Despite federal government’s efforts at easing procurement of Nigeria’s passport with its latest online application process, Nigerians still find it difficult getting this travel document. Immigration officers and sabotage of technology have continued to frustrate applicants. AF24NEWS reporter GIDEON ADONAI, who visited immigration offices, writes on the plights of Nigerians in the hands of corrupt immigration officers.
The process of obtaining a travelling document (passport) from the Nigeria Immigiration Service (NIS), is like trying to squeeze a camel through the hole of the needle! Although efforts have been made by the government to make the process easy and seamless, immigration officials continue to mount artificial bottlenecks to make the process frustrating.
The official cost is ₦10,750 for northern applicants while ₦25,000 is for Southern applicants who prefer to pay and apply online. However, this has been hiked to ₦45,000, or ₦75,000 depending on the buyer.
On the ₦10,750 and ₦25,000 regional price difference, Immigration officers told AF24NEWS that the price variation was due to the production pressure in the Southern part of the country which seems to have more applicants.
The online application was introduced to make the process seamless and easy for applicants as well as reduce the crowd of applicants that usually flock its offices across the country. But this seem not to have ameliorated the situation and has opened an avenue for unscrupulous immigration officials to extort applicants.
Immigration officers who are responsible for inflating passport prices were caught on camera in footage directing helpless applicants to third-party touts who charge N45,000 for five years validity passport and a whopping ₦100,000 for ten years of validity.
Apart from painstaking investigations done by AF24NEWS, applicants have also narrated the draining experiences they had while trying to apply for or renew their passports.
THE CAMEL AND THE NEEDLE’S EYE
Recently, the minister of interior Ogbeni Raufu Aregebesola declared open an immigration centre at Alimoso area of Lagos State. The minister said the centre was opened to ease the pains of applicants from the Sango, Igando, Idimu, Alimoso and other areas who had to travel to the other three centres at Ikoyi, Alausa and Festac, to get their pasports. The new centre was meant to ease the process of data capturing and reduce applicatns’ stress.
However, this has not been the case as many applicants who throng the place have continued to express the same bottlenecks that exist in the three other offices.
Narrating her experience at the Alimoso centre recently, an applicant, Mrs Alabi Oyekunle told AF24NEWS, “I went to the new passport capturing centre in Alimosho the day after it was opened. There was no queue at all, yet the officers demanded that we pay ₦45,000 for a Nigerian passport” When AF24NEWS spoke with anotherapplicant at the Alimoso capturing centre, she lamented the impossibility of registering at the official price, despite the few numbers of applicants in the queue.
” My husband wanted to renew his passport and I wanted to get a new one, so we were delighted to go to the new Alimoso capturing centre by Sobo Bus Stop by Akowonjo Road for easy access, but the story remains the same. ”
Getting to renew or get a Nigerian passport is like the biblical camel passing through a needle’s eye, according to Pastor John Olatunde (not his real name). Pastor Olatunde who is planning to embark on pilgrimage to Israel later this year told AF24News the ordeal he had to pass through before renewing his passport.
RUNNING IN CIRCLES
At the start of his ordeal, he went to all three passport centres in Lagos and met a brick wall. Pastor Olatunde who lives in the Abule Egba area of Lagos first visited the Alausa office of the immigration in his quest to renew his passport.
On getting to the Alausa office, he met a huge crowd of applicants. This was disturbing, he never expected he was going to meet such a crowd. All efforts to get a clear direction of what to do proved abortive as everyone he approached told him he could only succeed in getting an appointment after five months!
He left there and moved to Ikoyi office. He met the same obstacle. In fact, Ikoyi was more chaotic as there are many go-betweens there. He was afraid of falling into the hands of con stars posing as immigration officials. He then left there and went to FESTAC office.
There was no respite. The crowd was uncontrollable. He had to leave there frustrated and he gave up the idea of being able to make the pilgrimage. It was while lamenting his fate that a fellow cleric asked him to try outside the southwest to renew his passport.
He was sceptical. However, his colleague encouraged him and gave him a contact phone number in Nasarawa State. He called the person and told him his mission. He was told to be ready to cough out ₦150,000 and the renewal would be done in one day. He was not convinced this was possible.
He had never met the contact before. However, his colleague convinced him that the contact was the person most of them used whenever they needed to renew or obtain the essential travel document in a hurry.
Since he was charged over N80,000 in Lagos and was told it would be ready in six months, which would have defeated his plan to go on pilgrimage, Pastor Olatunde had to travel to Nasarawa State!
He called the contact and a date was chosen for him to travel to Lafia, the capital of Nasarawa State. He left Lagos by night bus and arrived Lafia the next morning. He went straight to the Immigration office to meet the contact for the first time. They had been in touch all along by phone.
On getting to the office, he was able to do his capture in less than two hours. According to him, the issuance was delayed that day due to network issue. He had to wait for network. He was relieved. He had crossed the first hurdle by having his identity ‘captured’.
The next day before the close of work, his ₦150,000 investment yielded fruits. He was handed his renewed passport and he on that same night embarked on his return journey to Lagos waiting to get on pilgrimage to Israel later in the year!
What he should have secured for the official price of a little over ₦20,000 had cost him over ₦200,000 including the transport fares and the risks of travelling over thousands of kilometres just to get a passport.
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Another applicant, Mr Emmanuel Adegoke [not real name] who went to the Ikoyi Passport office which is the Lagos head office to apply for a new passport narrated his ordeals to AF24NEWS in a chat.
According to him, he had already paid N20,000 for renewal of his passport, but the immigration officer he is dealing with has requested for an additional N50,000 to ‘fast-track’ the issuance!
When AF24NEWS reached out to one of the immigration officers, Mohammed Aliu [not real name] at the Ikoyi Office about the pricing of passports, he confirmed the situation in a private chat. He disclosed that the office charges ₦45,000 for a 32-page passport and ₦100,000 for the 64-page document.
Aliu who spoke with our correspondent in confidence, when asked why online application was never successful after our correspondent applied many times without success; said “That’s how the portal is designed,” Adding, “When you’re frustrated you’ll go the normal way.” Meaning, you would resort to using one of the officials or their fronts to make your application successful. He has thus confirmed that they deliberately sabotage the online process.
A similar scenario played out when our correspondent went to the new Alimoso Office.
AF24NEWS correspondent who was undercover was not allowed in after pleading to be a year two student who needs the passport to travel to represent Nigeria at an event abroad.
The officers would not allow anyone pass through their narrow pedestrian gate as three of them mounted the gate, directing all applicants to a cyber cafe right in front of the immigration building, “World Class Outfit”, which secretly operates White Gate Travel and Tours Ltd.
Our correspondent went to the cyber cafe and was given a form to fill with the payment of ₦45,000.
When our correspondent asked about filling online for the price advertised on the immigration website, the officer retorted, “You’re on your own!”
“See, you are free to go online to make your registration BUT ANY MISTAKES you make is at your own risk,” an officer told our correspondent in the presence of the proprietor of the travel company which they use as a front.
Our reporter’s details was taken down by the proprietor in a notebook and asked to come back when he is ready to pay and begin the processing of his application. This is how immigration officials collude with third parties to frustrate and make the process of applying for travel documents difficult despite all the efforts and technology government has deployed to make the process easy and fast.
Efforts to get the Nigerian immigration Service to react to the unpleasant practice of its officers did not yield fruit as efforts to get the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the service, Comptroller of Immigration (CI) Tony Akuneme, speak to the situation failed.
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