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Searchlight beams on Nigeria immigration, embassy officials

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The Nigeria High Commission, London

…Nigerians Demand Better Services At Home And Abroad
The incident that occurred at the Nigerian Embassy in London penultimate Monday where a Nigerian destroyed five diplomatic vehicles and two others belonging to visitors that were parked in the premises achieved one purpose. As condemnable as it were, it gave vent to the frustrations Nigerians both at home and abroad suffered in the hands of Nigeria Immigration and embassy officials in the course of processing their travel documents. Without doubt, such experiences question the bond that bind Nigerians together and their shared affinity.

The London incident reportedly involved one Jeffery Apkovweta Ewohime. According to reports, trouble started after the embassy turned him back for the collection of his passport because he arrived behind schedule. The 32-year-old was said to have reacted angrily by using iron rods and stones to destroy vehicles parked within the embassy’s premises.

The Comptroller General of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Muhammed Babandede, who confirmed the incident via a statement on that same day, had explained what prompted it.

“He arrived late and was told by the security that the Mission has closed for the day. He went about destroying Nigeria’s diplomatic vehicles worth hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ money. The passport in question has been issued since June 6, 2019. He did not leave any self-addressed envelope for delivery,” he said.

Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, also gave a similar account of the incident through a statement by her media aide, Abdur-Rahman Balogun. Dabiri-Erewa’s narrative, however, provided further detail that Ewohime had insisted on collecting his passport despite arriving late, which made the embassy to ask for his collection slip, but he could not produce it. The statement noted that when the embassy insisted on having the slip before releasing the passport, Ewohime left irritated only to come back moments later to vandalise the affected vehicles.

The presidential adviser had described the incident as “a despicable act, which must be condemned by all,” adding that, “the law must take its course.”

Many Nigerians, however, feel that rather than focusing on ensuring that Ewohime, who has been arrested by the British Police is brought to judgment, the Federal Government should probe the incident with the intent to improve on the services of its immigration and embassy officials and thus forestall future occurrence elsewhere.

A blogger who reacted to the incident in an online medium, Jide Chukwu, said: “Government should find ways of making Nigerian missions deliver better services especially as their service area spread is very unsustainable. Also, the way Nigerian embassy officials talk to people makes one wonder what is wrong with us Black people. They visit their frustration of being badly paid on the customers who they should always seek to help. Some of them even try to monetise every little opportunity they get when customers make little mistakes. Everything about Nigerian foreign missions just stinks. That is why I only engage them when I must.”

Another blogger, Chris Kiwamu, concurred with him saying: “You just spoke my mind. The quality of service of the embassy staff in almost all of our Missions abroad leaves a lot to be desired. Very pathetic!”

For Tunde, who also reacted online, “funny enough, majority of the time, it’s not actually the diplomats working in the office that talk to people like that, but rather the local staff at the embassy who are fellow, regular Nigerian citizens. These are actually UK-based Nigerians most of the time. But it’s difficult to differentiate them from the diplomats and consular officers sent from Nigeria.”

The above submissions by people who have had cause to transact with the embassies betray the kind of services they offer to fellow citizens abroad. While many citizens that approach the Nigerian embassy for one reason or the other but fail to get the desired results cannot be totally absolved of wrong doing as in the case of Ewohime, the truth is that there is room for improvement in the services of the officials.

Back home, there are sordid stories of insults, extortions and prolonged delay in obtaining various forms of service from the Immigration Service, especially the issuance of passport and issues surrounding it like renewal, lost, damage or correction of data. Although Section 9 (3b) of the Immigration Act 2015 provides that application for Nigerian passports made in the country shall be made to the appropriate Immigration Office closest to the applicant’s place of residence within Nigeria, The Guardian findings showed that applicants now travel across states to apply for the document in their bid to receive it on time. A visit to the official website of the NIS also showed that it costs N25,000 or $130 to obtain the 32-page five-year Standard Passport; N35, 000 or $150 to obtain the 64-page five-year Standard Passport; N70,000 or $230 to obtain the 64-page 10-year Standard Passport and N15,000 for 32-page five-year Official Passport. However, due to the usual excuse by officials of the Service that there is no “booklet” to print the passports, some unscrupulous and corrupt elements in the service and touts cash in on the situation to exploit fellow Nigerians under the guise of helping them to get the document faster. And in so doing, many people have been made to pay twice the official fee for the document while some have been swindled out of thousands of naira. The scenario, however, differs from state to state, as you will find in the following narrations by some affected Nigerians. All in all, the underlining issue is that Nigerians are desirous of a system that works while they seek their citizenship rights and under which they will be treated with sincerity, respect and dignity; not a repeat of the Ewohime saga.

