INVESTIGATION: Corruption, extortion reign at Nigeria Immigration passport office (Part 1)

Alausa passport office
Alausa passport office

Pretending to be an applicant, reporter Kemi Busari investigates Lagos passport offices where Nigerians pay as much as double the approved fees to obtain an international passport.

I arrived at the Alausa, Ikeja passport office of the Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS, at 6:50 a.m. on Friday June 23 in heeding to the advice of a friend who initially kicked against my mission.

‘You have to get there early, people start to queue as early as 5:30 a.m.,” my friend had said.

The cloud was pregnant on this day, thus creating a gloomy picture of the sky; a picture which largely mirrored my seemingly impossible mission – fact-finding on the dichotomy in the amount quoted online against the real amount of acquiring an international passport; and uncovering other acts of corruption in the passport offices.

Almost every time I informed a colleague or relative of my intention to acquire an international passport, I was usually greeted with an all-too-familiar reaction: “Can you pay this amount? I got mine in just one day through so, so, so and so person.’’

Other times, the conversation took the form of “Okay, I know one immigration officer who helped my friend facilitate his and he was issued the next day, here’s his number – ring him up or brace yourself up for a long, long wait at their office.”

The day’s business was yet to commence as the door of the main building remained shut when I arrived at the office. However, there was a security guard, a middle-aged man wearied by the pressure of age, checking prospective applicants in, giving them numbers. The numbers made them eligible to a tag which determined how early they would be attended to.

It was now 7:20 a.m. and photographers who also operate as touts in the surrounding buildings had started arriving.

THE IDEAL

According to the Act establishing it, the Nigeria Immigration Service has as its core mandate: control of persons entering or leaving Nigeria; issuance of travel documents to bonafide Nigerians in and outside Nigeria; issuance of residence permits to foreigners in Nigeria; and border surveillance and patrol.

However, the second mandate, which includes the issuance of international passport – a traveling document required by Nigerians to gain access to and cross other country’s borders – has reportedly been fraught with barefaced racketeering over the years.

According to the information posted on NIS website, a 32-page passport for ages 0-17 and 60 years and above goes for ₦10,750 (₦8,750 for Passport Booklet, ₦2,000 for Address Verification Fee) while that of citizens between ages 18-60 is issued at ₦17,000 (₦15,000 for Passport Booklet, ₦2,000 for Address Verification Fee).

The 64-page booklet passport, on the other hand, goes for ₦10,750 and ₦22,000 for persons between ages 0-17 and 60 years and above and 18-60 respectively.

This is the paragon, but the reality which stared me in the face on this early Friday morning transcended the imaginable.

THE MORE YOU LOOK, THE LESS YOU SEE

I approach one of the photographers on ground called Sunday and told him I needed a passport. Sunday, who combines photography with ‘touting,’ explained how he would ‘help’ me, from registering online to filing and capturing, all to be supervised by an ‘officer’ who would get me the passport in little or no time.

“We have the 32-page passport and the 64-page, but I advise you go for the 64-page if you want it quick. For the 32-page, I can do it for N28, 000 but the 64-page is not less than N35, 000,’’ Sunday explained, smartly prodding his first customer for the day to paying the maximum.

THE 64-PAGE ‘ABOVE’ 32-PAGE?

“There is a scarcity of the 32-page booklet in Nigeria, and it’s not as if they didn’t produce from the country where it is being imported. They are producing it but the dollar rate has prevented Immigration from buying more, and the price we charge here is still the same.’’

To get more out of Sunday, I assumed the role of an agent.

I informed him that my customers were four but that he had to give me some level of assurance before we finalised the deal.

“I want to do more than one but the only problem I have with you now is the price and I will like to meet the officer who works for you so that I will be assured that I’m in safe hands,” I said.

Sunday was quick to answer, switching between English and Pidgin with seamless ease: “I want you to do it with me not because of the money but because of customers you’ll bring for me after today. Believe me ‘bros’, I can do this thing better and faster than officers,” he said, referring to immigration officers.

“A photographer processes a passport better and faster than civil servants paid to do the job?”
But how? I wondered in silence.

