Manual process of passport collection frustrates Nigerians at NIS Ikoyi office
The only thing ‘lively’ about Rotimi Oyeleye, is his up-and-down green senator attire. Everything other thing suggests a man who has been worked and is now in drowning exhaustion.
His problem that Thursday afternoon is the Ikoyi office of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), specifically the collection centre, where a crude process is employed in passport distribution.
The centre is a bungalow with a narrow corridor. Directly in front of it are waiting for areas for citizens who desire to pick up their passports. There are two waiting spots—one on the left and one on right. There is a bigger one—a single-room bungalow—behind them.
Oyeleye formed the crowd at the centre waiting to collect their passports. His restlessness cannot be unnoticed and even the leather pews do little to induce comfort.
He gets up to listen for his name each time an officer comes out to distribute the travel document and falls back in when he does not hear his name, waiting for the next round of name-calling which happens between 10 to 30 minutes after each round.
It is already 3 p.m. and his effort to collect his passport has been futile since the day began.
“Today’s my third time of coming and I was told it’s ready. I’ve been here since 8 a.m. and I was told to wait that they would call my name,” he said. “I’m still waiting.”
In July, Rotimi, a computer engineer, had travelled from Abeokuta to register for the passport in Lagos because passports were not available in the immigration office in Abeokuta.
It has been four months and he is yet to get his passport. This has foiled his plans to travel by December—a trip he should have had long ago but has been delayed due to passport collection.
“I’m not happy at all,” he said, “it’s stressful and difficult to collect the passport. I should have travelled by now but I’m being delayed.”
He is not alone in this wait. Dosa Sefu, a businessman, is in the same boat as Rotimi. He too is keenly waiting for some divine intervention to get his passport.
The lack of a NIS office in Badagry forced him to travel down to Ikoyi in search of the essential document as far back as August and was sent a message to go pick it up that on November 11.
Arriving at the centre at 7 a.m., Sefu dropped his name in a bowl but at 3 p.m. he was still waiting to hear his name, talk more about getting the passport.
“When will I go back to Badagry now with the bad road,” he asks in frustration.
Getting the passport holds a deep significance for Sefu. As a resident of Badagry living close to the border, he could be subjected to harassment by immigration officers without the document.
His business will be threatened as he would not be able to travel to Lagos to buy goods if he does not get his hands on the passport.
“That’s why I have to get it before leaving. The way they’re doing it is not good,” he adds, begging for a passport office to be opened in Badagry to help residents in the area.
The bowl system
Every morning of the working days, a certain bowl is placed on a tall stool waiting for passport collectors. This bowl is used to collect details of Nigerians who have registered either for a fresh document or renewal.
On arrival, they are expected to write the passport information (name, number, and pages of passport) received at the point of capturing in a piece of paper and drop it in the bowl.
From time to time, an immigration officer empties the bowl and begins the search for individual passports using details contained in the paper.
The same process/system is used to sort out people who are either present or absent in the teeming crowd hankering for their document, our correspondent observed.
For instance, in order to avoid wasting time, an officer might decide to know if the people who have dropped names in the bowl are physically present by calling out the names. If they are present, the paper is dropped in a separate carton and vice versa.
As tiring as the process appears, immigration officers did not seem to mind. They carried on with much ‘diligence’ while their clients got trapped in a long, painful, and frustrating wait.
Some sources told BusinessDay that the process is flawed in many ways but most notably is that names were being skipped easily.
“I’ve been here since 8 a.m. and I put the paper in the bowl but my name has not been called,” a woman complains as she began a search for another piece of paper.
Equally frustrated and exhausted, Charles Okoye, a real estate consultant, said the process has been “really stressful” after spending just 45 minutes at the centre.
While condemning the poor management of the crowd, he said if they continued that way it would be a stressful exercise, and suggested they call the names on the available passports.
“I’m not sure of what is going on inside, so, I’m not sure if I’ll get it today. They should adopt technology to make collection efficient because all this manual stuff is not helping and the process can easily be bypassed by those with connections,” said Biodun Odeneye, a businessman.
N1,000 to the rescue
A thousand Naira may be of little value to the outside world, but within the walls of the NIS Ikoyi office, it could save you from developing bad mental health, and some stress.
So, Odeneye is not entirely wrong. Multiple sources confirmed to BusinessDay that people bypass the process by paying (or giving) N1, 000 to officers to facilitate their passport collection.
This journalist was also offered the same option during an earlier visit to the centre, but declined and left.
“I gave them N1,000,” said a source who got tired of waiting as the day was coming to end.
While this helps the few who pay, it extends the waiting time of the others who do not, as they will first be served.
But why the long wait?
An officer who spoke to BusinessDay unknowingly said the members of staff had a meeting that Thursday morning, hence the delay.
According to him, the exercise is a process that begins from the production centre, and sometimes, the passport may be ready but has not been taken to the collection centre.
He also blamed citizens who fail to confirm the status of their passport by asking questions, and rather choose to wait at the collection.
“Some people will just be there, ask questions, they will not,” he said. “When the names are dropped in the bowl, they are taken inside to check if the passports are ready first, and if they are not ready, they will bring out the papers.”