenue generation drive of the different commands nationwide.  

 The NIS officer at the Alausa passport office, Ikeja, said the breakdown had become so frequent in recent times that linking application information to the NIMC can last for over three days or more.  

At the Ikoyi passport office, applicants were advised by an assigned officer to ensure that they completed the online and NIN registration before approaching the office.  

This, it was learned, is to ensure that applications don’t ascribe the delay from another end to the service.  

Reason for booklet scarcity

Investigations further revealed that the major reason the passport booklets are scarce is that its producer, Irish Technologies, is allegedly owed debts that run into millions of dollars by the Ministry of Interior.

Daily Trust on Sunday also gathered that the delay was aggravated by the inability of the Ministry of Interior to terminate the contract awarded to Smart Technology Nigeria Limited for the production of the passport booklets.

Smart Technology Nigeria Limited works in partnership with its parent company, Iris Corporation, based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The e-passport booklets are produced in Malaysia, but the NIS activates the passport through biometric data transfer.

It was gathered that the Ministry of Interior and NIS officials have been holding meetings with ISTL for over one year on the termination or variation of the contract valued at over $138, 443,740, signed in May 2003.

The situation has led to the scarcity of passport booklets as ISTL has reportedly suspended production of the booklets following moves by the Federal Government of Nigeria to cancel its contracts and commence local production of the travel document.

An impeccable source said the federal government was facing serious legal challenges terminating the contracts, which has no terminal date.

The source said, “What the government is doing now is to resolve the legal conundrum, and I think they are almost done with it. They would be making arrangements for local producers of the passport (booklets) after sorting out the problem.’’

Documents obtained by our correspondent indicated that the federal government entered into six agreements with the contractor between March 2003 and April 2015 for the production of e-passports.

The first contract was in three phases, with the first phase costing $62,881,800 (over N25.7bn), while the second phase costs $53,337,470 (over N22bn) and the third phase, $62,881,800 (over N25bn).

The contract, which included the implementation of the Nigeria Harmonised ECOWAS Electronic Smart Passport and Autogate, was for the production of 5.5 million wafers and laminates for incorporation into the back cover of passport booklets, supply of Electronic Passport Management System, comprising the Passport Enrolment and Issuance System, Automated Fingerprint Identification System, Passport Personalisation System, Immigration Border Control System and Immigration Reporting System.

 

Checks indicate that the federal government did not commit any fund to the project, leaving the contractor as the sole financier of the contract.

The ISTL reportedly took a loan of N3bn in 2003 to fund the implementation of the project.

The agreement states that ISTL shall bear, pay and thereafter be reimbursed by the Ministry of Interior, with all withholding taxes, VAT, duties, fees, levies and other charges connected with the execution of the agreement, which did not contain any renewal clause.

However, on March 1, 2007, the Ministry of Interior and Iris Smart Tech signed another agreement for the production of three million machine-readable passport booklets and the embedding of the substrates.

The booklets were to be supplied at a unit price of N690.08, totalling N2,070,240,000.

According to the agreement, the settlement of the company’s invoices was to be made from 30 per cent of the revenue generated from the passport sales.

 The ministry was to make an advance payment of 25 per cent of the project cost, while the ISTL was expected to provide technical and management training to NIS officials.  

3 years after Buhari’s approval to NSPMC, passport printing still done abroad

President Muhammadu Buhari, in 2019  granted the Nigerian Security Printing  and Minting Company (NSPMC) the monopoly of the production and personalisation of all Nigerian e-passports.  

The president further directed that all related documentation of the e-passports shall be the sole responsibility of the company.  

Popularly known as The Mint, the company was established in 1963, with the objective of producing the country’s currency notes and coins for the Central Bank of Nigeria, as well as security documents for ministries, departments and agencies of government, banks and other blue-chip companies.

With the new directive from the president, all existing memoranda of understanding and contracts on printing by other institutions companies will not be renewed.

Our investigation confirms extortion – Public Complaints Commission

In a recent expose, the commissioner representing the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), at the Public Complaints Commission, Dalhatu Musa Ezekiel, narrated how Immigration officials were fond of extorting money from Nigerians seeking new and renewal of international passport at various passport offices across the country.

The commissioner said Nigerians go through hell in the hands of passport officials, who would ask them to pay extra amounts of money “off the record,” with the pretext of non-availability of booklets.

Dalhatu said, “We have had so many complaints from Nigerians about passport issues. You will pay for a passport; either you want a new one or you want to renew. You will follow through all the processes, and at that point you need no more stress to get your passport.

