Many Nigerians have been waiting for months to get the passports they applied for as corruption and inefficiency continue to mar the processing and issuance of the travel documents in the country, BusinessDay has learnt.
While the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) says that “average passport processing times takes up to three weeks for renewals/reissue and up to six weeks for first time applicants,” many Nigerians never get to receive their passports anywhere within these advertised timelines. They have to pay corrupt immigration officials, who have turned the acquisition of Nigerian passports into a criminal enterprise, before they can get their passports at all.
An Abuja resident, who identified herself as Ebiere, applied at the passport office in Gwagwalada to renew her passport in June.
“I wanted to go to the UK for a holiday from late July and use the opportunity to be part of the Commonwealth Games. I was told that there are no booklets and that if I wanted to get it within a month, I should pay N120,000. Meanwhile the official price is N70,000 for my 64-page passport. I did not get my passport until October after I had to get someone high up in the NIS to intervene,” he said.
Another applicant, Tayo, who works in Abuja, applied to renew her Nigerian passport in October. She is yet to get it more than a month after. “I have called them many times and they keep telling me that there are no booklets.”
She said the case of her two nieces is even more indicative of the pervasive corruption around passport acquisition in the country.
She said: “Their mother applied for renewal of passport for one, and a fresh passport for another in June this year in Kaduna. She paid extra amounts of money, so that it will not be delayed. The five-year-old’s passport was being renewed, and a fresh passport was applied for the newborn. She paid N18,000 for the newborn and N24,000 for the renewal.
“So, when they went for capturing, the passport official saw that one of the passports had South African and United Kingdom visas stamped on it. So, he concluded that they are not poor and he must collect extra N20,000. So, now the passport officer asked them to bring additional N20,000 each before they can collect their passports. So, the man is holding on to them until they pay the N40,000. The official claimed that he has to pay others before the passport can come out.”
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According to the NIS, the approved fees for passports are: a 32-page five-year standard passport sells for N25,000 or $130 (for overseas applicants), a 64-page five-year standard passport for N35,000 or $150 (for overseas applicants), and a 64-page 10-year standard passport at N70,000 or $230 (for overseas applicants). These fees however exclude bank charges.
Nigeria’s federal government tends to blame applicants for bribing corrupt immigration officials and turn a blind eye to the inefficiency and corruption-driven process in passport acquisition and administration in the country as well as the demand-side of the corruption engineered by NIS officers.
In March this year, Rauf Aregbesola, minister of interior, warned that any passport applicant who paid money to any Immigration staff for the issuance of passport would be charged for bribery and inducement.
The minister, who regretted some of the challenges and irregularities Nigerians had had to pass through to procure their passports, explained that the online application system “is designed to eliminate personal contact, other than for biometric purpose… This is to curb corruption, extortion and inflation. But as long as applicants try to cut corners, they defeat our purpose and create avoidable problems.”
He said: “The first problem that arises is unfulfilled expectations. Touts and officials are not in any position to guarantee anything.
“Our system makes room for six weeks for fresh applications and three weeks for renewal. This is to enable the NIS to investigate and verify claims by the applicants. It is advisable for travellers in need of a passport to begin the application process early, factoring our timeline. The six weeks maximum is reasonable and among the shortest application time in the world.”
Apart from corruption, the NIS is struggling with inefficient processes and infrastructure challenges that strain its capacity to provide passports to Nigerians. The current mass exodus from the country of mostly young Nigerians has further exacerbated the challenges faced by the NIS as demand for the travel documents has increased.
Contrary to claims by immigration officials about scarcity of booklets, investigations show that there are enough booklets in the system.
“I can tell you that there are enough booklets in the system to meet the demands,” a senior source at the NIS headquarters told BusinessDay. “I can further tell you that 2022 is going to be the year for the highest record of supply of booklets. The problem isn’t the availability of booklets; the problem is that the appointment system has a fixed number of slots per day. Across the country, each immigration office is assigned a fixed number of persons to enrol every day and once that number is met, the system refuses to accommodate new enrollees and hence give them passports, and so, as the slots get filled up, the appointments get pushed further into the future. If you are in Lagos, if you apply today you might not get your passport until January.”
The country’s commercial capital, Lagos, with a population of over 15 million people, has three passport offices in Alausa, Ikoyi and Festac. “If you notice, the longest wait time is in Lagos and that is because Lagos has a particular issue as it has only three offices for a large population. Other states outside Lagos and Abuja are less densely populated and tend to have shorter wait time,” the senior immigration source said.
BusinessDay’s findings show that on a daily basis, the Ikoyi Passport Office, which issues the highest amount of passports, gives out an average of 800 passports but has over 1,000 requests while Festac and Ikeja issue 1,000 passports daily with over 1,400 requests.
Abuja issues an average of 500 passports daily, with over 900 requests. Kano, Asaba, Ogun and Ibadan, which also rank top in the mobility of passports, issue 500 passports altogether with almost 1,000 requests.
Other states in Nigeria issue an average of 2,000 passports daily with over 3,500 requests.