• Thursday, April 25, 2024
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BusinessDay

Passport processing defies FG’s 6-week timeline

Passport seekers rue missed opportunities

Many Nigerians are still facing long waits for passport processing despite the six-week timeline promised by the Federal Government eight months ago.

New applicants and those who want to renew their passports now spend between three and six months processing passport applications at the offices of the Nigerian Immigration Service across the country.

According to BusinessDay findings, getting an appointment alone for the biometrics capturing at the passport office now takes between five and eight weeks, depending on the backlog of applicants awaiting biometrics processing in that particular office.

After biometrics, many applicants now spend another four months waiting for their passports to be ready for collection.

It was also discovered that the recently unveiled express window, which the Federal Government said will take a processing timeline of 72 hours for an applicant who has done the biometrics capturing, now takes about three to four weeks after paying an extra fee of N15,000.

“I applied online for the renewal of my expired passport on December 29, 2022, and I was given February 2, 2023 for a biometrics appointment at the Festac passport office in Lagos,” Gbenga Yemi, a fashion expert, said.

Yemi, who applied for the passport processing online without the help of an agent, said at the time he applied in December, the whole of January 2023 was no longer available for biometrics appointments as it was already fully booked.

According to him, the delays in getting a Nigerian passport are worsening by the day showing that the NIS is being overwhelmed by the number of applicants requesting passports.

Confirming this, Francisca Udochukwu, who took four of her children to the Festac Passport Office in Lagos for capturing on December 28, 2022, told BusinessDay that she applied for her passport and those of her four children in mid-October, only to be given biometrics appointment for December.

The delay is also being experienced in other passport offices across the country. The Ikoyi Passport Office, which is the biggest in Lagos, is also facing a surge due to returning students who are waiting to collect their passports.

BusinessDay investigations show that on a daily basis, the Ikoyi office gives out an average of 800 passports but has over 1,400 demands. In comparison, Festac and Ikeja issue about 1,000 passports daily and have over 1,800 demands.

Abuja, which has over 1,300 demands, gives out an average of 500 passports daily, while Kano, Asaba, Ogun, and Ibadan, which also rank top in the mobility of passports, give out 500 passports altogether with almost 1,500 demands.

Other states give out an average of 2,000 passports daily, with over 3,500 demands. This implies that on a daily basis, passport offices across Nigeria give out nothing less than 4,800 passports daily, totalling about 24,000 passports weekly.

In Umuahia, the Abia State capital, applicants are forced to pay N60,000 for what they termed ‘normal processing’ of a 32-page five-year standard passport, which officially costs N26,000 to process.

Despite the exorbitant fee charged, applicants also have to wait for a minimum of six weeks before the NIS will start processing the documents.

However, if an applicant wants fast-track, he or she will have to pay N80,000, and the timeline is about one week.

In Abuja, the story is similar as passport racketeering still prevails at various immigration offices.

When our reporter visited the NIS headquarters along Airport Road in Abuja, a man who claimed to be a staff of the service told our reporter to “bring money first, then your passport follows.”

“To get a 32-page passport for five years is N60,000, non-negotiable. Just pay the money to me, and I will start the process. If you cannot pay, then you will have to follow the normal process, which costs about N30,000, and it can take forever for you to get your passport. So, if you want to wait for months, no problem, the ball is in your court,” he said.

Narrating her experience, Amaka Orji, a beauty expert, told BusinessDay that she had a sad experience simply because she followed the normal process and refused to bribe any official.

She said: “I brought all the required documents and paid, that was around the end of the third quarter of 2022. I was told to come back in a week’s time for biometric capturing and others, but that was the beginning of the story. Each time I got here, I was told my documents were still being processed and that lasted for more than two months. The next thing I heard was that the booklets were finished. I was so angry and frustrated because of the time and energy I spent.

“The last time I came here, I insisted I must be attended to, and that was why I am making progress now. Hopefully, my passport will be ready next week.”

A government official who identified himself as Adamu said he does not work with the NIS, but can help our reporter to process his passport.

“If you want to get it the normal way, it will take a long time, and you would not know how long it will take. You will have to keep coming to the passport office. Passport booklets will soon become scarce; so the earlier, the better. Passport offices are usually crowded and more people are trooping in for theirs. Just use your money to get what you want,” Adamu added.

Read also: How corrupt, tardy process prolongs passport pickup

Meanwhile, in the Festac office in Lagos, an applicant who identified himself as Anthony told BusinessDay about his ordeal, which he blamed on his refusal to bribe the passport officials.

“It has been an endless wait for six months now. I did my capturing in August 2022, and till this January, nothing to show for it. I have visited the passport office at least once a week since I did my capturing, and they have been telling me that my passport is not ready. I don’t understand how something that should not take up to three days to get has lasted for over six months,” Anthony said.

Continuing, he said: “I have principles and as a Christian, I will never bribe anyone because of my passport. I registered online and also made payments online, after which I came for capturing in August 2022, when I was told that there was a scarcity of booklets. They however asked if I was interested in paying an extra cost of N20,000 for fast-track, which I declined since I was not in a hurry.”

He said since August, he had been visiting the passport office weekly for his passport but all to no avail.

He said one of his friends was captured in November and he got his passport in December because he agreed to give some of the officials some money to help facilitate the process.

Anthony, who is a businessman, told BusinessDay that he had lost some money and customers because of the time he wasted at the passport office.