“Most of them can’t finish the bulk of work they have at hand,’’ he offers what seems like an escape from the reality. “They won’t tell you when you approach them of course. If they say one week, expect your passport in two weeks. Some are even afraid of adding up to what they have at hand. But for me, I will handle it well.

You’ll even see everything from the beginning till end.’’

Some minutes of insistence to speak with Sunday’s “officer” proved futile and so, I decided to end the conversation.

“Here is my number, save it with Sunday passport and ring me up whenever you are ready,” he concluded.
Armed with this information, I headed for the entrance of the passport office. The time now was 7:40 a.m.

POWERFUL TOUTS

“Good morning sir!” I said.

“What can I do for you,’’ the stern voice of a man in mufti greeted me as I got to the gate.

The middle-aged man whom I took for a security guard who was holding the forth for the immigration officers, had been wearied by the task of checking people in.

He asked me to follow him to the registration point after I explained that I needed a passport for myself.

The Alausa Ikeja NIS office is a one-storey building with adjoining makeshift structures built with planks and iron linings on the space between the main building and the fence.

Each of the shops had similar gadgets, including a computer system, a photocopying machine, a bench that can take as much as three people at once, and some folders.

We stopped at the first shop where we met a lady. The security man explained my intention to acquire an international passport to the lady and went back to his duty post.

“Take this form and fill. We do 32-page for N28, 000 and 64-page for 35, 000,’’ said the lady whose identity, either as a shop owner or attendant, could not be ascertained immediately.

She was obviously not willing to attend to a customer who would ask so many questions and when she realised that I was one, she told me to ‘just fill the form and ask questions later.’

By her explanation, the form after it was filled would be used to register for applicants online before handing it over to immigration officers.

In essence, the shops as shanty as they appeared perform the crucial functions of registration and bank transactions for applicants on behalf of NIS. And without passing through these shops or that of other touts around, one may not be registered for an international passport.

After scanning through the form, I informed her that I didn’t have the required documents at that moment and that four other people whom she would register were on their way if only she would reduce the price and at least introduce me to an immigration officer who would handle the processing.

She declined.

“32-page is N28, 000 and you’ll get it after six weeks,’’ she replied with no further explanation.

“What’s your name so that I can ask when I come,’’ I asked in a final attempt to get her attention.

“Just ask for Bola passport,” she replied, not taking a second off the keyboard from which she was typing on the computer.

“Just make sure you tell that person who brought you here that you haven’t registered so he won’t think I’m working ‘behind’ him,’’ she added quickly.

I left Bola’s shop and was jolted by the crowd of applicants in the premises, which was now more than double what I left just over 20 minutes ago.

In the last attempt to speak with an officer who worked with the touts, I decide to join the crowd. I made my way to the side of the tent – a structure constructed by NIS to shield the waiting applicants from the sun or rain – where I found an abandoned tyre obviously unoccupied due to its level of dirt. This would serve as my seat for the next hour.

FINALLY, I GET TO SPEAK WITH AN OFFICER

As the clock ticked, more applicants trooped in. This time, the number of people in standing position had comfortably doubled the ones seated.

By 8:58 a.m., a female officer emerged from the main building. Speaking through the microphone erected under the tent, she opened the business of the day.

“Good morning all. On behalf of the management of the Alausa passport office, you are most highly welcome. My name is Grace, I’m the Public Relations Officer, PRO, of this passport office and I’m here to familiarise you with our activities for today.”

In the next 10 minutes, she would explain the process of fresh application, renewal, capturing, the collection of passport and other intricacies.

She explained that applicants billed for the collection of their passports were the ones the office would attend to while those who were around for other purposes were to come back in the next five hours. She added that names would be called in batches of 50 people at once.

As she reeled out the names of those to be attended to, I observed some immigration officers come out of the main building, hand over passport booklets to applicants amid the final exchange of naira notes, without questioning.

She came back for the second round of announcement by 10:50 a.m. This time, her announcements, mostly repetitions, had become of little interest to me but her last sentences finally gave me access to an officer.

‘’We do not condone backdoor processing of passport here in Alausa office,” she said.

