Cost of international passport
The plan to, once again, hike the cost of acquiring International passports is not only confounding to Nigerians who are already over-burdened as they reel under the prevailing harsh economic conditions, its contemplation at all by the Nigerian Immigration Service is really insensitive. That plan should be shelved and all outstanding applications should be granted without further delay.
Every citizen has a right to a passport, the issuance of which should be seen as a duty of the government to the people. That being the case, it is absolutely wrong to make Nigerians pay through their noses to get their country’s passport, perhaps the most valid identification instrument every citizen is entitled to.
As such, its issuance should not be predicated on the economic circumstances at any time and it should be made easily accessible as well as affordable, especially since it serves the purpose of enhancing the national database.
President Muhammadu Buhari should therefore reject the request for any increase in passport fees in the public interest. Instead, government should work on the processes of ensuring the production of passport booklets locally, as contracting the job to foreign companies is one of the major reasons for its high cost, a situation that is unacceptable for both economic and national security reasons.
Indeed, the statement by the Comptroller-General of the National Immigration Service, Muhammad Babandede, the other day that Nigerians would have to pay more for international passports should not be taken lightly by the government and everything must be done to keep the cost down.
Also, the suggestion that Nigerians would need to present their tax clearance certificates before being issued their passports is unnecessary and should be disregarded. If anything at all, such a measure would merely complicate the processes while not really helpful to the intended goal of making people pay their taxes.
According to Babandede, the proposed hike has been necessitated by the high cost of producing the passport booklets abroad, which he said has become unsustainable and uncompetitive under the current dispensation.
Indeed, according to him, it has become increasingly difficult for the Immigration Service to pay for the passport booklets being printed outside the country because of the fall in the value of the naira.
The NIS also reminded Nigerians that it is a revenue-generating agency and that “service delivery would improve as soon as the Federal Government approves the new fees for passports.” Really?
The passport booklets are currently produced under a private-public partnership arrangement and is not funded by government. That, by implication, makes passport issuance more of a business than a service. Hence, according to the immigration agency, Nigerians must pay for it according to the prevailing economic circumstances.
Roughly two years ago, in August 2014, the Nigerian Immigration Service increased the cost of passport acquisition from around N7, 000 to the present N20, 000. Even at that, unscrupulous elements within the service have colluded with touts to charge over N25, 000 or extort much more from desperate applicants.
Even so, efficiency has never been the hallmark of the service. Today over 4, 000 applications are currently stuck at various passport offices across the country due to lack of booklets.
It is baffling and, indeed, shameful that Nigeria still cannot produce international passport booklets in the country, which is why the cost rises every now and then according to the extant exchange rate.
What kind of country, it must be asked, prints every security document, including her currency abroad, even when it has a Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company? That the NSPMC cannot meet the country’s security documents need has been known for a long time and something should have been done to upgrade its capacity.
The result of dependence on foreign companies, like terribly bad currency notes in circulation or scarcity of international passport booklets, has always been a certain monumental embarrassment to Nigeria. These are in addition to such cases of national disgrace as occasioned by the printing of polymer banknotes in far-away Australia by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) or the printing of election materials in South Africa by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Now, Nigerians are confronted with the printing of passport booklets in Malaysia by the NIS.
It is safe to say that the Nigerian system has deliberately left gaps for corruption to thrive as far as printing security documents is concerned for it can be assumed that it pays corrupt government officials to award over-priced contracts to foreign companies instead of getting the job done in Nigeria or fixing the printing facility in the country.
Certainly, Nigeria can save herself this monumental international embarrassment.