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The unending scarcity of passport booklets


Nigeria Immigration Service. Photo: twitter

The lack of passport booklets at the nations’ immigration offices has reached a crisis point and something needs to be done urgently, without further delay, to redress the ugly situation. It pains that Nigerians have to go through hell before they can get passport, National ID card/NIN, drivers’ license, voters’ cards, and other similar civic instruments that citizens in other climes take for granted. Why is it so and what is the civil service there for if it cannot perform simple statutory duties?

Despite the copious denial by the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), some time in April last year (2019), that there is no shortage of passport booklets in the country, indications at passport offices across the country is that there are no passport booklets. This is highly regrettable and embarrassing.

Reports from applicants show the reality on the ground. There are complaints and anger that passports are not being issued on time. Long delays are the norm. Every attempt to acquire a passport by Nigerians has continued to be a Herculean task owing to scarcity of the booklets. It is just impossible to apply for a passport and get it say within a week.

What obtains at present, indeed, for some years now is that once you file your application, you are “captured” almost the same day and issued with a “collection slip”. But thereafter, you now go home and start waiting indefinitely owing to scarcity of passport booklets to complete the application. The immigration officials duly inform the application that there are no passport booklets, which is the cause of delay.

This is the situation in all the passport offices across the country. The situation is worse in the big cities like Lagos and Abuja, where the demand for passport is quite high. Some people, especially, sick people, who plan to travel abroad for medical treatment, have missed their appointment due to lack of passport booklets. Many others have missed business oppotunities, meetings, conferences, and others for the same reason.

I have been provoked to delve into this issue following the application filed last year by my aged pastor and his wife for a reissue of their passport to enable them travel abroad for medical attention. The application was filed in the first week of December, 2019 at the Ikeja passport office. But for over a month and half, no passport has been issued to them; the reason being that there are no booklets. This is outrageous and embarrassing. I have had a similar case at the Festac passport office where it took over three months for my daughter to get her passport re-issued.

That Nigeria, the “giant of Africa,” parading herself as the biggest economy in Africa, with huge oil wealth, lacks something as common and mundane as passport booklets to issue to her citizens is irresponsible. It goes to buttress the gross unserious governance culture pervading the nation.

In denying the scarcity of passport booklets last year, the NIS spokesman, Sunday James, had blamed the large number of applicants for the passport booklets at the Abuja headquarters as “the reason why the process became cumbersome.” This is naïve and untenable, even as he insisted that “the pressure at the headquarters is what people are amplifying and not that there is any reality.” There is no truth in what the immigration spokesman said.

James tried to water the issue down by saying that some Nigerians want the passport immediately and so they seek the services of touts. He said this is what is causing the problem and they end up entering into the wrong hands. Immigration offices worldwide make provision for express service for people who need the document urgently. There is nothing unusual about that in Nigeria if people are really doing their job.

He noted that the Comptroller-General, Muhammad-Babandede, had directed that every passport office in the country should be supplied with adequate booklets. But where are the booklets if this is true and the directive was carried out? It is obvious that the NIS is hiding the truth about why passport booklets are scarce.

I spoke with a top immigration officer to know exactly why passport booklets are not available. He said that the reason is that Nigeria’s passport booklets are produced in Malaysia; and that the contract or deal was sealed when the exchange rate of the naira was low. Given the high exchange rate of the naira, the immigration, he said, is finding it very difficult to meet up with the demand for the passport booklets by Nigerians, especially as the cost of passport has not been increased to reflect the high exchange rate.

I asked why the booklets are not being produced in Nigeria by the Nigeria Security Mint company that produces other similar security documents. He said that the Security Mint is not well equipped to handle the production of the passport booklets in large quantity. He said, the Mint, at best, could produce a limited quantity of the booklets, which will still not be enough.

This information, no doubt, gives insight into the true state of affairs with regard to the international passport booklets. Unconfirmed reports indicate that there is acute shortage of passport booklets because the Malaysian firm that produces the passports, at a point, stopped production and is asking for a contract review following the drop in the value of the naira.

It would be recalled that around December 2016, there were insinuations that the NIS was planning to hike the cost of acquiring passport, which could be linked to the difficulty in producing the booklets. The Comptroller-General of the NIS, Muhammad Babandede debunked the insinuation that Nigerians would have to pay more for their international passport. He dismissed the news in its entirety and asked Nigerians to discountenance it as it is in bad fate.

Nevertheless, Babandede said that the hike would be necessitated by the high cost of producing the booklets abroad, which he said has become unsustainable and uncompetitive under the current dispensation.He admitted that it has become increasingly difficult for the immigration service to pay for the passport booklets outside the country due to the fall in the value of the naira, adding that service delivery would improve as soon as the Federal Government approved a new fee for the passports.

From all indications, it is obvious that the NIS is geared towards hiking the cost of passport as the only way it can improve its services and the booklets become available. But why must it be so? Why is it difficult to equip the Nigeria Security Mint to be able to produce the booklets in Nigeria? Who are those that are fleecing Nigerians by ensuring that the booklets are produced in Malaysia?

The corrupt transactions, systematically, exploit the nation and its people. Fraud is the in thing. The other day, VAT was raised from 5 to 7.5 per cent, which will increase the cost of living and make life more hellish for weary Nigerians. Toll gate charges are being raised. There is virtually no aspect of life in Nigeria that people have a breathing space. It is all exploitation. And now, the cost of passport is gearing to be raised beyond the capacity of most Nigerians, whereas, in other climes, passport, driver’s license, ID card, etc, and issues at minimally affordable cost. Is it a crime to be a Nigerian? one may ask.

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