IF the words of the Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, are anything to go by, Nigerians can look forward to getting their passport problems fixed in their vicinity rather than having to travel to Abuja, Lagos and other big cities.
The Ministry said it has perfected plans to ensure that citizens can procure or renew their passports in each of the 774 local government areas. The inauguration of the Maitama Passport Express Centre, MPEC, recently opened the door to the decentralisation policy.
While opening the Maitama facility, Aregbesola had said: “Every Nigerian has the right to a Nigerian passport…the passport should be available in maximum of 72 hours of successful application. Where there are issues the applicant must be notified within 48 hours”.
The decentralisation of passport offices to the grassroots is a welcome idea. Implementation is key. We are waiting to see how far Aregbesola goes in fully activating the policy. If successfully implemented, it will be a major legacy of the Muhammadu Buhari regime under Aregbesola’s watch as Interior Minister. But judging from existing indices, it will be another miracle if government matches words with action.
The difficulty in acquiring the Nigerian passport is a major nightmare for Nigerians at home and abroad. While many Nigerians at home are often told that passport booklets are scarce, our Diaspora compatriots encounter nightmarish delays due to corrupt, callous and incompetent embassy staff as well as frequent breakdowns of the online application platforms.
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If we are still experiencing these difficulties at these elite offices of the Nigerian Immigration Services, what will be the situation when the grassroots which are poorly covered by telecom services come on stream?
Nigeria has a lot of work to do in order to make the passport work to the advantage of its citizens and the economy at large. We must consciously work harder to increase the value of the Nigerian passport.
Currently, holders of the Nigerian passport have visa-free or visa on arrival access to 51out of 225 countries worldwide. We must improve our standing on the annual Henley Passport Index, HPI, which is used to rank the passports of 200 countries of the world.
The Nigerian passport ranks as the 97th most valuable in the world as opposed to Japan (first with access to 191 destinations), while countries like the UK and USA rank seventh with access to 185 destinations. The value of a passport is rooted in its country’s quality of governance integrity, the system’s functionality and economic its standing.
The citizens of countries with highly-valued passports enjoy freer movement and easier access to opportunities around the world. In addition to making our passports easier to acquire, we must do the governance homework that will give it more value.