• Monday, June 24, 2024
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Tunji-Ojo curbs passport racketeering to ease access

Tunji-Ojo curbs passport racketeering to ease access

When Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo assumed office as the Minister of Interior in August 2023, Nigerians expected little more than public holiday announcements, as his predecessor had become synonymous with.

The Ministry of Interior, often viewed as a political reward, is directly responsible for crucial parastatals, yet little is usually known about its leadership.

However, in his first few months, Tunji-Ojo took significant steps to address a primary concern for many Nigerians: the passport procurement process.

Read also: Home delivery of Nigerian passport service set to launch in June

Under his leadership, the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) cleared a substantial backlog of passport applications.

“On September 7, we made a promise to sort out the backlogs in two weeks, but we made it in three weeks, and I sincerely want to apologise to Nigerians for that…. We inherited 204,332 enrolments without passports being issued, people that had applied and been captured,” he said.

This effort is part of Tunji-Ojo’s broader initiative to reform passport procurement and immigration services.

He has emphasised that no Nigerian should wait more than two weeks for a passport. To facilitate this, Nigeria launched an online portal for passport applications to eliminate the need for physical interaction, reduce queues and paperwork, and prevent identity theft and racketeering.

The online application process has also been extended to Nigerians living abroad. According to Tunji-Ojo, “No more long queues or hassle. Apply online today and get your passport.”

In June, home delivery of passports is expected to commence in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kano, and Abuja. Other efforts to improve immigration processes include the installation of eGates at Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos to enhance national security, passenger facilitation, and ease of business.

While Tunji-Ojo’s efforts have primarily focused on the NIS, his ministry oversees other agencies, including the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Nigerian Correctional Service (NCS), Federal Fire Service, and the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC).

In a controversial move, NIMC was transferred from the Ministry of Communications, Innovation, and Digital Economy to the Ministry of Interior at Tunji-Ojo’s request. This shift aimed to streamline passport procurement and consolidate identity management under one ministry, but it may pose a challenge.

NIMC has perennially faced funding and capacity issues, with Abisoye Coker-Odusote, its director, recently saying it can only enrol 100 million people. The commission is now working to expand this, but long-standing issues like server slowdowns occasionally rear their ugly heads.

Tunji-Ojo has also struggled to improve prison services significantly like his predecessor, despite a recent N585 million payment for inmate welfare. In April 2024, over 100 prisoners escaped from a medium-security prison after heavy rainfall damaged the facility.

Read also: The question of African economic mobility in a passport-constrained world

While it is too early to assess the minister’s tenure, who recently expressed his desire to be remembered not just as the minister of the Nigeria Immigration Service but also as the minister of the Interior, his legacy may eventually become overshadowed by corruption allegations.

Tunji-Ojo is embroiled in a credibility crisis related to a corruption case involving Betta Edu, the suspended minister of Humanitarian Affairs. He has been linked to a N438 million contract awarded to New Planet Project, a company he co-founded in 2003 and remains a significant shareholder.

Although Tunji-Ojo claims to have resigned in 2019, his wife is still listed as a director on the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) website. The alleged payments to his company include N279 million for verifying beneficiaries on the national social register and an additional N159 million.

In 2020, as chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Tunji-Ojo clashed with then-minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, over corruption and mismanagement allegations. Tunji-Ojo was accused of benefiting from numerous NDDC contracts, and he now faces further scrutiny and criticism due to Edu’s case.