Nigerians have raised the alarm over the inability of the electronic passport application system of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) to curb extortion of applicants across the nation, instead incidences of bribery are increasing.
Passport applicants affected by the reign of corruption at immigration made known their plight during an anti-corruption radio programme, PUBLIC CONSCIENCE, produced by the Progressive Impact Organization for Community Development, PRIMORG, Wednesday in Abuja.
The lamentation by passport applicants is coming on the heels of a recent investigative report published by the International Center for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), revealing that the electronic passport application of the Nigeria Immigration Service is facing sabotage by corrupt officials.
During the radio programme, many citizens narrated how they met bottlenecks at passport offices while seeking to get new international passports or renew an old one. Most of them said they paid higher than the approved money to the Nigeria Immigration Service personnel or had no choice but to bribe an official to get their passports on time.
A victim of the exploitation, Emmanuel David, a resident of Abuja, revealed that he missed out on a scholarship abroad because he was following due process, describing his experience as one he doesn’t wish his enemy to go through.
David said he had an ugly experience in the Abuja office and that many people like him are frustrated daily.
“Sincerely speaking, thousands, millions of people out there are crying out because of this. So, if you pay online and get to the passport office, they will give you a chair to sit outside. You might sit there from morning to night and return the way you came without anything being done. If not for you to stand up and ask, please, I came for capturing, the first thing you will hear them ask is which officer is in charge of your passport.
“I applied in March 2022. I got my passport in August 2022. I had to pay an extra twenty-five thousand naira to process it,” David narrated.
An investigative journalist with the International Center for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), Nurudeen Akewushola, disclosed that Nigerians in their numbers are affected by the scheming of immigration officials who end up extorting them in the long run.
Akewushola stated that the Center had had volumes of extortion reports from Nigerians seeking international passports in Abuja, the nation’s capital, Lagos, Niger, and other states of the federation.
“I was able to speak with people who applied in Lagos, in Abuja, and people who were extorted in other passport offices, but for the undercover investigation, I went to the NIS headquarters and observed that this is actually happening.”
He stressed that without making the officers perpetrating the corrupt act at passport offices scapegoats, there would be no change. He knocked the Nigeria Immigration authorities for doing nothing to prosecute its officials extorting Nigerians despite ICIR publishing the faces of the indicted officers on the investigative report.
“The NIS has not shown true commitment to wanting to tackle this menace. After the investigation, I called the NIS spokesperson and informed him, and he said it was a lie. So, we published the information, and they saw it.
“After that, we invited them to a Twitter space to speak with Nigerians, but they didn’t come, and since we published that report, nothing was said or done, not even a press statement. So, the NIS needs to show true commitment. They need to make scapegoats out of people that are defaulting.
“It’s not too much for the NIS to prosecute these officers,” Akewushola stated.
On her part, the Monitoring and Evaluation Officer at the Center for Transparency Advocacy, Stephanie Omere, called on the Federal Government and immigration authorities to embark on vigorous sensitization of the general public to curb officials taking advantage of the citizens.
Some Nigerians who called in during the radio had these to say:
Jacob from Garki, Abuja, said: “I renewed my passport for ten years and I paid the officer about N95,000, and I feel they should put a tracking for the electronic version so that we can track the position of the passport at every moment so that the duration of production is seen online.”
Ashedu from Wuse 2, Abuja: “This issue has really gotten deep, and it’s not just for us to excuse a system, but there must be an overhaul of the whole system. If not, it will not work.
“If we want this new system to work, we must set up departments that follow up and make sure that the system is not being jeopardized.”
Solomon from Abuja also stated, “Honestly, what is going on in the immigration office is terrible. My friend that works there told me that I shouldn’t bother with doing online because it would take forever, but I’ll have to pay an officer who fast-tracked the process for me, and I got my passport within the space of 2 weeks, but that is not the way to go. If there’s a way to sanitize the system by punishing those officers that make the process not to work, that’s the way to go.”
Public Conscience is a syndicated weekly anti-corruption radio program used by PRIMORG to draw government and citizens’ attention to corruption and integrity issues in Nigeria.
The program has the support of the MacArthur Foundation.