By Jimoh Babatunde
…as touts take over passport office in Ikoyi.
Welcome sir, do you need passport?” “Do you need information?” “I can help you get it o.” These are some of the things you will hear as you get to the passport office in Ikoyi, Lagos. A visit to the Passport office is like a visit to the market where you are confronted by sellers who invite you to come and buy their wares.
In this case, the ware is the standard international passport. Out of curiosity, you might be tempted to follow the voices calling on you to know what they offer. In one of the rickety Combi-Bus parked outside the gate of the Ikoyi office of the NIS, is a mini passport office.
Inside the bus is a computer powered by a mini generator, popularly called I beta pass my neigbhour, where the unsuspecting applicants are told they can be assisted to get the international passport under 24 hours. Asked how that will be possible, a young man, who gave his name as Edward, said if you are ready to pay above the required amount of less than N10,000, you will get it under 24 hours. As you are still discussing, he brings out a piece of paper containing the requirements you are to fulfill.
In the list of general requirements for the passport interview are Local Government letter of identification; Birth certificate/age declaration; recent colour passport photographs; Guarantor’s form sworn to before a Commissioner of Oaths/Magistrate/High Court Judge and Parents’ letter of consent for minors under16 years.
Other requirements are Marriage certificate where applicable; and Police report in case of a lost passport. You are told that for you to get the letter of identification from your local government that you will need to go back to your state and this will take a longer period and so, they have some people who can arrange that for you.
Being told of the different hurdles you will need to overcome before getting the passport, you might be tempted to seek their assistance. As you decide against seeking their assistance, you might think you are through with the touting, you are not, as you are confronted with bigger revelation from the Immigration officers.
At the gate, the Immigration guards ask where you are going and what you need. There are more than 10 officers at the gate screening people going into the office. One of the officers asks: “What do you want?” “Sir I want to get information on how to get the international passport. The next question from the officer is if you have somebody who is going to assist you and if you answer in the negative, he offers to be your consultant.
He reels out the requirements you will need to get before logging into the official website of the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS).
The officer tells you how long it will take you to get your photograph snapped and get it processed if you decide to follow the official route, but with proper negotiation, you can get it under 48 hours if you pay as little as N18,000-N20,000.
He follows you into the large compound housing the Passport office, asking you to take a seat at the applicants’ waiting area. At the designated area, there are hundreds of applicants waiting to be called for photograph snapping.
As you wait eagerly for the officer to come back, you discover that it is not just the officer ‘’helping’’ you that is involved in the deal but other officers of the service.
Phone conversation like “Oga, I am outside waiting,” “ Where are you?” and “I can’t see you”, are what you are confronted with while sitting at the waiting areas as the applicants who have paid some Immigration officers want to let them know they are around and the officers too coming around the area to meet the applicants.
So, it is not uncommon to see officers clutching applicants’ files and intermittently coming into the waiting areas to call their client(s). Those called follow the officers inside the room for photograph-capturing which is the major and most difficult aspect of the international passport processing. The question is: What is the Passport Controller doing about it? He cannot feign ignorance of the racketing going on under his nose and if the process of snapping photograph cannot be made transparent?
Majority of the applicants who pleaded for anonymity said they paid officers of the service to make the process easy for them as experience had shown that they could be on the waiting list for weeks if they decide to go online to fill the forms and wait to be called for the processing.
“Some people have to wait for two months or more before their passports are available for collection. Sometimes some people waited so long that they eventually gave up! It is a harrowing experience to wait for weeks.”
One of the applicants said: “Don’t tell me the authority here does not know about the involvement of the officers in this business. Then what has the PCO done to those involved?”
He continued: “I don’t want to believe that all the officers in this Ikoyi office officially have something to do with passport processing that you see almost all of them moving about with passport application files when they should be attending to other duties.’
Another applicant said the business would not have been thriving if Nigerians themselves do not believe in circumventing the system for their personal gains. “If Nigerians decide to follow the right path, there will be no business for these people.” She was quickly cut short by another applicant who said we are at their mercies except the authorities want the system to work for Nigerians.