The Minister of Interiors, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, has said that the Federal Government aimed to produce a total of two million passports for citizens by the end of May 29, 2023 as part of measures to tackle the challenge of shortages in passport issuance.
Aregbesola stated this, on Monday, at the official commissioning of the Nigeria Immigration Service, NIS, new Front Desk Office in the Alimosho area of Lagos State.
Recall that the NIS in the recent past has witnessed landmark reforms in its visa policy, Automated Passport issuance process which has eliminated touts and racketeers in Passport administration, the introduction of E-border Management, MIDAS and the commencement of E-Passport across Passport Control Offices and Diplomatic Missions.
The Federal Government’s commitment to improving passport and immigration services has led to the implementation of several reforms including the rollout of an enhanced e-Passport with a Polycarbonate Data Page and 25 security features, an improved online passport application process and improved secured payment solutions that eliminate touting.
The minister disclosed that over 1.9 million passports were produced in 2022, as against 1 million produced in 2021, “while we are targeting to scale up to 2 million before the expiration of the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari by May 29, this year.”
He stressed that the Front Desk Office would ease the ever-increasing pressure on the three existing Passport Control Offices domiciled in Lagos.
Aregbersola said: “We are committed to expanding our Passport Issuance operations to bridge the shortage gap we face usually in urban centres like Lagos. It is this need that gave birth to the Alimosho Front Desk Office to ease the ever-increasing pressure on the three existing Passport Control Offices domiciled in Lagos. We promise to speed up the expansion process in spite of the challenge of limited resources.
The Minister said the front desk office is not an express centre, or a full-fledged passport office like the ones in Ikoyi, Alausa and FESTAC, but a place where biometric data of applicants would be collected
He said “A front office is where applications will be made and biometric data of the applicant will be collected. It is a non-judgemental centre, meaning that no decision will be made here, no passport will be produced here and no further processing will be done here, but the application and biometric data of the applicants will be collected and forwarded to the NIS for processing and issuing.
“We certainly need more of this in Lagos. This is because half of all passport applications are made in Lagos. At no time are less than 100,000 applicants from Lagos on the NIS portal applying for passports. We will therefore need not less than 15 of these front offices in Lagos alone, to be able to cut the application waiting period to one week.
“But due to funding challenges, the government may not be able to provide these desk offices. We will therefore need private partners that will provide the lounge. Their only involvement will be to provide the space. The offices will still be manned by NIS personnel.
“Having these offices will remove the bottlenecks that lead to exploitation and eliminate all the challenges we face in urban centres where applications are unusually high.”
The minister further stated that in the recent past, the ministry has faced many challenges over passport administration. He identified Covid-19 pandemic, during which production facilities were affected due to restrictions on movement, leading to the build-up of arrears.
“There were also suppressed demands. These are demands that could not be placed by Nigerians who needed them during the pandemic. The arrears and the suppressed demands came up later, putting unprecedented pressure on our production capability.
“Since then, applications have been increasing every year at an unprecedented rate, due to the tendency of many Nigerians to want to travel outside the country and those who want to use it as means of identification.
“Then there is a ‘panic buying’ effect from those who wanted to obtain the passport because they heard some people (who probably went through touts) had difficulty obtaining theirs.
“But we have increased our capacity. Last year (2022), we produced 1.9 million passports, against the 1 million produced in 2021. This is about an 80 per cent increase and it is unprecedented”, he added.
Aregbesola appealed to applicants to apply on the NIS portal and not patronise middlemen, touts and unscrupulous officials.
He said “Those who engage middlemen are actually sabotaging our efforts at bringing sanity and transparency into passport administration. These middlemen inflate the cost and constitute hindrances that often haunts those patronising them, leading to anguish and disappointment.
The minister commended President Muhammadu Buhari for his continued support, which has enabled the four agencies in the ministry to use cutting-edge instruments for engendering internal security and service delivery.
He said premium should be placed on good maintenance and judicious use of the structure, adding that the lifespan of every infrastructure is directly tethered to the quality of its care.
The minister noted that in spite of the challenges, the NIS has worked hard to cope with the demands to ensure a seamless exercise and remove any hardship Nigerians face in obtaining their passports
According to Aregbesola, under his stewardship, the ministry has ensured equitable distribution of resources and development programmes among the four paramilitary agencies within its purview.
He said massive infrastructural renewal is ongoing at the NIS, Federal Fire Service (FFS), Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) respectively.
Aregbesola said since his appointment as minister, he has commissioned 18 new Command structures across the country for the NIS.
This, according to him, was based on the resolve and commitment of President Buhari’s Administration to ensure that the nation’s borders are further secured, leading to the creation of new and upgrading of existing Border Control Formations to full-fledged Commands.
He stated that New Forward Operations Bases (FOB) are created to ensure that the needed support system is available to ensure their seamless operation.
The minister thanked Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo Olu, for providing accommodation, generous assistance and kind disposition to all our agencies in the state.
In his remarks, Comptroller General NIS, Isah Idris, described the introduction of the e-passport in 2007 as a watershed in the history of the Service’s statutory responsibility of providing travel documents for citizens as enshrined in Section 2(B) of the Immigration Act, 2015.
According to the Comptroller General, being the first in Africa to introduce the issuance of e-passport and the fifth in the world in the issuance of the enhanced e-passport, the NIS has not spared any effort at opening outlets with a view to decongesting processing/issuing centres with overwhelming traffic.
Idris said the NIS would continue to render efficient and effective service delivery to the public.
He therefore, urged Nigerians to avail themselves of the numerous complaints mechanisms made available, whatever they are displeased with the services rendered.
Idris stated that there are lots of publications, signage and sensitisation materials on the procedure of acquiring the Nigeria e-passport, and urged Nigerians to avail themselves of this information targeted at reducing interference, and eliminating touting, extortion and other vices.
“The Passport Office remains a no-go-area for touts, passport racketeers, fake breeder documents harvesters and all sorts of undesirable elements. I wish to warn that the long arm of the law and its full force will be visited on any person who by an act of commission or omission infringes on the Passport Offences as stipulated in Section 10(1a-h) of the Immigration Act, 2015”, he warned.
The NIS boss urged pioneer officers of the Alimonsho Passport Office, to live above suspicion in all their dealings with customers, and to be courteous and professional in the discharge of their choice duties.
Meanwhile, other offices are: Set up dedicated Diaspora Desks at all international airports across the country to give priority attention to the returnees and their families to renew their expired international passports within two weeks as well as access other immigration services, the opening of centralised passport production centres in Ibadan and Enugu to uptake availability of passport booklets, as well as the opening of passport front offices Daura (Katsina State), Oyo (Oyo State), and Zaria (Kaduna State) among other reforms.