The Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) has recently been in the news due to the scarcity of international passport booklets in the country. While the Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, has denied the existence of any such scarcity, the Comptroller-General of the Service, Mr. Idris Jere, has blamed the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) policy on forex for the shortage. In this blog post, we will explore the root causes of the scarcity and possible solutions to address the issue.
One of the factors causing the delay in the issuance and renewal of international passports is the inability of the NIS to access forex for the importation of passport booklets. According to the NIS DG, the foreign exchange regulation policy of the government and the CBN’s refusal to grant access to forex for the importation of the passport booklets are causing the scarcity, thereby delaying the process of issuance and renewal of the document.
Another challenge facing the NIS is the inability to set up passport-producing factories in Nigeria. Currently, the production of passports is done abroad, and the major seven components used for producing passports are sold in the international market. As a result, the NIS relies on foreign companies such as Irris Smart Technology Ltd. to produce the passport booklets.
Speaking of Irris Smart Technology Ltd., the Managing Director, Mr. Yinker Fisher, said that before the advent of the e-passport system, the Nigerian passport was marred with embarrassing irregularities and inconsistencies under the watch of NSPM. As a result of a lack of capacity, NSPM outsourced the process to three companies, which led to many irregularities, including passport colour and numbers.
The corruption factor is also contributing to the problem. According to the Minister of Interior, efforts of the NIS at sanitising the process and bringing integrity to passport applications are being sabotaged by a ‘few’ corrupt officials of the NIS. These unscrupulous individuals are making the situation difficult by spreading rumours that there are no booklets in order to continue to extort the applicants.
Possible solutions to address the issue of passport scarcity include setting up passport-producing factories in Nigeria to reduce dependence on foreign companies. The presidential directive to commence the production of passports locally by the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting (NSPM) is a welcome development. However, a proper exit plan must be put in place for a smooth handover from Irris Smart Tech to prevent any breach of contract or production process.
Another solution is for the CBN to grant access to forex for the importation of passport booklets to address the issue of scarcity. The NIS generates forex from the sale of passports but lacks access to buy the same booklet, which is a challenge for the service.
Lastly, to address corruption, the NIS must intensify efforts to sanitise the process and bring integrity to passport applications. The public should also be encouraged to report any NIS officials manipulating applicants for money.
In conclusion, the scarcity of international passport booklets in Nigeria is a complex issue that requires the collaboration of various stakeholders to address. The NIS, CBN, NSPM, and the public must work together to find a lasting solution to the problem and ensure that Nigerians can access passports in a timely and efficient manner.