“As at the time you are done with procedures and you just need to get the passport, the passport office will tell you that there is no booklet.  Some people have to pay extra money off the record to get their passport booklets.

“I think this should be discontinued immediately.  The comptroller-general of Immigration may not know because he is not there to be issuing passports, but let him ensure that there is a unit to monitor what is happening at the passport offices.

“Let people get their passports when due because after all, they have paid for this service. How do you allow people to pay and finish all the procedures, and all of a sudden you tell them that there is no booklet? It means that Nigerians want to shortchange Nigerians.”  

He added that some of the PCC officials had carried out undercover investigations on some of the complaints and found that they were true.

Disguised Immigration CG discovers high touting, hike in passport fees at Lagos offices

The acting comptroller-general of Immigration, Isah Idris, recently discovered a high prevalence of touts and hike in passport fees at Lagos passport offices during a sting operation he personally led.

The spokesman of the NIS, Amos Okpu, said Idris paid an unscheduled visit to the Alausa and Ikoyi passport offices in Lagos as part of sting operations to assess the quality of service delivery to members of the public at the centres.

He noted that both the touts and some of the personnel, who offered to assist him gave exorbitant fees far beyond the official rates, with the acting CGI playing along with them and indeed some affirmed their readiness to assist him procure the passport within a reasonable time provided he met their charges.

The acting CGI noted that the visit was very insightful, stating, “It has enabled me to assess the quality of service delivery at the centres, especially against the backdrop of some public complaints about poor service delivery in some passport offices.

“We shall use this experience to deepen our reforms very urgently. I have seen some gaps that must be quickly addressed. I think the passport appointment system we are about to introduce will take care of some of the gaps, while a huge emphasis on consequence management shall be vigorously pursued,” he said.

He said none of the personnel found to have acted below expectation during the visit shall go unpunished, assuring that appropriate sanctions shall be applied.

Idris had, on assumption of office, promised to deepen passport reform efforts, improve border security efforts and introduce measures to enhance staff welfare.

Reps call for termination of production contracts

The House of Representatives has called for the termination of all Nigerian passport production contracts given outside the country.

This was part of the recommendations in a report submitted by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs penultimate Wednesday.

The report, presented by the chairman of the committee, Yusuf Buba (APC, Adamawa) reads: “That the House does consider the Report of the Committee on Foreign Affairs on the Oversight Visit to the Nigerian Consulate, Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America, and the Nigerian High Commission in Kingston, Jamaica and approve the recommendations therein. It is the opinion of the delegation that what they have seen in Atlanta, Georgia, USA and Kingston, Jamaica, are a fair representation of what actually obtains in almost all Nigeria foreign missions across the globe.”

According to the report, the delegation also discovered that the shortage in the number of passports required by Nigerians in the Diaspora has continued to be a major issue at Nigerian missions.

It stated, “The reality on ground indicates that the Nigerian standard passport and others are still being printed outside the shores of our country.

“The delegation, in its consideration, believes that the problems associated with shortages in the required number of passports for Nigerians abroad can adequately be mitigated by the termination of existing contracts for printing abroad while commencing production locally.”

We’re on top of the situation – FG

The federal government has, however, said the stress associated with the application and collection of passports would soon be a thing of the past.

The Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, stated this at a State House press briefing while answering questions from correspondents.

“It is important to inform you that we have witnessed a growing demand for the Nigerian passport, both locally and by Nigerians in the Diaspora.

“A total of 2,742,207 passports of different categories were issued from 2019 till date,” he said through his media aide, Sola Fasure.

Taking an average of N25,000, the NIS would have raked in around N68.5bn between 2019 and now. The amount could rise to N190bn if the average is taken to be N70,000.

He said: “The year-on-year increasing growth rate is, however, putting a lot of pressure on the current processing structure and resources, and further justifies the need for a reform in the passport application and processing system in line with the current reality,” the minister was quoted as stating.

Continuing, the minister revealed that the ministry was aware of the challenges faced by Nigerians in securing their passports, but noted that effort was being put in place to make it a thing of the past.

“This year alone, the ministry approved a special deployment of over 600,000 passport booklets, the largest of its kind ever done, to cushion the effects of shortages being experienced,” the minister stated.

“To limit human interference and corruption, we are streamlining the whole passport application and production processes to increase efficiency.

“In the coming days, a new and digital appointment management system will be launched to optimise the passport application experience for Nigerians, limit physical visits to passport offices and check the inconveniences Nigerians suffer in booking appointments for biometric data capture,” the minister stated.

By Sunday M. Ogwu, Joshua Odeyemi, Abuja & Eugene Agha, Lagos