EDITORIAL: Stem the endemic corruption in Nigeria Immigration Service

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Uba Group

A statement on Tuesday by the spokesperson for the Nigeria Immigration Service, Amos Okpu, said the acting Comptroller General of Immigration, Isah Idris, paid unscheduled visits to the Alausa and Ikoyi passport offices in Lagos as part of sting operations to assess the quality of service delivery to members of the public at the centres.

The statement detailed that Idris arrived at the Alausa passport office Ikeja, at about 1100 hours and presented himself as a potential passport applicant.

He reportedly moved round the premises unnoticed and was even attended to by some personnel.

According to the statement, he also met with some touts within and around the premises, who made entreaties to assist him to procure passport.

It noted that both the touts and some of the personnel, who offered to assist him gave exorbitant fees far beyond the official rates, with the acting CGI playing along with them. Some even affirmed their readiness to assist him procure the passport within reasonable time provided he met their charges.

Okpu’s statement said, determined to have a good understanding of the extent of touting in the area, the acting CGI opted to follow one of the touts to her business centre located not far away from the passport office, and while there, the tout produced all manners of forms and requested the acting CGI to complete same so that the process could begin.

The acting CGI, however, chose to see the process through by completing some of the forms and was thereafter asked to transfer the fees for the charges given him to an account number supplied by the tout if he could not make cash payment.

Satisfied with his findings at the Alausa office, Idris reportedly proceeded to the Ikoyi passport centre, where the same experience played out.

He, afterwards, left the premises unnoticed and proceeded to the office of the Lagos State Command Comptroller on Alagbon Close, Ikoyi.

Speaking there, Idris noted that the visit was very insightful, stating, “It has enabled me to assess the quality of service delivery at the centres, especially against the backdrop of some public complaints about poor service delivery in some passport office locations.

“Corrupt officers should not only be demoted, but should be charged to court and flushed out of the system. Such public examples are essential to root out graft”

“We shall use this experience to deepen our reforms very urgently. I have seen some gaps that must be quickly addressed. I think that the passport appointment system we are about to introduce will take care of some of the gaps while a huge emphasis on consequence management shall be vigorously pursued.”

He said none of the personnel found to have acted below expectation during the visit would go unpunished, assuring that appropriate sanctions would be applied.

Idris had on assumption of office promised to deepen passport reform efforts, improve border security efforts and emplace measures for enhanced staff welfare.

Just like many other public institutions, the NIS stinks of internal corruption.

On a daily basis, applicants are being fleeced at the Alausa, Ikeja and Lagos passport offices.

The sleaze is not limited to the Lagos offices alone. It sweeps across all NIS offices in Nigeria.

In principle, the NIS is supposed to issue fresh passports to applicants within 48 hours; re-issuance (or renewal) takes 72 hours after enrolling for biometric data capture, which takes an unspecified length of time.

But in practice, things are completely different, an unpleasant experience for the majority of applicants who go through excruciating delay.

This manifests in open touting or the deliberate use of “agents” by NIS officers, and lengthy queues at passport offices.

The Alausa passport office in Lagos is an eyesore.

Rowdiness and long queues define the place, among other ills.

The blockage fuels bribery, allowing NIS officers to rip off or wring bribes from desperate applicants, who are made to pay between N45,000 and N55,000 or more, instead of the official price of N37,000 (32 pages) or N55,000 (64 pages).

“They said 32 pages of the international passport for five years would cost me N45, 000 instead of N27, 000. They said 64 pages for five years would cost me N55,000 instead of N37,000, and N95,000 for 64 pages for 10 years instead of N72,000,” the acting CG said.

It is appalling that officers at the various passport offices solicit money to issue passport to applicants through the use of agents.

Allegations of sleaze in the passport offices are nothing new.

By collecting above the official price to issue passports, the NIS passport office in Alausa is part of this foul racket.

Although, the NIS once made some changes by decentralising the passport offices and uploading the cost of the document on its website, the ingrained practices of touting and extortion have yet to pave the way for the easy acquisition of passports because the NIS website is just too rudimentary to handle the pressure from a high number of applicants.

As a result, applicants opt for the manual process, which is longer and cumbersome. This runs counter to sound global best practices.
Effective law enforcement is essential to ensure the corrupt are punished to break the cycle of impunity.

We welcome the passport appointment system promised by Idris “to take care of some of the gaps while a huge emphasis on consequence management shall be vigorously pursued.”

The NIS should clear the rot at its passport offices, beginning with Alausa, upgrade its website and deploy cutting-edge technology to aid the seamless acquisition of passports. Corrupt officers should not only be demoted, but should be charged to court and flushed out of the system.

Such public examples are essential to root out graft.

To purify the passport issuance process and bring about the change envisaged by Nigerians, Idris should reduce the contact between passport applicants and NIS officers to the barest minimum through technology.

The NIS boss needs to put in place a solid set of preventive tools. He should identify and remove opportunity for corruption in the system; streamline cumbersome administrative procedures and slash red tape to provide an efficient and transparent service to the public. If government services take a long time to deliver and require multiple processes and steps, then the likelihood of corruption and malpractice will multiply.

It is implausible that the NIS is lacking in such technology that can be afforded by small-time cybercafé operators.

Going forward, the NIS boss should set up an internal inspectorate/intelligence unit to constantly monitor its offices nationwide and apply strict sanctions against the corrupt.

The Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, should ensure a well-structured, fast operation and transparent financial management at the NIS.