Everything In Nigeria Designed To Frustrate Us, Lament Lagos Passport Applicants
By Tobi Awodipe, Maria Diamond and Somtochukwu Eneghalu

“If you know you don’t want to die from regrets and hypertension, just ‘know’ someone before coming to this office,” were the words of Favour Toluwalase, who spoke with sadness and anger at the NIS Passport Office located at Alausa in Ikeja, Lagos.

Abike Dabiri-Erewa

The Alausa Passport Office is one of three of its kind in Lagos. Trying to get anything done there was akin to a camel passing through the eye of a needle. Braving last Wednesday’s morning heavy rain, The Guardian got to the Ikeja passport office very early. There was already a sizable crowd on ground, which progressively swelled throughout the day despite the unfriendly weather.

Despair and frustration were written on the faces of many who were gathered at the office, hoping that that day would be their lucky day. The officers came in around a few minutes to 9a.m. to start the day’s business but the touts were there much earlier. Right from the entrance, touts were jostling for ‘customers’. They asked visitors, “who do you want to see?” repeatedly. If you had a contact, you would be asked to call the person to attend to you and if you didn’t, they offered to ‘assist’ you.

Trying to speak with an official was extremely hard but there was a breakthrough after some hours, with The Guardian posing as a fresh applicant. Upon hearing that, the officer called one Sunday who was supposed to assist with the process and was told to call the officer after all the documents were complete.

The new standard 32-page passport officially costs N25, 000 whilst the 64-page booklet goes for N35, 000. Renewal officially costs N20, 000 but with Sunday, the prices were almost double. “Why?” The Guardian queried.

“You would get your passport quickly; there will be no delay if you go through me. If you want to do it officially, you wouldn’t get the passport even after three months because booklets are scarce now aunty,” said Sunday conversationally.

Speaking with other Nigerians present at the office, Chinwe Anazodo said the process had been frustrating for her for a couple of weeks.

“Everything in Nigeria is designed to frustrate us. If the rest of the world is doing something one way, our own is always the other way. I tried to do the process myself online because I didn’t want to be exploited but finally, I had to come here. When the process was taking a while, I had to pay someone to help me speed things up. Why can’t we apply and get it in a day or two like other countries? I have done my biometric capturing already. I don’t know why it is taking so long; to be honest,” she lamented.

For Toluwase, her passport was stolen and she came for a replacement. “I remembered how I suffered the last time and I didn’t want it to repeat itself this time around so I asked around for a sure contact and I was given the phone number of one man (name withheld). I called him and explained what I wanted and he asked me to come to the office. We agreed on a price and I brought the money when I was coming. He did the whole thing for me and even with paying almost twice the official price, I had to wait for some weeks before I got the passport. The worst part of it all was that when I got the passport, my name was misspelt. I started crying immediately. That is why I am here today, to see what can be done,” Toluwase said.

Another applicant who pleaded anonymity regretted that the passport application process was still very crude and ridden with corruption, fraud and irregularities. “The way we were doing it 10 years ago is almost still the same way it is being done now. The booklet is just what is different. Why is the process so long and difficult? Look at this crowd. Does it delight them seeing this number gather day in day out for the same purpose?”

Accusing the officials of working with touts, he said: “The officials and the touts are one and the same thing; it is only uniform that separates them. All these touts have the officers they are working for and they share the money amongst themselves at the end of the day. They will tell you not to patronise the touts but they purposely make everything difficult so that you are forced to use the touts whether you like it or not, all in a bid to fleece us. If you don’t bribe them, be prepared to hear that booklets are scarce. And then you will go a long and tortuous journey just to get ordinary passport that they give to babies as soon as they are born abroad. If you bribe them, you will be speedily attended to which isn’t supposed to be so.

“We are all so corrupt; nobody wants to do their job except they are bribed and this is the kind of attitude they carry abroad and go and disgrace the country. If something is not done quickly, I don’t know what is going to happen.”