“If you meet any of our officers to do this for you, you’ll be embarrassed and you’ll still not get your passport. In case you have any question, you are free to meet me or any other officer.”
After the second round of name calling, I had my first experience with an officer.

TOUTS AS ‘AUTHORISED’ AGENTS

Corruption in Alausa passport office does not only exist with the officers but in the structure and administration of the office.

The office has no inquiry or customer service desk, the sort you have in banks, where one could learn the procedures for applying or renewing an expired passport. If there was any such desk, they did a masterful job of hiding it.

The best and alternative way of transacting with touts is to meet immigration officers who offer ‘official help’ at a cost, mostly determined by the size of an applicant’s pocket.

Also, the actual registration has a lot of complications as I would be tutored by Mr. Halliday, my first officer contact.

“Follow me,” he said after telling him that I was a fresh applicant.

Mr. Halliday, a good-looking officer, perhaps in his 40s, led the way to the shops where I was first directed to by the security guard.

Once I realised he was leading me to one of the touts, I protested and demanded a direct transaction with NIS.

The three-minute tutorial that followed confirmed the impossibility of my request.

“Young man, let me explain to you how we work here. You see these people here, they are our authorised agents. They work hand in hand with the immigration. They collect the money on our behalf, get you registered and after that hand you over to us for other processing,” he said.

“You don’t need to be scared of them, they can’t dupe you. I will take you to someone now and after your payment, I will help you to do everything without stress.’’

Mr. Halliday led me to a shop, just beside the one I visited earlier. The attendant, a female, informed me that I had to pay N28, 000 for 32-page passport and must first apply for mine, even if I was expecting ‘100 people.’

“Take my number and call me when you are through,’’ Mr. Halliday, now “Halliday passport” on my phone contact list, said as he left the shop for his duty post to hunt for more applicants.

I took the form and as I filled it I saw two other officers heading for the next shops with intending applicants. With their movement, the corruption intricacies at the registration stage become clearer to me.

HOW IT WORKS

Each officer with the NIS has one or more touts whom they work with.

The touts receive cash on their behalf, do online registration and hand over the applicant to the officer he or she works with.

In this kind of arrangement, the applicant is asked to pay more, say about N12, 000, above the approved price and this excess payment ends up in the hands of the tout, his or her affiliated officer and others who help in facilitating the deal.

But who gets what? How? In the next hour, I arrive at another passport office for a more revealing bout.


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  • Frank Bassey

    THIS IS A NON-ISSUE. CORRUPTION IS IN PDP, NNPC AND GOODLUCK JONATHAN’S HOME. IF PMB/APC-GOVT SAY THEY DO DO NOT KNOW THIS EXISTS IN IMMIGRATION, THEN WE ARE DOOMED.

    • Honestly Speaking

      I think there is a difference between suspicion and first hand knowledge of how it operates. However the writer should be encouraged for the exposure because there are many of us conniving with corruption without exposing it. So l think this is a good contribution to fighting corruption. Let other people with first hand experience of strategies and tactics of corruption in other places also expose them openly like this. As you say its a non-issue pre supposes that you have always known this but you never scream. Nigerians should not despair just scream some day somebody would act. We are all like rape victims that decides to keep mum yet expect justice.

  • Kenechi Casmir

    Hahaha..I have experienced such..So its a normal routine at NIS

  • Joshua Kwame

    And the government is fighting corruption!

    • amazing2012

      …it is the responsibility of the NIS to ensure corruption free service. You don’t expect the president to be going round asking people how they are served. He has deligated people through institutions.
      Why do Nigerians allows themselves to be treated this way ? But talk and talk and talk !

  • Jide Peter

    I registered online for a passport more than seven years ago After days of visits to banks as advertised Dugbe UBA eventually accepted my payment of about N8, 700. I took my documents to the passport office in Agodi but up till today I still have no passport because I was not ready to pay the N15, 000 they were then demanding. Registration online was only in a shed at the passport office so that the N15, 000 could be collected. But I registered on my PC at home. I pray for Nigeria By the way I had several passports before which expired after ten years

  • Bola

    We need a no nonsense man to lead us in this country. A man like Tunde Idiagbon, Thomas Sankara who are not afraid to die for their country. a leader that will lead purely by example. We will continue to fight corruption without success if those at the top are corrupt and are not leading by examples. corruption can never stop if our leaders still seek medical attention and education for their children abroad either with their personal or tax payers money. We, the educated electorate has a lot to play in electing our leaders and coming up with best ways to ensure right people are elected

    • okenwa

      You cant fight corruption in nigeria. The only solution is to your tent o’nigerians.

