Some Nigerians who applied for international passports have accused personnel of the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) Abuja passport office, of massive extortion.
The applicants said in spite of recent directive of the Minister of Interior, Dr Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo to the immigration authorities to sanitise the system, nothing much has changed.
The applicants who spoke in separate interviews with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), lamented that they were made to pay various sums of money by NIS officials before getting the travel document.
They also alleged that the electronic passport application system has been compromised, forcing those who followed due process with no alternative than to “settle” NIS officials in order to get their passports on time.
Some of them further alleged that even when the passport was ready, they were made to pay another N5,000 before collection.
An applicant, Mr Ahmed Isa, a civil servant, said that he had been to the passport office over 10 times and was yet to get it.
“I have been coming here since September to get a passport because I want to travel out of the country.
“First, they said the fee is N35,500 but now they have jacked it to N55,500. This is for a passport with a duration of five years.
“Everybody is telling you to pay this and that and the place is chaotic. The whole thing is frustrating,” Isa said.
Another applicant, Mohammed Umar, said that he came for the re-issuing of his passport which had expired but was told by a NIS official to pay additional “compliance fee”.
“When I asked them what the compliance fee is for, the man pushed me aside and walked away.
“All I have noticed here is that many of the officials are unruly and behaving as if they are not accountable to anyone,” Umar said.
Another applicant who sought for anonymity, said she applied for passport renewal online in August 2022 and was still waiting.
“Every time I go to the immigration office to track its progress, officials kept telling me to contact the person helping me.
“It has been frustrating and depressing. Everyone expects and believe I should have a certain someone who is helping me.
“When I told them I did it online, I got the ‘ohh’ look and then the term ‘self-service’ follows me everywhere I turn to for help,” she added.
Another applicant, Blessing Ibiyemi, told NAN that she missed out on a scholarship abroad because of her inability to get her passport processed in spite of following due process.
“I applied for a passport in April and I am just getting it now in October after paying an extra N40,000 to process it.
“The first time I came to their office, I told them I paid online, they gave me a chair to sit and I was there for hours.
“When I asked them why I am still here, they told me to contact the officer helping me, I was shocked because I paid online and I didn’t expect any officer to be helping me.
“The NIS has not shown true commitment to wanting to tackle this menace,” Ibiyemi said.
A female applicant said under condition of anonymity that she missed a very important training abroad in spite of paying fully for the passport.
”I paid N116,000 for a 32-page passport booklet. At every stage of the process the personnel ask for money.
”I paid N70,000 initially and I was told to pay another N36,000 for adding another name, my marital name, then another N10,000 for approval of the passport, and at the collection point, I paid another N20,000.
”When I demanded for receipt the personnel helping me became angry,” she said.
Another victim, Mr Alarape Ogunmuyiwa, said that he was initially charged N80,000 for renewal of his passport.
Ogunmuyiwa added that he was later made to pay extra N20,000, because the official in charge told him that the expired passport was “defaced”.
“I am yet to get my booklet. They kept saying no booklets. The funny part is that, the officer in charge is not even picking my calls.
“Now, I have paid N100,000 to get my passport and yet I can’t access it, this is frustrating and I can’t take this anymore,” he said.
A journalist, Dennis Abraham, whose passport expired in August said after paying N120,000 for a 10-year validity passport, he was initially told to pay additional N25,000 and later another N15,000 to correct a mistake on his date of birth.
Abraham said that the immigration officer he was dealing with, said though NIMCI had effected correction to the date, the change is yet to reflect in the immigration portal.
“I’m still waiting after paying N160,000 to renew my passport. Hopefully it will be ready soon,” he added.
An immigration official who pleaded anonymity told NAN that the system has been highly compromised, adding that those who applied for passport online “will take forever to get their passports”.
“What obtains now is to pay any officer who will fast-track the process for you and you’ll get your passport within the space of two weeks after application,” he said.
Another official told Freelanews that the extortion of applicants by fellow immigration officers is real.
He described the situation as not only embarrassing, but also a huge threat to national security.
“It is a menace, we may not know the full implication today until a little later when the negative impact of this issue begins to manifest in our national security negatively.
“It has national security implications for Nigeria. We are talking about obtaining a Nigerian passport.
“Now, if we the officials involved are only after money, it means anybody can come into Nigeria through any of our porous borders, play the necessary game, and obtain anything that makes and certifies him as a Nigerian citizen,” he lamented.
The officer, who advised that drastic measures must be taken to curb the menace, urged applicants to resist any attempt to force them into offering bribe for passport.
He said that it was important for victims of the extortion to report to higher authorities.
However, the Service Public Relations Officer, Dr Adedotun Aridegbe, dismissed the allegations as untrue, claiming that some passport applicants fabricate stories to dent the image of NIS.
According to him, it is not possible for applicants to pay more than the official amount for passport booklets.
“All these things are not true. It’s unrealistic. When I investigated some of these allegations, some applicants just formulate stories to tarnish our good image.
“We have officers that work round the clock including weekends and even run shifts to produce these passports.
“There is a task force set up by the Comptroller General, Mrs Caroline Adepoju to checkmate any illicit activities going on in the passport offices,” he claimed.
Aridegbe said instead of the “unfounded allegations”, Passport Control Offciers across the nation should be commended for being able to clear backlogs of applications as directed recently by the minister.
He said both the Minister and the Comptroller General went through sleepless nights to ensure that the backlogs were cleared.
The NIS spokesman however said disciplinary action would be taken against any officer found wanting.