As at 3p.m. on that day, many people were still hanging around, saying they hadn’t been attended to while others had been asked to come back another day but felt dejected.

At the NIS Passport Office FESTAC, Lagos, a similar scenario played out when The Guardian visited with touts stationed right at the entrance to the facility while applicants seated under the shade provided by the Service outside the office.

Narrating his experience, Ebuke, who is in his early 20s said: “I applied for my passport about four weeks ago. I came for collection last week but was told it wasn’t ready after waiting for hours. So, I decided to find a way around it. I walked up to one of the personnel here and had to pay him N35, 000 to ensure that the passport is ready as soon as possible.

“I was told to come back two days ago but I decided to come today to avoid being disappointed. The NIS official gave me my passport immediately I arrived. So, if you ask me, I don’t think it’s that difficult but the NIS officials find a way to frustrate people and get them to pay extra money if they want to get it immediately.

“It all narrows down to corruption; everyone wants to make quick cash through extortion and nothing is working as it should. Is there any wonder young people are now desperate to leave this country if they struggle for something that is as ordinary as travel passport. It’s like struggling to get your birthright that should be yours naturally and effortlessly.”

Another applicant, who identified himself as Sam, also narrated his ordeal. He said: “There is corruption in every sector of this country especially in the supposed law enforcement sectors. No social amenities, nothing. This is why you see countless Nigerians in desperation to leave the country irrespective of what they have to face outside the shores of this nation. They have that notion that it could never be as bad. I also want to leave this country for good. I am one of the lots who had to pay a little extra to hasten my collection because I need it urgently. Ordinarily, it is not a difficult procedure once you present the necessary documents. But of course, this is Nigeria and everything is made difficult because somebody wants to take advantage of another person.”

On the spot observations showed that some NIS officials in the office play god and intimidate applicants. As a result, those who had no extra money to pay to facilitate the process or chose not to do so could not openly complain for the fear of being victimised.

The Experience Is So Frustrating, Abuja Residents Cry
… As Immigration Blames Applicants
From Tina Abeku, Abuja
Barely five months since the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the NIS, Iris Smart Technologies Limited and the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting PLC (NSPM) to domesticate the production of Nigeria’s international passport booklets, Nigerians are still experiencing difficulty in getting their passports. This is despite the fact that former Minister of Interior, Lt. Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau (rtd) had assured that “the domestication of the passport would provide Nigerians with the best services that they deserve.”

The domestication of the passport booklets, which were initially produced outside the country, means Nigeria would now be in charge of producing her own passport booklets locally by the NSPM.

When The Guardian visited the NIS headquarters passport office in Abuja, it was observed that although the environment seemed orderly, a few applicants appeared stressed and restless.

Some of the applicants told The Guardian that apart from paying extra money to secure the passport, it was still difficult to get it on time as some applicants had been told to come for collection more than twice but without success.

An applicant who spoke under the condition of anonymity explained that he needed the passport to apply for a visa, lamenting that it has been difficult to get it even after completing all the processes such as payment, filling of his details and Biometric capturing.

According to him, the delay was affecting him, as the deadline to make his visa application was almost up.

“It is not as if the process is so hard. It is just that it is taking so long to get back to me with the passport and I needed to get a visa before the time is up. This is so frustrating. You know that it is not easy to keep coming here since it is far from the town but the worst of it is that I need it so that I can do my visa immediately,” he said bitterly.

Another applicant who gave her name as Amanda, who was at the passport office to effect some changes in her passport, said she had been to the office more than once for the same purpose, praying that it doesn’t take her long to get it done.

One Mrs. Victoria also said it had been difficult for her to get her passport but expressed the hope that she would get it before going home that day.

She said: “Since I finished the process, they have been telling me to come today and come tomorrow but somebody has introduced me to one of the officers inside. So, I believe that I will get it today.”

Speaking with The Guardian, the Public Relations Officer of the NIS, Sunday James, explained that the Service has made the process of obtaining international passport easy for Nigerians, explaining that there could be likely set back if an applicant does not have a National Identity Number (NIN).

