Nigerians applying for passport stranded as booklets shortage persists

… FG allegedly owes technical partners millions of dollars

Nigerians applying for passports in the last six months have been stranded and unable to travel outside the country as a result of the scarcity of international passports.

In Lagos and Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, many applicants have been waiting for months for their passports, which they had applied and paid for and had also, been captured in the database, but are unable to obtain their passports because booklets are scarce.

Some people have missed out on opportunities such as scholarships, study, medicals, child delivery, business engagements and investment opportunities, amongst others while waiting to obtain their passports.

BusinessDay’s checks show that passports are currently scarce because the government owes its technical partners abroad huge debts running into millions of dollars.

The Ministry of Interior has a Public Private Partnership (PPP) agreement with a foreign company, Irish Technologies which produces the enhanced e-passport, but it has refused to supply the product due to the alleged huge debts.

BusinessDay’s visit to Ikoyi passport office, the busiest passport office in Lagos on Tuesday morning show a long queue of angry and worried applicants waiting to obtain their passports, most of who have applied for passports, three months or more.

An applicant who identified himself as Tunde told BusinessDay that in the last three months, he visits the Ikoyi passport office twice every week and yet passport officials keep giving the same excuse that there are no booklets.

“It is a hopeless situation here. In February, I applied for a 32-page, five years validity passport and I was told this category was not available. Because I was pressed for time and needed to leave the country in April, I applied for a 64-page five years validity passport which cost me over double the amount for a 32-page five years validity passport. Sadly, up till now, I haven’t received the passport.

“I am so frustrated with this country and the situation. I have had to cancel my flights and my studies in the United States have resumed while I wait here hoping a miracle would happen and my passport would be issued to me,” Tunde lamented.

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Pascal Onyeka said his friend who is critically ill missed his hospital appointment in Atlanta, US because his passport booklet was not ready at the time he was supposed to travel.

“After paying about N80,000, as against the official price of N32,000, my friend did not get his passport in time. He missed his hospital appointment date and has to book another date,” Onyeka disclosed.

Stakeholders say Nigeria would have had many challenges if citizens were travelling as they did during the pre-covid era as people currently only travel when it is very necessary.

Susan Akporiaye, president, of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies, (NANTA), told BusinessDay that travel agents are processing about 30percent of what they were doing during the pre-covid era.

Therefore, those currently travelling are those trying to use their visas before it expires, students trying to go back to school and those going for medicals, Akporiaye said.

“People get passports as a means of identification. The percentage of Nigerians that own passports are not the travelling public. The crowd we see at the Ikoyi passport office are not only those travelling. Some need passports for other things because passports are currently the most valid means of identification for us in Nigeria,” she said.

In a swift response, Sunday James, public relations officer, Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), who confirmed that there was passport scarcity of passport booklets assured that the booklets will soon be made available to passport officers, so they can clear their backlogs.

“After a meeting held with the Comptroller General and the Minister of Interior, a matching order was given to all the passport officers to make sure they deliver within a frame of time.

“The passports would be delivered to them anytime from now and once it is delivered to them, they are expected to clear their backlogs before the end of May and by the beginning of June, we would start a new passport regime where people would get their passports six weeks after application,” James said.

BusinessDay’s checks show that the passport booklets are presently being produced‎ by Iris Smart Technology Nigeria (ISTL) through its parent company, Iris Corporation, based in Malaysia.

A company in the Netherlands is responsible for the biometrics and security details inserted into the passports, while South Africa provides the ink used for the printings done in the passports.

Before the scarcity, on a daily basis, the Ikoyi office which issues the highest amount of passports gives out an average of 800 passports but has over 1,000 demands while Festac and Ikeja issue 1,000 passports daily with over 1,400 demands.

Abuja issues out an average of 500 passports daily, with over 800 demands. Kano, Asaba, Ogun and Ibadan which also rank top in the mobility of passports issue out 500 passports altogether with almost 1000 demands.

Other states in Nigeria issue an average of 2,000 passports daily with over 3000 demands.

This implies that on a daily basis, passport offices across Nigeria issue no less than 4,800 passports daily.

BusinessDay’s checks show that for five working days in a year, passport offices across Nigeria issues out 1,248,000 passports in Nigeria.

The government spends about N19,500 for the production of one passport. This implies that 24,336,000,000 are paid to Malaysia, Netherlands and South Africa to produce Nigerian passports every year.