The Nigeria Immigration Service launched an electronic passport application in 2019 to curb corruption and improve the application process for Nigerians, but the process has been sabotaged by corrupt officials of the service who continue to extort applicants for passports and frustrate those who fail to pay bribes. This investigation reveals how the electronic application process does not stop bribe-taking at Nigeria’s passport offices.  The ICIR’s Nurudeen Akewushola reports.

In March, 28-year-old David Emmanuel, an indigene of Akwa Ibom state, secured a scholarship to study in Hungary but lost the scholarship because he could not renew his passport before the deadline.

David applied in March and paid a sum of N26,000 through the website of the Nigeria Immigration Service and was asked to come for biometric enrollment in April. After the biometric, he was told to come back in three weeks.

He came back on the scheduled date, hoping that his passport had been processed but the response they gave him was that they couldn’t find his information on their portal. He was then told to come back after another two weeks.

“When I came back, they checked and checked, they said ‘status unknown’, they said I should check after another two weeks,” David said.

“I came back after two weeks, they still asked who was the officer in charge of my file. They said I should go and meet the officer in charge of my file and I said there’s no one in charge of my file. They said I should come back again in two weeks. I said what is happening? What is going on?

“I came back again after another two weeks. That’s like two months then. I now went to SERVICOM. They said let’s check the file. They searched and searched and they also asked who is the officer in charge of my file. I said why is it that they kept asking who is the officer in charge of my file. Why don’t you people state in the online requirement that applicants would be attached to an officer who is supposed to handle each person’s file? Why is it that it’s now when somebody now comes that they will be asking who is the officer in charge of your file? It’s kind of absurd.”

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David didn’t know that the reason why they kept sending him back and forth was that he didn’t bribe NIS officials who would in turn help him to follow up with his file. But he later met an officer who explained to him how it works.

The officer advised him to reopen another file with N10,000. After then, the officer later told him that the officers producing the passport needed to be bribed with another N10,000 to get a booklet. That was how he ended up paying N20,000.

“Yet with the extra N20,000 that I paid, it took me 5 months to get the passport.”

The hurdles faced by David mirror the ordeals of several other Nigerian passport seekers extorted by Nigerian immigration officials.

The passport application process in Nigeria: The ideal vs reality

The Nigeria Immigration Service is responsible for the control of persons entering or leaving Nigeria; issuance of travel documents to bonafide Nigerians in and outside Nigeria; issuance of residence permits to foreigners in Nigeria; and border surveillance and patrol.

However, The ICIR findings show that the issuance of a passport by the NIS has been fraught with corruption despite the introduction of the electronic process.

In January 2019, the commission introduced an electronic passport application. The minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola said the electronic passport would solve the challenges of “shortage of booklet to touting and an economy of corruption built around it” which have persisted for so long.

The NIS stated on its website that the new e-passport comes in 3 categories, which are 32-pages  5-years validity, 64-pages 5-years validity, and 64-pages 10-years validity.

Under the electronic process, the applicants are required to simply register and pay on the website. After successful payment, applicants are expected to book an appointment date, print an appointment slip, proceed for enrollment with all required documents on the appointment date, and wait to be notified via text message for collection.

According to the agency, “an average Passport Processing time takes up to three weeks for  renewals/reissue and six weeks for first-time applicants.”

Similarly, Immigration introduced the e-tracking system to phase out human interactions saying “the rowdiness and delay in the passport issuance would soon be a thing of the past.”

However, The ICIR investigations show that this is an empty promise. Currently, Nigerians spend longer time than the specified period, yet they are extorted by the officials of the Service including those at the headquarters, Abuja.

According to The NIS, the official price for a 64-page Nigerian passport with a 10-year validity period is N70,000, a 64-page passport with five years validity costs N35,000 and a 32-pages passport with a five-year validity period costs N25,000. The cost is even lower in some states such as Sokoto, Zamfara, and Kebbi where a 32-page, five years validity passport goes for N15,000.

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