Inside Nigeria’s Passport Offices Of ‘Extortion’
Getting the Nigerian International Passport is now shrouded in corruption, racketeering and irregularities that see Nigerians paying 100 per cent more than the official fee, investigations by Daily Trust have shown.
Some immigration officers use the shortage of passport booklets to extort applicants as checks at the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) passport offices in some states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) showed.
It was also gathered that there are administrative bottlenecks allegedly created by the officers to exploit Nigerians, while those willing to go through the official channels are frustrated.
Some immigration officers involved in the extortion were unapologetic and rude about it.
Our correspondents report that there are syndicates in the state offices that ensure that the passports of those willing to pay the extra charges, which go into their pockets are fast-tracked and delivered promptly.
NIS spokesmen in the states declined to comment saying it was a federal issue, while the Public Relations Officer of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) Sunday James, said he would not respond to the allegations until the investigation is published.
“You have done your investigations; if your reports are true, we will read them in the newspapers and respond appropriately. You will not get any reaction from me for something I don’t know because I didn’t commission anybody. It’s you who commissioned people to go out. When we see it, if it is true, fine; if not, we will see the kind of reaction we will give to you,” he said.
In Abuja, two locations are available for International Passport applicants to apply for the document – the passport office of the (NIS) headquarters in Sauka and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Command of the NIS in Gwagwalada.
Most applicants prefer to use the office in Gwagwalada to process their passports with one applicant who only gave his name as John, saying it was “easier to runs things there.”
According to them, getting things done through the backdoor is easier at the FCT Command of the NIS.
Without the documents required for the application, which include local government letter of identification, birth certificate/age declaration and guarantor’s form sworn to before a Commissioner of Oaths/Magistrate/High Court Judge, one could easily pay extra N10, 000 and within 48 hours, he will have his international passport, Daily Trust gathered.
Checks also showed that some applicants are willing to cut corners to avoid going through the official channels.
For the enhanced electronic passport, applicants are to apply online at https://portal.immigration.gov.ng by clicking on the type of passport application they want before completing the online application form.
They are to select a passport office in the state they wish to obtain the passport, proceed to make payment online and obtain reference and application ID numbers.
After that, they are to proceed to the Passport Office selected during the online application with relevant requirements including evidence of payment made.
However, most applicants are not ready to go through such process. They would rather pay extra money to corrupt personnel to fast-track the process.
At the NIS Headquarters, only the enhanced e-passport is available which sometimes takes up to three weeks to process because the National Identity Number (NIN) is required.
For the enhanced E-Passport, 32-Page 5-year standard passport costs N25, 000 but applicants pay as much as N40, 000 to corrupt personnel to help fast-track the process.
Our reporter, who monitored the process at the NIS Headquarters Passport Office, discovered that there are well-structured syndicates within the system who perpetuate the corrupt act.
When the applicant pays the extra money, his file is quickly moved and approved by the superior officers as everyone involved in the passport process have their share of the extra money paid by the applicants.
The only aspect the syndicate cannot control is the NIN verification stage where the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) is required to verify the applicant’s NIN. This could take up to a week.
All the applicants that spoke to Daily Trust said they prefer to pay extra cost charged by the officers to get the application process fast-tracked.
“If you don’t bribe them, your application could take up to a month. They only treat your file when they are done with those who bribed. So, my brother, I will rather bribe and get out of here as soon as possible,” an applicant who pleaded anonymity told one of our correspondents.
In Kano, many officers and men of the NIS have been transferred to other places with credible sources saying the reason was to “disband a cartel.”
A source at the NIS at Amana House, Zaria Road, said, “The office was recently reorganised based on the order of the CG. Nearly all staff except 5 were transferred to different places after the leadership of the branch was found to be ‘involved in passport racketeering.’”
He said they were accused of delaying applications by ordinary Nigerians and prioritizing those of VIPs or those ready to pay extra money.
Daily Trust learnt that while it took weeks to process an application of the ordinary Nigerian, VIPs get theirs within 24hrs.
“The branch had about 80 staff, but they have all been transferred out of Kano, including the Passport Control Officer (PCO). Only six staff run the branch now and nothing is said to be happening because all passport operations have been postponed,” the source said.
However, some junior staff alleged that they were unjustly punished because only senior officers were responsible for passport racketeering.
Even though the Amana House branch is notorious for passport racketeering, the problem is not limited to them as similar activities also take place at another Kano branch located at Farm Centre.
A visit to the office revealed a nearly empty facility because there were no booklets to produce passports for applicants.
