EXPOSED! How immigration officers exploit loopholes to defraud Nigerians seeking international passports
ENOCH OYEDIBU recently made a covert visit to the Nigeria Immigration Services (NIS) offices in Ibadan, Oyo state and Osogbo, Osun state, to investigate how officers extort applicants during passport registrations.
He discovered sordid underhand dealings which confirm the establishment as a cesspool of corrupt practices.
2021 was the year Nigerians desiring to travel overseas fell victims of system failure and so were unable to fulfill their dreams of leaving the shores of the country. For an upward of eight months or more, immigration offices across the country were shut against passport renewal or fresh applications ostensibly to clear off backlogs of applications.
The year also got Immigration Comptroller, Muhammed Babandede, resigning from his position, paving the way for the appointment of Isah Idris Jere.
Part of the reforms introduced into the service was online passport registration, aimed at mitigating the unnecessary delay associated with passports collection.
According to the Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, the online registration is a big move, “which will ensure the clearing of regular issues encountered on passports registration.”
Aregbesola, also in a Vanguard newspaper report in December 2021, urged Nigerians to “avoid patronizing touts and unscrupulous officials when applying for the documents,” since the “federal government has digitalized payments for the Nigerian passports,” with the launching of the new “Enhanced e-Passport with Polycarbonate Data Page and other security features.”
The Minister of Interior further reiterated that “all applicants (should) follow the process we put in place. Apply for passports and pay online. The only engagement with our staff is the enrolment of your biometrics.
“Patronizing touts as well as passport office officials do not always end well, but rather serves to defeat our purpose of eliminating corruption and infusing to the passport administration process.”
The import of the minister’s declaration is that no applicant must pay a dime to any officer, rather all payments must be made online.
To affirm this, it is displayed on the NIS portal that the official registration fee for 32 pages passport is N25, 000, while N70, 000 is for 64-page registration.
NIS of corruption
With the above at the back of his mind, our reporter, who disguised himself as an applicant made a dash to two NIS offices in Ibadan to unearth what actually transpires. Our office has been inundated with complaints about the underhand dealings at these offices nationwide and in accordance with the maxim, “Seeing is believing,” he made the covert visits.
On November 22, 2022, he was in Ibadan to further investigate the reasons why many are unable to obtain their passports either fresh or renewal in time and why some have had to miss their flights!
His first port of call was Moniya, Akinyele local government, where a passport office is domiciled. His experience here was revealing.
At the office, an officer Mr. Bolade Ademola (not real name) in his late fifties, came to meet our reporter at the office as no one was on seat when he arrived.
“I want to do a passport,” he had said.
Continuing he demanded, “What are the documents I will need including the cost?”
The officer nodded and sat, saying “Okay, sit down. Have you done it before?”
“No, I haven’t.”
“Okay, if you want to do it, you will need your birth certificate, local government certificate, NIN, two passport-sized photographs and N45, 000.”
Baffled, I inquisitively repeated “N45, 000?”
“In Lagos,” the man said gleefully, “they are doing it N60, 000, Abuja, the cost is even higher.”
Knowing it is N25, 000, I asked, “but I was told it is N25, 000 and that we can even register online?”
The officer, his eyes darting, now explained, “Don’t listen to them o and don’t allow them to do fake for you o. If you pay 25,000 naira and they give you fake, you will still pay for another one. It is better to do the original one which is N45, 000. If you pay now it will generate a date for us now.”
He was obviously contravening the directive of the NIS comptroller general that no officer must collect passport fees by hand, and so I inquired, “Who will I pay to?”And he retorted, “You will pay to me of course. You pay to my account number. I will give you my mobile line where you will send all your information to. I will help you to do it in a way that only when you want to do an interview (capturing) will be when you will come around. All other documents will be sent to me through WhatsApp.”
“Where will I do the capturing?” I asked.
“At Gate,” he answered. “Our head office is at Gate, you will do it there. I will just take you there, do it and go on the date fixed for you.”
So, this uncovered why many who opted for the registration online are usually delayed for months before they are allowed to do the capturing.
But, that was not all, at Agodi Gate, the NIS head office in Ibadan, the story was the same. Our reporter relays the conversations there in more details.
As I made to go into the premises, an officer in a blue and black uniform called out to me. I guessed he’s one of the security agents at the local government council beside the NIS office. “Excuse me, sir, excuse me, sir,” he was heard saying but I never knew I was his target. I was in a hurry, jostling among the throngs of people (in my mind, potential victims of immigration officers) who were flooding inside the immigration office in Agodi, Ibadan.
But it was me. I stopped and craned my neck backwards, “what is it?” I demanded.
“Are you going there?”
I shot my head back to my front, a few steps away from me, with two officers standing appealingly by the gate.
Immediately, I knew it. This man knew the deal and he also wants to stick his lips to suck the juicy corrupt soup behind passport registration. Maybe, he thought I was a novice, so, he probably wanted to “help me out” (just like the way immigration officers will also do).
But I was really in haste. I didn’t want him to waste my time. So, I left him. I never said a word, so he turned back (he never had something really important to say, I presumed).
Instantly, I was at the immigration office gate. Before me were two officers standing carelessly by the wicket gate, checking every soul willing to enter the building.
