Eliminating touting in passport processing
The advice by Minister of Interior, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola urging Nigerians to stop patronising touts and unscrupulous officials in the process of applying for or renewing their travel passports is neither new nor strange.
Indeed, the admonition needs to be continually emphasised, considering that many Nigerians regularly find themselves with unauthorised persons purporting to assist them in procuring international passports. The scenario unfolds often when Nigerians encounter difficulties or long delays in getting their passports.
What is however instructive in the minister’s call is the need to eliminate the conditions encouraging applicants to seek the services of touts and unscrupulous officials who work in cahoots to frustrate even the most law and order-oriented passport seekers.
Aregbesola gave the admonition during the rollout of the enhanced E-passport and inauguration of the Ibadan passport production centre late last month. According to him: “Nowhere in the world is passport administration done on a wait-and-get basis, except in extreme emergencies. The only wait-and-get passport is passport photograph.”
The national passport is a document that confers respect on that nation and its citizens to the extent of its perceived sanctity. It is a document of diplomacy and a tool in aid of fundamental rights to freedom of movement and the right to security and protection across territories. For such a document, the process of acquisition, renewal and retrieval ought to be treated with maximum integrity and minimum delay. But what Nigerians have experienced over the years is that because of corruption in the system, unwarranted delays actuated have frustrated those who desire the services of the issuing authority. In the process, they resort to unauthorised means to fast-track the process.
There have been complaints about being treated with disrespect and being extorted in the process. Those who shun the labyrinthine process of acquisition and renewal wait endlessly and watch others obtain theirs in a jiffy.
It is, however, reassuring that the minister has put a timeline to the process. According to him, passport applications will be processed within six weeks maximum while renewal will take a maximum of three weeks. “We work within this schedule to enable us to investigate any claims made by applicants and verify them for the final document…If there are challenges, eventually you will get your passport before your due date of travel if you apply early enough,” the minister explained.
In this age of digitalisation, this would seem achievable if the officials are put on their toes and provided with top-notch gadgets and an enabling working environment. The minister also spoke of an improved document with high-security features that will expectedly take care of fraudulent access, noting that the new enhanced e-passport being rolled out was an improved document with high-security features. “It is the latest technology in passport making anywhere in the world and only a few countries have it. It is the most secure identity document ever produced. We are proud to make it available to Nigerians,” Aregbesola said.
The online payment system will ensure that “the only engagement with our staff is the enrolment of your biometrics. Patronising touts and passport office officials don’t always end well, but rather serves to defeat our purpose of eliminating corruption and infusing integrity to the passport administration process,” Aregbesola noted. This is how it ought to be. The minister and his officials should walk the talk.
One other commendable feature of the new passport is the increased pagination to 32 and 64 pages and the extended length of renewal to five and ten years respectively. But if the processing is not improved upon as promised, the innovations will amount to little or nothing.
It is important for passport seekers to also have patience and follow laid down rules. It is trite to note that if there are no willing givers of bribes, there will be no takers. The need to insist on due process in all transactions is now. The country needs a national reorientation in obtaining public services. That orientation will include an insistence on due process and abstaining from unethical short-circuiting the process. Those who wish to short circuit a process may be electrocuted in the process.
The decentralisation of production centres is also expected to help in ending the shortage of booklets which is one avenue for extortion of applicants. Unscrupulous officials have been known to hoard booklets which they subsequently release to the highest bidders. With adequate production and distribution of booklets, the fraudulent activity can be eliminated or reduced to the barest minimum.
In all of these, adequate monitoring of officials is paramount to the success in eliminating touting and restoring sanity to the system. Mere pontifications in high places will not be enough. Officials should take their sacred duties more seriously and those found wanting should be punished to deter others. Nigerians deserve to see a seamless process of obtaining and renewing their passports and other travelling documents. It is more than a call to duty but a moral imperative. After 60 years of independence, the system ought to have perfected this process and restore dignity to the Nigerian passport in a way that befits the citizens and earn respect in the comity of nations.