Sanitising the passport acquisition process

Sanitising the passport acquisition process


Monday, July 6, 2015

The Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) was set up and saddled with statutory functions, among which is the operational procedure for temporary and permanent departure of people from Nigeria to the outside world and vice versa. One of the core responsibilities of the NIS in this regard is the issuance of international passport to qualified Nigerians for the purpose of identification as bona fide citizens, most particularly while travelling to other countries. It is on the said passport that an entry visa to another country is stamped. Hitherto, the Machine Readable Passport (MRP) had been the valid travel document issued to Nigerians by the NIS until the MRP was phased out by the Federal Government and the Electronic Passport (EP) otherwise known as e-passport was introduced as the acceptable official identification document Nigerians can travel on.

Introduced in 2007, the EP has been explained by the NIS as a safeguard against the reckless abuses, mutilations and manipulations which the MRP was said to have suffered at the hands of miscreants and unpatriotic elements. The EP, as it had been much proclaimed, conforms to global standards and enjoys the total confidence of the international community. It has considerably enhanced the good image of Nigeria, as well as the dignity of her citizens. Holders of the EP are no longer treated with disdain as was the experience when the MRP was in vogue. It is not unlikely that all these positive factors informed the determination of the FG to completely phase out the MRP.

Although it is commendable that the FG had been proactive in respect of the introduction of the EP, it is, however, unfortunate that the current process of acquiring the EP at the NIS offices, especially in some states of the federation speaks of exploitation and swindling of Nigerians by means of corrupt antics and tricks. According to media reports, some passport offices have become a hive of EP racketeers in persons of touts, miscreants and people of dubious characters who have allegedly been franchised as passport acquisition agents of corrupt officers in the NIS. Entrances to some of the nation's immigration offices are such that EP applicants are seen walking in to racketeers who audaciously advertise their familiarity with the passport acquisition procedure and also their network with NIS officers who could fast-track the process of making the passport available to the applicants, albeit at fees far above the official rate. It is very disgusting to see the racketeers moving in and out of passport offices freely and making phone calls apparently to NIS officers for whom the racketeers are fronting, especially when clarifications are to be made by the racketeers in the course of bargaining with the EP seekers.

It is upsetting that what the racketeers brandish before the EP seekers as stumbling blocks in the path of being issued EPs if official procedure is followed, is a negative redesign by the bad eggs in the NIS, of a process that should be working for the benefit of Nigerians. This situation, thus, denounces the standard which is being advocated for the Nigerian civil service. It is infuriating that the actual cost of getting a passport is seemingly a classified information whose release to the public is seen in official circles as tantamount to being uneconomical with the truth; and whose consequence is 'spoiling' business for the said passport acquisition 'agents' who flaunt EP application materials and documents around the premises of NIS passport offices with audacity and impunity. Perhaps that is another strategy for making the 'salesmanship' of the racketeers thrive at the expense of the right of Nigerians to effective and efficient service delivery.

We are pained that the legitimate process that Nigerians are being asked to follow in acquiring their passports currently suggests a procedure that is exasperating and frustrating. The much-touted on-line registration, which is the first stage of the said process, is oftentimes user-unfriendly due to seeming inadequate internet bandwidth that elongates the time and days spent on getting registered and confirmed for payment and data capturing thereafter. This inadequacy is a strong unique selling proposition of the racketeers who profess that everything about on-line application and confirmation can be done by them in a jiffy, as long as the applicant is ready to pay additional thousands of naira. It is also disheartening that getting data captured could be an herculean routine on many occasions for Nigerians who want to go the legitimate way and who do not have 'big officers' in the fold of the passport offices to influence and facilitate a speedy and timely processing of their passports.

In many cases, speedy issuance of passport is determined by what racketeers demand on behalf of such 'big officers', as money that must be paid by applicants who want express service instead of undue delay caused by lopsided official process. In the case of legitimate-method users among the applicants, their experiences range from being victims of discriminate, pedestrian and lackadaisical methods of service delivery, to delayed issuance of passports. Also, we are worried about speculations that in spite of the much-talked-about guarantee of the EP against falsification, there are in vogue EPs with fictitious data and thumbprints. We posit here that if this is true, the public confidence in the acclaimed sanctity of the EP becomes eroded and stands trial in the court of public opinion.

 

We are persuaded that the EP acquisition process in the country needs to be sanitised. To this end, while we urge the FG and concerned agencies to get rid of EP acquisition racketeers from NIS passport offices across the country, the official procedure for obtaining the EP must be overhauled, enhanced and facilitated for timely delivery of that service to Nigerians without being exploited. Also, the actual official rates for acquiring different categories of EPs should be well publicised nationally, while measures must be put in place to identify officers of the NIS who engage in swindling Nigerians in the course of EP acquisition. Such officers must be made to face the wrath of law.

 

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