By 7.am, on Tuesday, June 7, a long line of Nigerians, young and old, gathered at the front gates of the Nigeria Immigration Service, Area B Command, Alagbon Close, Ikoyi, Lagos. These were prospective travellers seeking E-passport for their various travels. Despite the gloomy and cloudy morning, the sea of heads continued to add up every second as more people arrived to a chaotic and disorganised but brutal environment. Soon, the sky opened up and the morning rain showers scattered on these future sojourners. “Oga, na so the place dey full every day o,” explained one of the vendors that hovered around the compound hawking inflated price goods.
The Immigration office gates opened and visitors were allowed to enter the main premises after being issued name tags. The office was dark: normal work had not started; members of staff walked or stood around as visitors were ordered to settle into a long line. There was no electricity to begin its daily activities. Officers explained to a disillusioned crowd that “We no get light. Una, go wait make PHCN bring light”. Voices from the crowd asked the Immigration officers to crank a standby generator to substitute for electricity, one of the officers said that its generator had broken down.
But surrounding businesses and neighbours such as banks didn’t have to wait for the nation’s electricity provider to conduct their daily activities. They cranked up their generators, improvising power for their business. But at the country’s Immigration office, the officers used rechargeable flashlights to check documents of E-Passport seekers and conduct certain business. That was unbelievable. The expected rain began to pour at about 8.30 a.m. Nursing mothers and other visitors ran into tents and canopies that dotted the compound for shelter. That was a mistake. They were soaked by the morning’s downpour.
Five hours later, the rain stopped, and there was electricity. Brisk businesses commenced here: the process of E-Passport procurement rather than generating funds for the country enriches the Immigration officers, thus making it miserable for citizens seeking travel documents. Every process is interspersed with corrupt practices, bribery, unnecessary paper works and demands just to stall and frustrate applicants unless you have money to give. Money determines how fast your application would be processed. Immigration workers align with touts for brisk businesses. Touts operate inside one of our national security agencies, as agents of immigration officers. They seek prospective passport seekers and help them through the process for immediate application, fingerprints, and other documentation. Then they collect processing fees on behalf of NIS, submit the money through their Immigration officer insider. These fees are three times over what the government charges for passport procurement. Passports are issued depending on your price tag. It is not clear if the government receives the extra charges by these touts and Immigration officers for “express” passport procurement.
This brisk business with touts is also a risky business. Touts are not staffers of Immigration. They can dupe applicants. Immigration officers will deny knowing any such person if it occurs.
An elderly man was raging in the hallways of the office that one of the touts duped him of N25,000 last week, with the pretext to process passport for him. He returned Tuesday with his wife and son to restart the process since the tout could not produce a passport for him. He lost the money, and the immigration officers stood there, watching a helpless, sad man ranting. They did not offer to help him find and perhaps, prosecute the tout. They just stood there, heartless, waiting for the next victim.
The process is frustrating for most Nigerians. Mr. Mohammed came with his sister to help process e-passport for his seven months old niece.
He narrates his experience thus, “We arrived here at 8 a.m. First, they told us there was no electricity to begin work. Also, because of the rain, the internet was down. No network. Imagine that sir. No network in Nigeria’s immigration office. They explained that their generator had broken down. We came here with all the papers. But they kept running us around, demanding father’s driver’s licence, passport photograph and copy of father’s e-passport data page, my niece’s passport photographs, birth certificate, my sister’s marriage certificate, identification, a letter of consent from my sister’s husband, (even when their marriage certificate and e-passport had their names on them) who is in the US. We had all these documents. We submitted them, but we had to wait for hours because there was no power supply.
“We made our payment online. So we expected that payment would have registered. But Immigration officers told me that our online payment had not been confirmed because of the weather condition which disrupted power and network. We were asked to return the next day for verification of payment and to continue the application process.”
Suddenly, a mild commotion occurred outside the premises. It briefly redirected everyone’s attention: a Land Cruiser pulled to the gate and the officer quickly opened the gate, allowing the vehicle to go beyond the permitted area. The vehicle pulled beside the front of the office, a young man came down and walked into the office where others were haggling with Immigration officers for their passports and or applications. Minutes later, the man walked out, holding his passport, climbed to the back seat of his car and his driver drove off the premises. He barely spent twenty minutes to get his passport. Others had been there since 7 a.m.
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