The newly introduced passport automation applicants’ processes may have created more problems for Nigerians willing to obtain fresh passports or even renew their expired international passports, THISDAY’s investigation has revealed.
THISDAY gathered that most affected are Nigerians in the Diaspora who returned for the Yuletide but cannot use the opportunity to renew their international passports.
Some of them who spoke to THISDAY at the weekend, cried out to President Bola Tinubu to wade into what they described as an an “ill-advised and ill-timed” passport automation process recently introduced by the Minister of Interior, Dr. Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo.
THISDAY further gathered that in some selected passport offices in different geopolitical zones, thousands of Nigerians were stranded as the new system foisted on the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) by the minister, has made the process worse and indeed very unfriendly to the applicants.
It was gathered that in the three passport offices in Lagos, namely Ikoyi, Ikeja, and FESTAC, applicants were running from pillar to post, trying to make their payments online and upload their photos and documents by themselves as the new system made it impossible for applicants to be assisted by the immigration officers.
For instance, in the Abuja head office and Gwagwalada offices, THISDAY was informed by some officers that they welcomed any innovation to make the passport process less tedious and more seamless but added that some aspects of the technological development were counterproductive.
At the immigration office in Gwagwalada, one of the applicants told THISDAY that “someone should help us tell the minister that we don’t know the meaning of ICAO, let alone knowing its standard for passport applications. What exactly is the meaning of an ICAO standard passport?” he asked.
An immigration officer also told THISDAY that “asking applicants to upload their photos based on ICAO standard without explaining what exactly it means to upload photos on ICAO standard, is a major challenge to those seeking new international passports or those seeking to renew their expired international passports.”
The officer lamented that such a good idea from the minister was only introduced to the officers for one week before it came on stream, adding that the officers are also helpless and can’t even guide the applicants who are equally frustrated as most of them lack access to scanners and devices to upload their birth certificates, state of origin certificates, NIN and ICAO-standard passport photos.
It was learnt that in the Enugu and Owerri passport offices, the officials only recorded two or three applicants per day as against 50 to 60 applicants per day before the new automated system because applicants were not able to achieve the desired results in uploading all the required information, especially photos.
Some Diaspora applicants wondered if the government really considered them before introducing this new system, given the fact that most of them who returned during the Yuletide, usually had less than two weeks to return abroad.
They queried the reason for the rush to introduce a novel idea when half of the passport centres had less than four hours of steady power supply per day.
They also wondered if this new system will not take NIS back to 20 years ago when non-Nigerians had access to the old passports.
Due to the difficulties encountered by Nigerians in this automated passport system, a woman who returned from the United States for Christmas was sighted at the headquarters of the passport office in Abuja, wailing because her flight was in two days and she could not renew her passport.
Also, the process of acquiring a new international passport makes it mandatory for all adults to obtain the 10-year booklet which costs about N85,000.
Before the introduction of the new system, citizens had the option of either the five-year passport, which cost N35,000, or the 10-year option for 85,000.
According to a senior officer in the Abuja office, “automation is good, but it needs some weeks or even months of training and sensitisation, with the right support system in place, like steady power supply and uninterrupted internet access.”
The NIS officer, who faulted the new automated international passport system, said: “With the current automated system introduced by the minister, there will be no screening of applicants to know who is a foreigner, who is adopting a child, who is trafficking someone’s child, who is a terrorist.”
Some of the applicants interviewed at the passport office in Gwagwalada office said both the service providers and the leadership of the NIS are too scared to tell the minister the truth.
A source from one of the service providers told THISDAY that “new ideas need time to be test-run before you can roll it out for public purposes.”
According to him, “When the e-passport was launched in 2007, we told the then President, Chef Olusegun Obasanjo, that he must give us one year to be sure that everything was okay before we can launch the e-passport. And as a wise leader, the President accepted the professional advice”
When contacted, the Acting Service PRO, Kenneth Kure, an Assistant Comptroller of Immigration, said he was not allowed to comment on policy issues without express permission