A source within the passport unit said a new passport cost N25,000 while renewal cost less.
“We don’t have booklets for now to produce the passports and we don’t know when the booklets will be supplied. You may wish to wait until we get booklets,” he said.
Asked how long it will take before the booklets would be available, he said, “I don’t know, but maybe you can check in May, after Eid-Fitr. As we speak, we have no idea when we would get it, which is why the place looks empty,” he said.
Fresh allegations of extortion have continued to trail officials of the NIS working in Lagos and Ogun states.
Daily Trust investigations revealed that applicants either trying to renew or obtain fresh passports at the NIS offices in Lagos are ripped off.
The NIS office in Ikoyi charges N5,000 as compliance fee, which is neither approved by the Comptroller-General nor the Ministry of Interior.
Some of the applicants said immigration officers at FESTAC, Ikoyi, and Alausa offices demand as much as N20, 000 from applicants, under the pretence of trying to facilitate the process after the payment of the official amount of N25, 000 to the approved banks.
An applicant at the FESTAC office of the Service alleged that she was asked to pay N2, 000 when her passport was ready for collection.
“I was shocked when the officer refused to hand over my passport until I gave him the sum of N2, 000. I cannot remember the total amount I spent when I came for capturing,” the applicant, who refused to be named, said.
Another applicant, Taju Ajayi, alleged that he has been going to the Ikoyi Passport Office for over a week to get a passport because he wanted to travel out of the country.
He said he was first told that the fee is N25, 000 for a 32-page passport that would last five years. “But the officer suddenly said I would have to pay N50, 000, saying the additional cost was to help fast-track the process.”
According to him, right from the waiting room outside, one officer would come pretending to be of assistance in an attempt to extort applicants, adding that extortion starts from the gate.
Another applicant, Helen Chijoke, was at the Alausa Passport Office to renew her passport. She said, “An officer asked me to pay a compliance fee. When I requested to know what it was for, the officer just turned to another applicant,” she said.
The situation is not better in Ilorin, Kwara State as there are sharp practices and underhand deals going on in the process to secure international passports at the NIS state headquarters, Ilorin.
Daily Trust findings showed that the last set of passports issued from the Ilorin office was on December 2, 2020.
It was also gathered that while the official rate for a 32-page passport is N25, 000, applicants pay as high as N60, 000 to get it depending on who they know in the office. Sharp practices are rife when booklets are available.
Officers allegedly approach applicants seeking patronage, assuring that the process could be fast-tracked once there is “willingness on their part.”
According to one of them, “Official rate is about N30, 000 when relevant documents are provided but failure to provide the documents, including birth certificate, citizenship and date of birth, would lead to an increase in price.”
Another staff of the NIS told our reporter that contrary to what the federal immigration boss earlier announced that passports can now be secured within two days after application, the opposite is the case.
“The statement is an unfortunate one because it does not reflect the true reality of what is on ground. For instance, the last passports we issued from this office were on December 2, 2020, almost five months ago, and to make matters worse, our boss here in Ilorin just came back from Abuja on Monday without any passport booklet. So, those that have already been captured will have to wait until there are booklets.
“I have over 70 clients that have been captured but yet to get booklets,” the official added.
But one of the applicants, who pleaded anonymity, said he had been captured and presented with a slip containing his particulars. He said he was introduced to one of the immigration officials by a travel agent.
He said, “I paid N60, 000 for my passport yesterday and I was told that it will be ready in two days. As you can see, I have been captured and they have given me a slip. So, I am waiting.”
Negotiation commences immediately immigration officers at the NIS passport office in Port Harcourt discover the intentions of visitors to the office. Kaki Dumolu (not real name) encountered such officers of the service when he visited the office to renew his international passport.
Soon after he stepped into the building located opposite the popular Mile one flyover, Port Harcourt, he was confronted by an officer who volunteered to assist him to obtain the passport in the shortest possible time.
Dumolu said the personnel would help him obtain the 32-page passport issued officially at a cost of N25, 000 for N65, 000 while the 64 pages passport obtained at N35, 000 would cost him N75, 000.
He said that the officer promised to assist him to get the passport within 48 working hours.
“I was in the office to renew my passport but was accosted by a young man who promised to help me obtain the passport at what I considered an outrageous price. I was surprised at the price he quoted because I know the official rates at which passports are issued. So, when I told him that what he asked me to pay was unimaginable, he said if I prefer to follow the right channel, it will take more than a month to get the passport but if I want it fast, it will cost me more,” he said.
