Nigerians have expressed concern over the increasing rate of racketeering at passport offices across the country.
A cross section of Nigerians who commented on the issue on Friday in Abuja, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), that the trend portrayed the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) in bad light.
They contended that it also hindered the service from attaining professional excellence as obtained in most immigration offices across the world.
A Youth Service Corps (NYSC) member, serving in the FCT who spoke on the issue on condition of anonymity, told NAN that she paid N25, 000 to obtain an e-passport instead of the standard rate of N15, 000.
She said she paid the additional amount to one of the officers at the passport office to assist her fast track the process.
She said that though she was not issued a receipt, she had to pay the extra amount because she did not want to wait for long before being issued her passport.
“ An official in the passport office assisted me get the passport. He told me initially that the standard amount is N15, 000.
“ I paid N25, 000 because the official offered to assist me as he had always assisted my siblings; but he did not inform me if I will be issued a 32-page or 64-page passport.
“ I applied for the passport last week Friday and they told me to come on Thursday this week to be captured. I have been waiting here for two hours,’’ she said.
A civil servant, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said he observed that officers at the passport office usually pay more attention to applicants who gave them extra money.
“ What usually happens at the passport office is that if you want to apply for passport and you want it processed quickly, you need to pay extra money,’’ he said.
He said that most applicants were compelled to pay the extra amount because they could not afford to wait for weeks as they had urgent need for the passport.
He added that applicants pay the extra sum because they did not want to go through the tedious procedure of applying for passport.
Mr John Pepple, a business man, called on the NIS to allow its state offices resolve passport related issues in order to reduce the risk of travelling from the state to the FCT.
He said that state commands of the service were not allowed to attend to issues like change of data amongst others except issuance of new passport.
“ I lost my passport in Port Harcourt and I went to the passport office there to replace it, but I was told that I have to come to the NIS headquarters in Abuja for the replacement.
“ They told me at the NIS office in Port Harcourt that I have to get police report and then go to the headquarters because they can only issue new passport,” Pepple said
Mrs Felicia Igwe, a civil servant told NAN that even though the 64-page passport was launched recently, the service still issue applicants the 32-page passport for the price of the 64-page passport.
She said that she paid N20,000 for the 64-page passport but was issued the 32-page passport.
Igwe, who expressed concern over the way the NIS handled the issuance of e-passport, called on the authority to improve on its e-passport awareness campaign.
She said the campaign would enable applicants understand the processes and know what to do when applying for the e-passport.
She also called for the establishment of more passport offices to reduce the number of applicants besieging passport office in Abuja and enable officers attend to applicants in good time.
Reacting to the complaints, Mr Chukwuemeka Obua, the NIS Public Relations Officer, urged applicants to report to the authority, officers who extort money from them on the pretext of offering assistance.
He said that applicants should assist the service fish out the culprits by exposing those involved in shady deals.
“ Any NIS officer obtaining money from applicants should be reported to the authority so that they can be sanctioned.
“ The service may have the challenge of knowing the officers who are committing these acts because there are few of them and they act in secret.
“ Applicants should therefore assist us so that we can eliminate the bad eggs among us to serve as deterrent to others,” he said.
Obua said the rate for obtaining the 32-page passport was N15, 000 but when bank charges and courier rates are included, the total sum would amount to over N19, 000.
He said that though the 64-page passport was already being issued to some applicants, the service was restricting the number of applicants.
He said that this was to allow frequent travelers who the passport was actually meant for access it.
“ If you want the 64-page passport, you must apply for it specifically.
“ If you have the Nigerian passport and wish to migrate to the 64-page passport, we have to read the history of your travel and make sure you are a frequent traveler before issuing the passport.
“ The 64-page passport is for everybody but there must be need for it before we can issue it to applicants.
“ If you are applying for the 64-page passport which cost N20,.000 for the first time, the type of work you do will determine if your application will be approved,” he said
NAN reports that the NIS on Aug. 1, reviewed the fees for obtaining e-passport.
The fees were reviewed to enhance the security features of the document, accommodate frequent travelers, prevent identity theft and conform to international best practice.