I never cared to greet or approach them. I knew they will call for me. Intentionally, I just walked past them, and then made my way in, and that was when one of the officers called, whose name I later got to know but let’s say “Saka Adekunle.”
“Sir, come,” he said, as a gentle smile sprang to his face. “What do you want to do?”
“Passport,” I said.
“Come to this side,” he said with his left hand twisting round to his right side.
I did as I was told.
“Fresh or renewal?” He asked.
“Fresh,” I answered. “I want to know the items I will need to present.”
“Are you sure you have not applied before?” He said jokingly. “Because there is no other way to it o.”
“Ah!” I laughed. “Am I not the owner of myself? I have not done anything before.”
“When do you want to use it?”
“Next year, January,” I said.
“It is better that you apply now because it takes four to five weeks before you can get it immediately after the application. Once you have done capturing you will need to wait for eight weeks or more before collection.”
“Eh! Okay, is there anyone I can see to register or what?”
But he quickly retorted, “That is why we are here. Any officer you have seen in Ibadan, whether him or I (pointing to another with him) you have no problem.”
“Okay. What are those things I will need?”
“NIN slip, birth certificate, state of origin certificate, two passport photographs and 45, 000 naira.”
“Ah!” I exclaimed. “N45, 000, is it for 32 pages or what?”
“Yes, it is for 32 pages.”
“What about 64 pages?”
“We have two types of 64 pages,” he said and explained, “64 pages five years and 64 pages 10 years. That of 64 pages 10 years is N120, 000.”
“Ah! Why is it so costly like that?” I asked.
“The one we are doing now is different from the one we were doing before. We are doing enhanced now,” he said as he started giving what I tagged as unnecessary reasons for him to extort me. This is where I got baffled at the extent these officers can go to just prey on their victims.
Now, let us hear more from Officer Saka on why N45, 000 is being extorted from Nigerians by the officers.
“The enhanced passport is more security secured than the previous one which is E,” he began. “E is what we did before i.e. electronic passport but it’s MRP (Machine Readable Passport). We then did electronic passport. The newest one we are doing now is enhanced passport, which is harmonized passport. What makes it different is its security. This new one cannot be easily forged. They just launched it last year.”
I said, “But sir, I heard that it is N25, 000 that is usually charged for the passport and one can even pay online.”
“Yes, yes,” he interjected. “You can do it online. But the thing is, you will have nobody to call. If you have done it online now and come to me, I know where to direct you. Just go to the front desk, and they will say you should arrange your file. But the issues that you will encounter… hmmm, first you will need to go to the High Court to sign, you will have to find a guarantor and as well, the guarantor must not be from your family. It must be from someone close to you.
“So,” he paused, “the stress will be much. Even, when you have any issue, no officer will help you with it. No officer will help you to check whether your passport is ready or not. You understand? That is it because once you come around now you will need to go to the front desk and later go to the 2ic office… so the stress will be much but the officer in charge of your file will be the one helping you do all those things. And when you come for capturing, the officer will be the one that will help you to do capturing on time. Let me tell you something, come, come…”
Officer Saka said, “go and check that place.”
It is a waiting hall, where people waited for their turn for either capturing or collection. When I checked as I was told by the officer, at rough estimate over 50 people were waiting. But the point is, most of them never knew they would never get their capturing done on that day.
“People are there, right?” He asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“Those are the people that have paid for the past two months. So, the benefit between you doing it by yourself or allowing an officer to do it for you is that, as I am now, I have the opportunity to take you to those that will do the capturing for you and say that you are my person o, please help me capture him fast. That is it. The thing is, only those people who know people (officers) will be attended to first. That is just the truth. I no fit lie for you (sic).”
“Ah!” I sighed.
“Truly, the money is not much but there is still some money you will still need to pay that is different from the online payment. If you check it very well, if you do online payment and do it yourself, all your documents will be arranged inside a white file but if I or any officer help you do it, we will arrange your documents in a brown file. That is the difference.”
Minutes later I bolted out of the premises cursing under my breath, wondering how a system can be so bastardized. I must confess meanwhile that racketeering here is merely a reflection of the general breakdown of systems in Nigeria; everyone seeks to appropriate opportunities by circumventing the system for personal gains yet everybody complains and laments when he is the victim.
Meanwhile, I need to ask these pertinent questions just as I wish to make the following observations in respect of the heists at the NIS offices.
Firstly, by the submissions of these officers one doesn’t need to go through the Commissioner of Oath or getting a credible guarantor to get one’s passport done once the payment of N45, 000 or N120, 000 is made to any officer. This raises the question of widespread forgery or breach of rules in the NIS circle.
Secondly, bribery is rife at NIS offices or what do they mean when they said “there will still be some money I will be paying even if I registered online?” I have someone who though pleaded his identity should not be revealed that he experienced such when he went to Osogbo branch office of NIS to register for his passport.
Thirdly, affirming those who go through the officers rather than online receive assistance continuously especially when it is time for capturing until they are issued their passports, underscore existence of nepotism, favoritism, prejudice and what have you in this immigration offices!
In addition, negligence of duty is endemic as exemplified by the assertion that “No officer will help those who did their registration online take care of issues that arise during the process.”
But in the end as highlighted above the NIS’ anomalies is messily a microcosm of the Nigerian system. Though deeply religious, dipping hands in filth for filthy lucre means nothing to them.