By Omeiza Ajayi
ABUJA—Irked by the refusal of some past public officers to return their diplomatic passports and other official documents, the federal government has ordered their arrest.
The officials include former governors, lawmakers and others who served during the last dispensation of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan.
Government had since last year ordered all ex-officials to submit those documents to the Nigeria Immigration Service, NIS, and threatened to apply sanctions on those who refused to heed the call.
New CG’s order
However, at his maiden briefing with top management staff of Nigeria Immigration Service yesterday in Abuja, newly-appointed Comptroller General of the Nigeria Immigration Service, Muhammad Babandede, ordered the arrest of all the former political office holders still in possession of their diplomatic passports.
The meeting was called to enable the CG unveil his operational guidelines to senior officers from the rank of Comptrollers.
He said: “In view of the earlier publication for return of official/diplomatic passports by former political office holders and retired public servants, it must be noted that charges will be pressed against unauthorized holders of such documents.
‘’This is because, such persons are no longer in the eligibility list and are, therefore, in contravention of Section 10 of the extant Immigration Act, 2015.
“I am, hereby, directing that unauthorized holders of such passports be arrested at the airports and other points of entry/departure. Efforts will be made also to trace such unauthorized holders in their given addresses.”
According to Babandede, 158 diplomatic passports and 310 official passports have so far been retrieved.
The CG also read the riot act to personnel who would want to continue in the past, saying it was no longer going to be business as usual.
“I am aware of money being extorted from the hands of passport applicants and at various borders/check points in the country. What is happening in the liberated territories in the North East is most disturbing to me.
Illegal check points and extortion
‘’Heartless Immigration officers set illegal check points at hinterland to bully and extort money from citizens already devastated by Boko Haram insurgency. I will not accept this Service to be the second grade of Boko Haram.
“I am setting an anti-corruption squad, but before this, I will hold the zonal coordinators and Comptrollers responsible. I do not want your blood money, as organized crime law enforcement called ‘returns’.
‘’We will also do our best to send the limited resources available for operations to avoid operatives funding job with corrupt monies.
“Suddenly, under our very eyes, the NIS ship started drifting in the wrong direction. Indiscipline and corruption became the order of the day. The leadership became helpless with pressures on postings and deployments. Absenteeism became the norm in supposedly “non-lucrative” posts,” he recalled.
Decentralization of passport issuance and administration
The CG also gave directives for the decentralization of passport issuance and administration. He listed other sweeping changes to include approval for change of name due to marriage which he said could now be given by the state comptrollers.
“Approval for replacement of lost passports shall henceforth be given by state comptrollers after online vetting and processing of application at the Passport Division in the Service’s headquarters.
‘’Effort will be made to stop passport officers from coming to Abuja for collection of booklets. This will hopefully reduce corruption. Additional passport office will be opened in state commands where the existing passport office is getting overwhelmed with high demand.
‘’We will involve state comptrollers in the issuance of official passports to applicants in the state,” he added.