Early signs, indicating NIS might dive into a more brutal pre-backlog clearance era.
It is a popular Igbo adage that “ihe na-esi nkakwu isi di n’ime ahu ya”, which translates to “the pungent odour of a shrew rat emanates from inside its body”.
The Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) commenced its well-publicized ‘new regime’ on June 8, 2021, after a halt in international passports services on its online portal. That was after a postponement from the earlier proposed 1st of June, 2021, enabling the agency, to effect a complete overhaul of the system in passport acquisition processes. From self-registration on its online portal to capturing of applicant’s biometrics at passport processing centers, down to production, and final booklet issuance to applicants.
The topmost of the reasons behind such a wonderful and innovative idea was to clear a backlog of passport applications, which was becoming a menace and demeaning to the agency.
The processes advertised, especially the self-registration aspect was ideal. It allows applicants to carefully and confidently vet their entries, in a considerate environment and manner, before final submission on the NIS registration portal. This appears genuine, seamless, fantastic, excellent, and encouraging for applicants to embrace.
Despite its portrayed determination, in ensuring transparency and fairness to all applicants, free from corporate sharp practices by its officers, it seems the agency has a lot of work to do in this regard.
From public sources, applicants’ experiences in the current passport regime, are yet to spell much positive difference, from the subjected harsh and brutal conditions and circumstances Nigerians underwent, in acquiring or renewing their passports in the past era.
When FradorMedia’s newsman approached a young man, who appeared unperturbed, while other applicants are obviously eager to be attended to, for fillings or capturing, at one of the passport processing centers in Lagos, the following conversation ensued:
Hi, greetings to you.
Applicant: To you too bro.
Are you here for a passport? Sorry, you seem unbothered.
Applicant: Hm, bothered ke, I’m just waiting to be called in for capturing. Na him you wan process too?
Yeah, I registered online. Seems you came in very early abi na express you do?
Applicant: I get a contact for here shaa. But him been reason say that express thing no dey ground like this o.
Ah ah! wetin you come pay am for naa? you go don pay more money naa. No be to run am yourself sure pass?
Applicant: The thing be say if you pay them, they go put eye for your matter like this. Na 48k I pay like this o.
You mean say my own fit stay long.
Applicant: I no know shaa. Wetin I know be say they want make you bring money. I observe say all that file (he pointed at a different kind of file held by one officer), na for people wey do am online. I see say them dey stress those people die. One guy don commot like three times for here go outside, dem go tell am print all for collor, do this one do that one upon say him park all him documents join body, and na renewal him dey do. And after all that, dem tell am say e no still sure am to capture this week self.
So they still they do this thing after dem don enter new regime when dem hype wella.
Applicant: Hm bros, you go ready for frustration oo, God go help you shaa.
Post backlog clearance experiences and public recounts from applicants, however, suggest the ‘new’ is becoming more pronounced, in the technically re-strategized staff-sustained touting, racketeering, and other corporate vices. This is aimed at severely hurting the applicants, their purses, and their time.
A simple look at public sources would address one’s curiosity on this subject. Here is another experience from an online user (quoted anonymously), affirming the pre-backlog dirty practices, still exist in NIS.
The vent hereunder, is to a deep sense of hurt, coming directly from an aggrieved applicant, from the Port Harcourt passport office. Although, the applicant didn’t state what exactly transpired between them, went extreme with rage.
In the above instances, there’s an indication of one thing an observant mind could point out, which is prevalent in most NIS passport processing centers. It is spiteful negligence to applicants who couldn’t pay extra, the giant amongst the monsters of the past.
Tina Abeku, in her article titled ‘Saving Nigerians from passport touts, poor service delivery’ for The Guardian, shared a horrible experience of a young footballer who have spend almost N300,000 trying to get an international passport. This includes outrageous fee charged by an immigration personnel to facilitate the correction of an error on his National ID card.
Tomson (not real name), was smart enough to avoid paying a hefty fee of N50,000, for a service worth less than N27,000 and still has to wait for the same period of time, as self-registered applicants to receive his passport. The huge fee difference from self-registration endeared the DIY route to him. He felt very happy thereafter.
Hereunder, Tomson summarized his experience with the self-registration process.
His experience, in summary, could serve as a template for intending applicants. Nigerians have a role to play as well, desisting from encouraging this hydra-headed corporate crime.
Even the CG, NIS, Muhammed Babandede, had affirmed that;
Meanwhile, the agency should be applauded, for its activities within the transition period. Significant effort was made to clear backlogs accumulated over a period of several months, mainly due to the unavailability of booklets. In that instance, more applicants testified to receiving their passports, swiftly after being contacted and notified of its production.
Another initiative worthy of note was the publishing of yet-to-be-collected booklets on their portal. That made a lot of sense, as most applicants who waited but couldn’t receive notifications saw their names on the list and proceeded for collection. This is clearly one initiative that should be sustained by the NIS.
It was immediately after that transition period, and on the inception of the new regime, that an immigration officer controlling a huge crowd at one of the Passport offices in Lagos, confirmed that one of their passport processing centers in Kaduna was disciplinarily suspended, following a visit by the CGI.
He as well recalled, that some of their officers in other centers, were suspended for gross misconduct same period. One now sincerely wonders, where all that strength required in sustaining transparency and fairness had gone to, as the new regime advances.
The Nigeria Immigration Service should do more, to ensure it does not take a leap-dive into the past. The resultant effects of the aforementioned corporate crimes are vastly negative on the applicants and the general public, to whom the agency owes an assurance of its highly anticipated transparency, in discharging its duties.
Missing out on juicy education, career, business, or leisure opportunities abroad appears common to applicants, who have experienced extreme and unnecessary delays, in the process of acquiring an international passport. Some other applicants might be needing a passport, for immediate traveling on health grounds. Such delays, experienced in the past, had marred hopes for adequate medical attention to ailing applicants.
Oftentimes, it becomes herculean to successfully lay complaints to designated appropriate quarters. The effectiveness of appointed departments, for complaints, takes us to the activities of SERVICOM.
SERVICOM is an agency, with a mandate, to check performances and handle service-related complaints emanating from Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) in Nigeria.
At the NIS, SERVICOM has to be more visible to the public. In most passport processing centers, applicants hardly independently navigate to SERVICOM Departments because of little awareness of their existence or activities. They should stop living in the shadow of MDAs including NIS.
The obvious continued public outcry, captured by the media alone, is a corroborating indicator in this subject. The Nigeria Immigration Service has a solemn duty and owes it a responsibility to the public, to step up its checks game on corporate crimes and ill practices, perpetrated and perpetuated by some of its corrupt, unrepentant, and dubious personnel. The new regime should be positively new in all ramifications.
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