A source, who preferred anonymity, said that he was asked to pay N70, 000 to obtain a 32-page passport within three working days.
“I needed it urgently but what I was asked to pay was very high though it will be fast, but if I follow the normal process, it will take me weeks to obtain the passport,” he said.
Another source who also preferred anonymity alleged that the officers of the service operate a ring at the office.
He said those involved in the ring have collaborators in different departments who help facilitate the processes of obtaining an international passport, so they charge huge sums of money to enable them ‘tip’ those who help facilitate the process.
Insider sources at the Passport Control Office in Calabar said International Passport is issued to applicants for between N40, 000 and N50, 000 as against the official price.
An investigation showed that few of the applicants who got their passports did not obtain them at official cost.
Silas Ugochukwu, a sports promoter, who wanted to renew his passport, complained of extortion, saying, “The report that passport booklets were not available in Calabar was rarely heard of. If you walk in, within a couple of hours, image capturing is done and you return with your passport.
“I understand that because passports were issued within the same day, applicants flock into Calabar from surrounding states for their passports,” he said.
Governor Ben Ayade and his wife were very pleased with the quick delivery of their passports two years ago when they applied. This led to his donation of an expansive land in the central axis of the state to NIS to build their offices.
Mr James Ezeugwu, the comptroller of the NIS in the state, denied the allegations of corrupt practices in the state, saying since his assumption of duties over two years ago, there has been huge turn around with impressive revenues and that allocation of passport booklets were well documented.
At the immigration office in Jos, the Plateau State capital, people were coming in trickles for their international passport collection, complaints, or inquiry.
The officers at the gate refer applicants to another person at the gate where required documents and payments are negotiated. Fresh applications and renewals cost N25, 000 according to the officer instead of the N19, 000 official price.
A source at the passport officer said a minimum of N2, 000 is usually added as a processing fee to meet up with the overwhelming demand on the passport unit/the exigencies of the office.
Apart from the money charged for the processing fee, another N2, 000 is set aside for a company contracted for verifying each applicant and subsequently delivering the passport to them at the end of processing.
According to the source, the imprest for the passport unit comes quarterly, yet it is meagre. Nonetheless, they must continue to run the affairs of the office including powering the generator and miscellaneous activities.
In Kaduna, one of the applicants who simply identified himself as Sama’ila said he wanted to renew his passport but was told to pay N40, 000 if he wanted it urgently.
According to him, he was equally told that there were no booklets in the Kaduna office which means if he needed it urgently, it would be done outside the state.
“They told me there was no booklet in Kaduna office but if I can provide N40, 000, they can get the passport done for me in Abuja. I can get the passport within a week but from Abuja or any other state,” he said.
In Ebonyi State, an applicant seeking to obtain the International Passport is expected to pay N45, 000 at the NIS office in the state aside from paying N900 to the officers to photocopy the booklets.
The immigration officers, as learnt by our correspondent, also charge applicants to get them a guarantor and other requirements that they do not have.
Some Nigerians at the NIS passport office in Bayelsa State said officers charge exorbitant prices to fast-track the process. Those who fail to comply are delayed from getting their passports for weeks despite having all the required documents.
When Daily Trust visited the NIS office along Road Safety Road in Yenagoa, an officer said the International Passports would cost between N45, 000 and N50, 000 depending on the “urgency from the applicants.”
According to her, if an applicant needs the passport within one-week interval, he pays N50, 000 while those who need it within two- or three-weeks interval pay N45, 000.
The ‘ring’ at the office ensures that applicants are approached at the gate and handled appropriately, for those willing to comply with their terms.
An applicant, Preye Charles, said after applying for the International Passport with all the necessary documents, he was not called for biometric data capturing for about one month until an immigration officer ‘helped’ him after paying N45,000. After the payment, he did his biometric data capturing and is now expecting his passport.
He said: “Many people you are seeing here have been on this passport issue for a long time. The only way to get it is to have an insider here working for you. Just look for one official and arrange your thing if you want to get it quickly, because if you want to follow the proper way, they will delay you.”
The Public Relations Officer of the Akwa Ibom NIS office, Ottor Benson, said the process of getting passport was not tedious and denied the unavailability of booklets.
He explained that once an applicant fills the application form on the NIS website, and pays the required sum of N19, 500 in the bank, processing of the passport would be seamless.
An applicant in Uyo, who did not give his name, said he got his passport after paying N30, 000. The applicant rsaid he was in Uyo after a failed attempt to renew his passport in Port Harcourt and Abuja.