By G9ija

* FG Offers Migration Succour To Foreigners, While Nigerians Remain Handicapped

* Racketeers Flood Lagos, Abuja Offices Over Scarcity

Lagos & Abuja – Racketeers have flooded the passport offices nationwide making brisk businesses as a result of scarcity of the critical travel document, Independent investigations have revealed. Independent correspondents who observed operations at the Lagos, Abeokuta and Abuja offices reported that it was easier obtaining the passport through racketeers than following the official routes.

There is, however, something uniquely curious about the profile of racketeers around the passport offices. The racketeers are of two classes; there are the touts who are not staff of the Immigration Service but scout for some masters in the offices and there are also the staff, both commissioned and non-commissioned, who engage in the passport racketeering to fastrack the process and get the document out faster for their clients than those who have chosen to go through the official channels.

The rate for procuring the passport through the racketeer is higher but the person prospecting for it is sure to get the document more easily and faster. The official processing fee to be issued with a passport in Nigerian offices is N15,000 but persons desperate to have their way faster go through the racketeers in the Immigration service or the touts and pay between N28,000 and N30,000. The criminal advantage of employing a racketeer is that one is assured that the processes, including the critical data capturing, would be concluded within 2448 hours and the owner would walk home with his/her passport while persons following the official channels could wait for as long as 30 days. The usual excuse at the passport offices are that the document, whose printing and distribution fall within the purview of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, are in short supply. A highly placed source in the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) in Abuja is concerned that much of the problems and difficulties experienced by applicants to get the booklet may have been instigated by unscrupulous officials at privileged positions in the NIS hierarchy. His fear is that an artificial scarcity of booklet may have been created by officials who work through touts to hike the cost, for their own selfish pecuniary reasons. The fears expressed by the immigration officer may not be unfounded. Independent investigations confirmed that following the nationwide scarcity of booklet, a large consignment of the item was brought in by suppliers.

The officer wondered how the huge consignment could have been exhausted in so short a time to warrant present agony faced by Nigerians.

FG’s Succour To Foreign Applicants

The Federal Government last week reviewed the visa processes for foreigners who wish to visit Nigeria for business and tourism purposes, with a view to removing bureaucratic bottlenecks and encouraging business travellers and tourists, thus giving a boost to the economy. In a statement issued in Lagos today, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said the measures were part of the action plan for the ease of doing business as well as efforts to boost tourism, within the overall context of the Administration’s economic diversification agenda. While this is a laudable move, Nigerians believe it is a one-sided effort. They believe that the government should make leaving the country easier just as coming

into the country by foreigners. The first step to this is to make acquiring a Nigerian passport easier and accessible. The process of getting a Nigerian passport today is both cumbersome and frustrating. Despite supposed measures by the government to make getting a passport easy, it is more difficult than ever. With the website and online processing, many Nigerians continue to complain that the Nigerian Immigration Service, the government parastatal that issues passports, are doing a very poor job in delivering passports. This snail pace had caused a lot of pain and hardship for a lot of people. At the moment, there are some who have processed their passport since November 2016 and they are yet to get it till date.

Immigration Warns Against Racketeers

She is not alone in this situation. At the holding area for those waiting to get their passport, there were over 200 people sitting there all day not knowing if their passport will be out or not. This reporter then approached PRO, Mr A.O Prince for his explanations to the activities going on around the passport office, but he asked the reporter to get a letter to the Passport Control Officer (PCO) before he could speak. That however did not stop the reporter from asking questions from other officers with the guise of trying to get a passport. The story is the same; No booklet! The problem is not from the processing of the passport. An applicant which this journalist met at the Ikoyi office was able to complete the whole process including scanning in a few hours, with an assurance that he would collect it in about 48 hours.

Muhammad Babandede, the Comptroller-General of Nigerian Immigration Service, had last November explained the reason behind the slow pace, but Nigerians are not buying it. According to Babandede, “The main cause came from the contracts awarded by the previous government. Companies that supplied the booklets were paid in line with the exchange rates at the time. You know the exchange rate has changed. But even if you produce the passports in Nigeria, most of the components to produce them will be brought in the chips, the security papers and others. It is a challenge but we’re talking with the president and we will address the matter.”

Racketeers Flood Passport Offices Over Scarcity

The issue of scarcity of passport documents has been a recurring decimal. Even Nigeria’s foreign missions have been badly affected by the perennial scarcity since 2016.

Independent findings revealed that the skyrocketing rate of Dollar to the Naira and local operations of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) have combined to slow down the production and distribution of the passport and visa document both in Nigerian offices and the missions abroad.

A top official of the Internal Affairs Ministry who prefers anonymity confided in Independent that the reason the racket at the passport offices has continued to thrive was because the ministry had not been able to produce enough of the documents to cope with the increasing demand.

He said that the cost of producing the document as against the official rate of issuance had gone higher while government could not increase the processing fee in the prevailing harsh economic situation in the country. He said that assessing funds under the TSA policy has also been a major impediment to producing the passport leaflets.

In October 2016, Nigeria’s Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Sola Enikanolaiye lamented that the country was unable to raise the required funds to pay its printers to print new visa stickers and travel passports.

Enikanolaiye said Nigerians who might be experiencing difficulty in procuring travel passport and or visas from the country’s foreign missions will have to be a little patient. This is because the Federal Government had been unable to raise the funds required to print new supplies of the critical items after the old stock was exhausted.

Enikanolaiye, on the supply of visa stickers and passport booklets to the country’s missions overseas, in a memo titled “Supply of Visa Stickers and Passport Booklets to our Missions: Global Communications Advisory for Nigerians”, said the federal government was facing challenges in paying its printers to supply the critical documents.

The permanent secretary blamed the problem on the difficulty in accessing funds as a result of the Treasury Single Account. He said although the responsibility of supplying the visa stickers and passport booklets to Nigerian foreign missions belonged to the Nigerian Immigration Service, through the Ministry of Internal Affairs, his ministry had, however, intervened after which minimal supplies have commenced.

The memo reads: “Without seeking to blame or shift responsibilities, I can confirm that supplying visa sticker and passport booklets to our Missions belong to the Nigerian Immigration Service: Ministry of Interior, which is facing funding challenges in paying its printers.
Source independentnig