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Renewing The Nigerian Passport: A Trip To Hell, By Susan David

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When in October 2023 the Nigerian Minister of Interior, Olubunmi Tunji Ojo, said that persons applying for new Nigerian passports or renewing their expired ones can do so within two weeks, many Nigerians may have heaved a huge sigh of relief!

But like most Nigerian policies, this was the usual playing to the gallery! All talk…no action!

Corrupt practices still pervade the process. There is probably a cartel ensuring that the Minister’s effort at sanitising the passport system does not bear fruit, or perhaps it was just another attempt at posturing and grandstanding.

The Minister said that registration would be done online while biometrics capture and the collection of passports will be at the office. He promised Nigerians that the agony of having to wait on the queue to upload needed information to get passport was over for good. Easier said than done!

Being an optimist and believer in the Nigerian Project, I decided to put the system to the test! Nothing prepared me for the hell that was to come!

Renewing the Nigerian passport is still as difficult as ever. There are never booklets and you should be ready to part with more money than stipulated on the Nigeria Immigration Service Center website to have a chance at renewing your passport.

In January, I tried to renew my parents’ passport. I encountered lots of hitches. From network glitches to unaccessibilty of the Nigerian Identity Managment commission (NIMC) server. The Nigerian Identity Number (NIN) is one of the requirements for renewing the Nigerian passport.

There had to be some sort of syncing between the immigration portal and the NIMC portal when beginning application for renewal.

After trying for days and sometimes depriving myself of sleep just to catch both portals working, all efforts proved abortive. So, realizing that I couldn’t really cope with the kaledoscopic nature of the Nigerian system, I decided to solicit the help of an immigration officer.

So I approached Officer Reuben Daniel of the Nigeria Immigration Service, Abuja Headquarters.

“Can you help me with renewing my parents’ passports?

“It is really difficult to do it online,” I bemoaned my ordeal to Officer Daniel .

He didn’t bat an eyelid when he billed me N120, 000 (one hundred and twenty thousand naira) for two passports which will be ready in 2 weeks. And I thought he would fulfil his end of the bargain. Bear in mind that the official cost of renewing a passport is N35, 000. This was February 28, 2024.

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By March 13, there was no appointment date for capture. So I reached out to him again to ask why my parents were not being invited for capturing.

According to Mr. Daniel there was a problem with the registration promising that they would be captured soon. I noticed that he would not pick up calls or respond to text messages.

So I sought the help of a former colleague who was on ground to help pressure this guy to speed up the passport processing. My parents had a visa interview coming up on May 9!

After much pressure and daily calls, Mr Reuben informed us that they were ready to capture my parents on April 5.

So I had to prepare my septugenarian parents (dad was even sick) to go to the immigration headquarters in Abuja for capturing. They were there as early as 8 am and the capturing of both him and my mum was done.

Mr. Daniel had assured me that once they were captured, the passports would be ready in a week. We had hopes!

We thought capturing meant we were close to achieving the onerous quest of renewing the Nigerian passport! We were wrong. Then began the cat and mouse game.

Everyday it was one story or the other. “Booklets are not available. They will be available first thing Monday morning. There is partial operation in the office due to ongoing staff verification exercise.

The department will be done with the process by tomorrow. I will intensify pressure on the production unit. The passports were already in the system” Officer Daniel went on and on. So many stories and excuses.

As my parents’ visa interview date drew closer, panic set in. This particular visa application was done in 2021. Due to unavailability of interview dates, the closest appointment we could get was a date in May 2024. We waited 3 whole years! In the process, their Nigerian passports expired.

The possibility of them missing the much awaited interview due to lack of a current/valid passport began to stare us right in the face! We needed help and I started seeking it from everywhere possible, contacting different immigration officers seeking advice on what steps to take.

We were given so many options. Some said, we should apply for the 10 year validity passport; the booklets were easier to get. This cost N150,000 each. Another officer suggested my sick dad and my mum travel to another state to go do the passports as the queue would be less than in Abuja where they reside.

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One other immigration officer who wanted to help asked for an enrolment slip and application number. I reached out to Mr. Reuben to please send me the enrolment number. He said the person who had it was not on seat, that he would send it as soon “as he comes back”.

At this point i knew something was fishy. It was difficult to track the passport application without the enrolment number. So, I solicited the help of another immigration officer to help find out the true state of things. Get screenshots…check the system, whatever can be done, I implored him. From our findings… lo and behold as at May 5, 2024, there was no record of any application bearing my parents name! What about the capturing that was done? Was it staged? Was it real? How many officers participated in this drama, deceiving my aged parents because they believed they were partaking in this process which was supposed to be readily accessible to every Nigerian citizen? Could it be that several immigration officers participated in a scam capturing right on the premises of the Nigeria Immigration Service?

Meanwhile, before this development, while searching for solutions to my passport renewal predicament, I came across the Facebook post of a journalist who had encountered similar bottlenecks while trying to renew his passport. He was helped by a high ranking immigration officer. I sent him a message. Luckily he replied and sent me the high ranking officer’s number. I began to threaten Mr. Reuben that I was going to file an official complaint to the immigration service. it was when he saw my threats that he paid and started the application process on May 5, 2024 according to my sources.

Alarmed, infuriated, and confused, I reached out to the high ranking officer. I jettisoned all other options as advised. He said the passports were going to be ready. I believed him. Who wouldn’t, given his stature in the Nigeria Immigration Service! This was to be my gravest mistake yet. Even he could not help see to the production of the passports before the interview date. We had people camping at the immigration office for hours waiting to collect the passports so my parents could take it to their visa interview. I kept on calling the officer and he kept assuring me that the passports would be ready …”I am personally handling it,” he said.

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The passports were now in the system; with assurances that the production team works all night. It was hard to concentrate on other things. The icing on the cake of our misfortune was hearing that the Immigration service production team generator packed up for whatever reason!! The activating team also had closed….At this point our hopes were already dashed. The reality was a very bitter pill to swallow…Nigeria had happened to us yet again.

I couldn’t help but wonder. We were lucky to have gotten the attention of a big fish in the Immigration Service. How many Nigerians could be that lucky? Yet we didn’t get the passport done before their interview!

In all these, there are questions begging for answers: why are there always no

booklets? I am tempted to think that the booklets are hoarded by the officers themselves to do business with those willing to pay more than the official price.

The applications also are not free. Couldn’t monies paid be channeled into buying booklets?

How much is budgeted for the provision of passport booklets by the Federal government of Nigeria?

It is the right of every Nigerian to own an international passport if they so wish and it should be easy to acquire as done in many countries.

The corruption in the system is deeply entrenched and normalised, so much so that the normal process has become the most difficult route.

What happens to officers collecting salary but using immigration as a means for business?

Should Nigerians give up, throw their hands up in the air that nothing can be done to stop the corruption that is permeating the entire civil service?

To be candid, being a Nigerian is getting harder by the day. And like some people say, may Nigeria not happen to you. It happened to us.

Susan David writes from Europe.


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