He said: “The NIS has made the process of getting the Nigerian international passport very easy especially for those applying for the new passport, which is done online. We have even simplified the process further by inviting the NIN officers to the passport office so that those that do not have it can register and get it because is a very major requirements without which the applicant will face difficulty.”

According to James, anyone experiencing difficulty in obtaining his/her passport could be the one at fault, stressing that such is that case if the requirements are not completed or met.

On whether the domestication of the international passport booklet could also be responsible for the difficulty being experienced by some applicants, he said it was not the case, explaining that the process for the domestication was still ongoing according to the directive given by the Federal Government.

Applicants Seek Overhaul Of NIS Office In Imo
From Charles Ogugbuaja, Owerri
The Immigration office in Imo State located at the Federal Secretariat, along Port Harcourt Road, Owerri, is always a beehive of activities.

People constantly throng the office to apply for international passport to enable them obtain visas and travel outside the country. But many a time, applicants are told that necessary materials are lacking. This has led to a scramble for the document, which has paved way for all kinds of abnormalities in the office.

When The Guardian visited the office, officials of the Service were busy chasing after any visitor to the premises while touts were also seen looking for who would patronise them.

Findings showed that people pay as much as N100, 000 to obtain a new passport in Imo under the ‘quick service’ arrangement, while renewal could cost up to N50,000. As a result, prospective applicants now go to Umuahia, Abia State, where the process is reportedly easier.

A resident, who simply identified himself as Anumighe, while narrating his experiences when seeking to obtain his international passport, said he parted with N100,000 in the process.

His words: “It was not an easy experience. Due to the mad rush at the passport office in Owerri, I had to approach an official who facilitated the process. I was also not ready to stay on the long queue. I was told to supply all the necessary information and give the requested amount. I got it within a week.”

Another resident, Ngozi, said she went through a long process before she could renew her passport.

“I discovered that going through the normal way could take longer than necessary. I had to approach an official to help me renew my passport and at the end, it cost me about N50,000.

“It was very rigorous, but at the end, I received my document renewed. This enabled me to prepare for my trip to Canada,” she narrated.

Also narrating his experience, another resident, Henry, said he was scammed in the process of trying to obtain his international passport.

He said: “I was accosted by a young man in his 30s in the premises. He immediately rushed to me on sighting me and told me how I could get my international passport in few days. He asked for N20,000. I gave him the money and we exchanged numbers after I supplied him all the necessary documents and information. But two days later, he did not pick my calls again. The rest is story. I started the process again. Those touts should be chased away.”

Another resident, who identified himself as Okechukwu, said obtaining his international passport was tortuous. He advised that the Federal Government to overhaul the system and make the process easier for applicants.

NIS Passport Office, Ikeja, Lagos. PHOTO: SUNDAY AKINLOLU

He alleged that both Immigration officials in Imo State and touts had turned the issuance of international passports into a money making venture through extortion of applicants.

“I strongly advice the Federal Government to overhaul the NIS. I wanted to obtain my passport normally, but I had to go to Umuahia after making frantic efforts to obtain it in Owerri. I paid heavily. I didn’t want my trip to be cancelled; that’s why I had to do it.

“So, if it is possible, let the Federal Government create an agency solely responsible for the issuance of international passport and allow the NIS do their job of controlling the influx of people into Nigeria and people going outside the country,” Okechukwu opined.

An official of NIS in Owerri who preferred anonymity, however, told The Guardian that the Service was eager to serve the public.

While denying the allegations, he advised people seeking to obtain their passports to exercise some patience and stop inducing the officials with money and other forms of gratifications.

His words: “I think the passport seekers are eager to obtain the document quick. It is always better to take your time to allow the process take its course. No official should seek or extort money from any one seeking for passports.

“Also people should be mindful of the touts to avoid dupes. Stories of such are all over the place. The public is cautioned to deal with the designated officials only.”

Obtaining An International Passport Is No Big Deal In Abia
From Gordi Udeajah, Umuahia
In Abia State, there are no serious untoward issues affecting issuance of international passport by the NIS. Until December 2018, the Service operated from a storey building in Umuahia allocated to it by the state government, which also housed the state Ministries of Youth Development, Environment, Women Affairs and the Government Press/Printer. The problem of office space was then very visible and palpable such that passport applicants loitered around the premises as they waited in turns to be attended to. Presently, the Service operates from its own office located along Aba-Umuahia-Enugu expressway at Ubakala in Umuahia South Local Government Area.