      • Uzoma

        And you think the problems will miraculously disappear?

  • Dr. Kenny

    I am sorry ooo, Mr. Reporter. Your report isnt new cos The State Comptroller and Comptroller General Of Immigration knows about it, but since they eat out of it, nothing will be done to the officers. Come to think of it, this is a long-known issue of NIS and infact if The CG wants to do something, I dare him to disguise (very possible with make up artistes) and make a tour to all NIS passport formations all over Nigeria, even abroad. If he wants to be truthful, ALL NIS officials at the passport offices will be sacked. I mean “ALL” including The State Comptroller. Corruption has eaten deep into Nigerians, even the so-called born-again christians in the passport office. Same thing goes to Nigerian Police Force. I dare the Inspector General to disguise and move around, nearly 95% of entire Police Force in Nigeria will be shown the way home. It cuts across all formation of Government, even to the Local Government. Our leaders know what to do, they just bone-face and look at another direction

    • johnjohn

      My brother, it doesn’t just cut across government formation, it cuts across every Nigerian DNA, it is easy to blame the leaders but you have to wonder why most Nigerians both home and abroad (where the ‘leaders’ are sane) just want to circumvent the system at every opportunity

    • okenwa

      wurywury country.

    • NwaIgbo

      Sicken to my bones that after 37 years , what I experienced in Nigeria is still happening today.

  • Dr. Kenny

    Even for children under ten years, these people dont care. They will collect that same amount as the touts mention to you.

  • oluwaleke israel

    That’s what is in operation in all NIS OFFICES. They charges more than what is expected.

  • Jackson

    Nigeria, the jungle of all jungles

    • okenwa

      Truely a zoo republic. Very soon national id cards will be issued by touts

  • Mayor

    You can never do anything successful without back doors in Nigeria. If you meet the NIS officers they will charge you 35k to 50k with the hope that they want to help you… Even in the embassy that you want to use the passport you must go through the agents if you want to meet up with the requirements.. Then at the airport custom will be waiting for the first time travelers to collect 100$ because they know you will not have naira with you and they will intimidate you that they will not allow you to go….

  • Simon JEGGI

    The way this country is moving…honestly, it needs overhauling especially the public service agencies. The way service delivery is been done is appalling. No efficiency

  • obika

    The same thing is happening in Abuja. NGN25,000.00 for 32pages passport when you pass through the agent without paying additional bribe. With an additional bribe of NGN10,000.00 You will be paying NGN32,000.00 for 32pages and get your passport within 2 days to 5 days. The additional bribe of NGN10,000.00 will be paid to immigration senior officer who will fast rack the process. If you don’t pay the additional bribe, you are not guaranteed of getting your pass in less than 6 weeks. This is one of the reasons the corruption fight of this administration is just a sham. Arresting people and prosecuting them are not just enough to fight corruption. If you arrest one person, the next person will device the means of avoiding being caught. To me, the best place to start the fight against corruption is in public service. All the public service institutions in Nigeria are corrupt. Even in a public institution where a system that would prevent corruption is available, the officer in charge and every officers of that institution will make sure they frustrate the system. This is because of the approval process attached. Once you don’t pay bribe for fast racking your service, you may wait forever without getting served. Again, Nigerians are not patient people and Nigerians do not like following due process even when a system is in place. This attitude of Nigerians is one of the greatest factors encouraging corruption in public institutions.

  • Okakuoofbenin

    This is the reason i must confess, l was positively suprised when i went to the Nigerian embassy in Bern, Switzerland. I had to confess to the head of the passport section that it was the first time i came to obtain a Nigerian passport without having to abuse any official who habitually demanded and got bribes from equally dumb Nigerians before getting anything done. Unlike in Berlin, Germany where i live, i was happy to deal with curteous Nigerian government officials who cared about the people they are paid to serve.

