By Tobias Lengnan Dapam
Long before the present leadership of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), came on board, acquiring and renewing of passport at the service headquarters was done with relative ease, almost immediately.
However, for the first time, the coming of the new NIS Comptroller General, David Shikfu Paradang has changed the whole process.
Sources who spoke with our reporter said the new passport is still done with so much ease but that renewing one’s passport is more akin to the cliché: like the proverbial camel passing through the eye of a needle.
“The new measure being introduced by the service has hampered Nigerian citizens’ access to renewing passport in time. The process of endorsement on application, which used to take a couple of minutes, now takes up to one week to even kick-start action on one’s file. Requests like change of name as a result of marriage, re-issuance, damage, etc. that was previously being approved by an Assistant Comptroller is now denied them.
“Even a case of loss of passport that used to be one of the schedules of every Comptroller is no longer the case, as all files are directly approved by the ACG. The irony of it all is that when 100 files come out of his office, one will hardly find 3 files with approval”, the source said.
To confirm this claim, another insider took our reporter round the various passport offices where stockpiles of files were seen unattended to. He said the files have been there for weeks pending when the officer in charge will sign them.
At the office, several people who have become customers to the office were seen complaining and lamenting the stress they have been passing through. One of the applicants who do not want her name in print said she has been coming to the office for the past one week but nothing is being done to her file. She said the authorities always ask her to come the next day.
Another applicant, Emeka Chike, said he has become a regular face at the office. He said despite the fact that an officer of the Service is assisting him to get his passport, he still follows a long queue of other people who come everyday thinking there will be hope for them.
Explaining the reason for the new measure, the NIS Public Relations Officer (PRO), Chukwuemeka Obua said the new measure adopted by the Service is to enable it verify the authenticity of the applications being forwarded.
“Application or renewing of passport is a very serious issue that cannot be toyed with. This is because the passport speaks a lot about the person who is carrying it. It is the means of identification in the international scene. Before now, Nigerians were seen as common criminals abroad. Many of our dignitaries and personalities have been subjected to all forms of interrogation and suspicions because of lack of credibility.
“Presently, we are gaining and winning the confidence of the international community, despite the fact that most of us want to be locked in the past. You will see an individual with multiple passports, claiming a different identity all the time. It was becoming very rampant; and at the end of the day, all of us will suffer the effect.
“So claims by an individual that a passport is missing and want to change any particular material, which they voluntarily gave to the Immigration Service require thorough investigation before we go back to square one. That is the reason why certain people are complaining on the delay in the issues based on change of data.
“We need to protect ourselves from ourselves. Some people are into identity theft; so we have to dig it and confirm whether the materials they are giving us are genuine”, the NIS spokesperson said.
However, unknown to the Service, majority of its officers have used the old system to exploit desperate members of the public who are usually in a hurry to produce their passport.
One of the officers, who spoke with our reporter oblivious of his intent, said he produce passports for people at the rate of N30 thousand each, depending on how desperate the person is.
He said, “There was a time that a man came from France with the case of a missing passport and said he wanted it the same day. The man was in a hurry and following the normal procedure might take longer time. So, I called someone and the person charged him N70, 000. To my surprise, the person went to the Automated Teller Machine (ATM) and withdrew the money and gave me. I called the other officer and told him that the person has paid the money. Before I knew what was happening, the passport was ready.
Speaking on the same issue, another officer of the Service said it has become a business for most officers of the service these days, which at times force them to have squabbles among themselves.
These activities of unworthy officials has handed many unworthy people international passports and help in tarnishing the image of the service and the country.
Meanwhile, observers believe that the new measure, though perhaps conceived out of the zeal to address certain security challenges, might not mean well for the image of the country.
Commentators are worried that instead of allowing such files to pass through just one person, the Service should look for more people who have exhibited a great degree of credibility and task them with the responsibility of checking and renewing passports for people within 28 of 48 hours, in order to assist the business class and those with emergency cases.