By Omeiza Ajayi
As part of measures to address growing complaints about sharp practices in passport offices of the Nigeria Immigration Service NIS, the Federal Government has disclosed of plans to install body cameras on operatives working in that department.
Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola stated this on Thursday at a meeting with Passport Control Officers and Attachès in Missions held at the headquarters of the Service in Abuja.
He said Nigeria’s passport administration has had several challenges such as shortage of booklets, touting, racketeering, inflating cost as well as passports being issued to ineligible persons and so on.
He said; “Where we can do things electronically or by post, we shall continue to explore these. But other person-to-person necessities like data capture are beyond our control. I crave the understanding of Nigerians on this.
Without doubt, these challenges have put the ministry and Nigeria Immigration Service under the spotlight.
“It has become imperative therefore to review our operations and rejig our system, in order to be able to offer excellent services to our clients. No system is permanent, only the objectives are. We need to review a system from time to time to see if it helps best serve to realise the objectives. This understanding is very important to all system operators so we don’t develop a fixed system rigidity.
“We are turning round the entire passport application process in a way that is easy, seamless, transparent and will accord human dignity to applicants and fulfil citizenship integrity.
“Therefore, I am declaring a zero-tolerance stance to all forms of touting. No applicant will be made to pay any illegitimate fees. We are going to embed security operatives – seen and unseen – in all our passport offices. They will wear body cameras. They will detect and report any form of solicitations, inflation, improper communications, extortion, diversion, hoarding and other corrupt practices. Those caught will be dealt with according to the law.
“An ombudsman will also be created for members of the public to receive complaints and reports on officers trying to deviate from prescribed guidelines and subversion of the process.
Two, we have created special centres for expedited services. These special centres will run on public-private partnership basis. This has already taken off in Abuja and 10 more will be opened in coming weeks as more of such centres will be opened all over the country. Our goal is to have one in each local government, university campuses, institutions of higher learning and other places.
“Three, a timeline will be fixed for every application i.e., a collection date. This will be six weeks, comparable to what obtains in other countries. This is to allow for enough time to investigate and validate personal information supplied by the applicants. What we are driving at is the peace of mind that comes from assurance of certainty. If there are circumstances that will make the date to change, it will be communicated to the applicant one week before the collection date.
“Fourth, applicants will have no basis for further communication with officers, other than to complete their application process and leave the venue. The date for the collection of their passports or any challenge to the application, will be communicated to them. The technology for the efficient running of this system has been acquired and will be deployed.
Fifth, we are publishing on our website the list of the backlog of passports that are ready which are yet to be collected by the owners. They will be required to go to the state commands to collect them”, Aregbesola added.
He said with these changes, he believes that Nigeria will arrive at a new dawn in passport application processing. “But humans are the soul of any enterprise – not machines or abstract system. It is your lot therefore to drive this innovation and make it work. I am counting on your support and maximum cooperation. If we achieve this, we would have made a significant contribution to national development and write our names in gold. It should be our personal and collective goal to leave an institution better than we meet it”, he added.