  • Bronn

    I had a similar experience in Ogun State. I made enquiries at a local government imigration office about how it cost to get an international passport. I was told it cost 27,000 naira as opposed to the official 17,000 naira. So I decided to take advantage of technology by applying online to escape the illegal 10,000 naira they were going to milk out of me.
    After registration and payment confirmation, I printed the necessary documents, copies of my birth certificate, certificate of origin and passport photo and headed to the immigration office at Oke Mosan. An imigration officer directed me to one of the shops where a lady started giving me orientation course. I was asking too many questions about her role.
    I headed for the reception where I asked the officer about registration office. He directed me to the PCO’s office. There, I showed an officer my documents. She was so reluctant. She referred me to another officer who referred me to the head of the computer shops. I was charged 1,500 to arrange my documents. The man then demanded additional 6,000 to hasten my registration. I refused and headed back to the PCO’s office where I got a rude shock.

    The PCO officers insisted that I must pay extra 5-6k. When I asked what the money was for, they said it’s for processing. Wasn’t that what 17,000 naira was for? They said that was for passport the extra money is for processing, fuel, maintenance of generator, day to day running of the immigration office. I’m sure their superior could here our conversations loud and clear. Not once did he object. I was disappointed in Nigeria and her system.

    I left the building in saddening awe.

    It took me days to come to terms with the reality of getting my international passport. Eventually, I had to pay extra 6,500 naira before I was allowed to do biometric registration. This was April this year. I didn’t get my passport until some few days back.

    We accuse our leaders of corruption but we forget that government agencies and ministries run a very corrupt system where every member thrives on.

  • NOI sucks

    This is why you can’t see cameras in any government establishment, they are too fraudulent and can’t be caught on camera, even Bros jona gave out money for cameras that were never fixed, Nigerians should start CIA movement and post these rogues on social media. What is the matter with us? Even in private organization, my own office, they collect bribe and we keep sacking almost every month.

  • Oskirin

    ds is true…d minister in charge of ds agencies shd do d needful..if not we will continue to roll in circles.Drivers license is anoda scam area.

  • Cisco

    These show that our journalist are not on top of their game, if you are just reporting this in 2017, you are to be throw in prison, my question ,what Is new in your report? Absolutely nothing, go to road safety. Collecting of driver licence you pay double, so please report another news ,cos we don’t have government

    • Moses Stone

      Exactly bro. This is not news it is a norm.

    • Abiola

      I still don’t get how reporting this is wrong? we just like fighting who we shouldn’t fight in this country and leave the ones we should hit by the balls

    • Babamuyiwa Lawal

      If you think”our journalist ” are not on top of their game, why didn’t you take the bull by the horn and do the job of reporting on your own before now. Anyway, how will you even write the report when you cannot make a complete sentence in English Language. Did you know that the journalist who wrote this report got a promotion with this writeup? Did you know the sacrifices the journalist had to make before he could unravel these mysteries and corruption in one of our esteemed government institutions??

  • Amin

    pitiful

  • Phil

    That is the height of corruption. I am a witness. Earlier this year arund april. I wanted to applied for a scholarship abroad and one of the requirements was an international passport. What u highlighted above is exactly wat dey do at awka immigration in anambra state. Mine was worse i ended up paying 57000 naira just to get 64 pages passport in other to meet with the deadline. Up till today whenever i remember my ordeal which i might not be able to write it down. I feel bad for this country. Corruption z every were.

  • TDaniels2

    This Is the reason why people from Ghana, chad, Niger, Cameroon hold Nigerian passports even though, they shouldn’t. Those meant to keep the nation secured are those selling out the country on the back of pittance! All NIS, Customs, police, etc officers are as corrupt as hell. Look at their lifestyle and the properties they own. Definitely not through their official salaries.

  • Pete

    Meanwhile, Buhari and his gang of APC miscreants in government are shouting that they are fighting corruption.
    Thieves and deceivers!

  • muhammadunfagge

    All what is here is nothing but the bitter truth. Just last month I experienced the same bad treatment. This is how they do it. Corruption, Stealing, Extorting. Subhanallah! This is very bad.