When The Guardian visited the office last Tuesday about 12 noon, less than 30 passport applicants were seen. They sat on dilapidated long wooden benches under a canopy outside the large building.

Asked why they preferred to sit outside, they unanimously responded that they were asked to sit there by the service.

“This is where they asked us to stay. Look at the bench we are sitting on, they are broken and can tear the clothes of any person who is not careful. And we paid N30,000 for the passport.

“We are however not here to stay with them. Let them attend to us so that we go. Some of us have been coming here since last week. I am personally prepared to pay for “ express service” and get my passport. In some states, once you pay for express service, you are promptly attended to. Time is money, all of us are not natives of Umuahia,” one of the applicants added.

When The Guardian enquired if any of them had applied for passport issuance for up to two weeks, none of them owned up.

When contacted for comments, the state Acting Immigration Controller, who has been in office for about six months now, Mr. Joachim Olumba, said the Service was doing the needful to ensure that a passport applicant that fulfills all the requirements is issued his/her passport within 48 hours.

He explained that while the new E-Passport of 64 pages with 10 years validity was being introduced, the extant one was still being issued, stressing that the new one has many advantages, which include cost-effectiveness.

He said that the Service was equipping a suitable room where applicants could wait for biometric capturing and passport collection.

I Lost My American Passport To Nigerian Embassy In Atlanta, Says Egbe
By Daniel Anazia
For Egoamaka Egbe, an American-Nigerian based in Denver, Colorado in the United States, losing her American passport in the hands of officials of the Nigerian embassy in Atlanta is one terrible experience she will live to tell her second and third generations if possible.
According to her, she lost the highly cherished blue passport in the hands of Nigerian embassy officials at the Atlanta office while trying to get a visa to come to Nigeria with her American passport for an official engagement.

Narrating her experience to The Guardian from her Atlanta base via the telephone, Egbe said: “I was coming to Nigeria for work. I was hired as a PR Consultant by a non-governmental/non-profit organisation in Nigeria. My plan was to go to Nigeria three months before the event I was scheduled to attend and set up things. I didn’t go as a Nigerian. I sent my American passport to Atlanta office to get a visa and head out to Nigeria. I was told that my application for visa was granted as I paid the necessary fees. I actually paid more to expedite the process.

“After waiting for few days and checking my mailbag, I discovered that my others documents — receipt of payment, passport photograph— were intact but my American passport was missing. This gave a cause for worry; I began choking.

“When I investigated the issue with the US postal service authority, they ran a check and told me my package was actually delivered. I got the mailman that handle the mail and he said the mail was delivered just as it came from Atlanta — an envelop that is very light in weight. After my investigation I found out my passport got missing within the Nigerian Embassy.”

Asked if she lodged a formal complaint of the issue at the consulate, Egbe said: “Yes, I did but I didn’t get a formal official apology. What I got was a personal apology from the guy that handled my document and even when he apologised to ameliorate what happened, he also tried to blackmail me. What kept running on my mind was, ‘this is happening to a Nigerian and not a foreigner, even though I hold the United States passport as a citizen.’

She added: “Getting a new American passport involves a lot of protocols. I had to write a report explaining what happened and how the passport got missing. It took me almost one week to get a new American passport. I had to fly from Colorado to Washington D.C to get another visa. That cost me some expenses. There are three Nigerian embassy offices you can visit to get your visa or Nigerian passport in the United States — Washington D.C, Atlanta and New York.”

Egbe alleged that former employees of the embassy disguised as staff of the embassy and used their cronies to process documents for people but extort unsuspecting citizens in the process.

When The Guardian put a call to Atlanta Consulate yesterday at 3:29pm (Nigeria time), a lady that received the call said there was no case of missing American passport. She, however, passed the call to another colleague, a man, who claimed to be the visa officer in the consulate.

He corroborated the initial response of the lady and asked when the incident happened. An aggrement was therefore reached with the visa officer to terminate the conversation and get the exact date of the incident from Egbe and then call back. However, efforts made to reopen the conversation didn’t yield any fruit as repeated calls only got auto response thus: “This number is booked, you cannot leave a message at this time.” All efforts to reach the Washington D.C office also proved abortive.


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