Delayed Passport: Woman sues Aregbesola, NIS for N5m compensation after missing opportunities

On August 15, 2022, Benita Ezumezu, a programme manager with Citizens’ Common, a non-for- profit organisation, applied for her Nigerian passport ahead of an official trip to Lusaka, Zambia, and later to facilitate her postgraduate studies at the United States of America.

Ezumezu also secured a fully funded Young African Leaders Initiative Mandela Washington Fellowship. However, she lost the opportunities due to an alleged failure of the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) to release her passport which she had applied for in August before the applications.

As Ezumezu narrated, she had hoped after following the due process that her passport would be processed and released six weeks after her biometric enrolment having read a report where the minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, assured Nigerians of a seamless and efficient passport process across the country.

In the report, Aregbesola pledged that Nigerians who apply for fresh passport applications would be able to get it within six weeks, while passport renewal would no longer be more than three weeks. However, despite the promise, Ezumezu, like many Nigerians, suffered frustrating delays in the issuance of their passports.

The NIS also stated on its website that “an average Passport Processing time takes up to three weeks for  renewals/reissue and six weeks for first-time applicants.”

Frustrated, Ezumezu dragged the NIS and the Interor minister before the Federal High Court in Abuja challenging the non-issuance of her passport beyond the stipulated six weeks timeline.

The applicant, in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/75/2023, said she had applied to the NIS for an international passport in order to make some work-related travels and was given October 6, 2022 as the day for her biometric enrolment.

Besides, the NIS had on the October 6 informed her expressly in writing that her passport would be issued in six weeks from the day of her biometric enrolment.

“On the date of capturing the 6th day of October 2022, I presented to the officers in charge of the capturing, a Letter of Request addressed to the 1st respondent for expedited processing of my application from my organization affirming the urgency of issuance of my Nigerian Passport to attend the event in Lusaka, Zambia, and that I needed the Passport to apply for my visa ahead of the events,” she said.

However, the NIS did not issue her the passport, resulting in monetary and career losses to her as she had already missed a number of life-changing opportunities.

As a result, the applicant approached the court to declare the non-issuance of her passport after 14 weeks of enrolment as a contravention of the extant Immigration Act and right to her freedom of movement as guaranteed by the Constitution and the African Charter.

In an interview with The ICIR, the counsel to the applicant, Solomon Okedara of Solomon Okedara and Co, explained that the case presented a golden opportunity for the court to rise to the occasion and once again show itself as the last hope of the common man.

Okedara held that due to non-issuance of the passport to his client, she had not only repeatedly lost money and opportunities in career development, she had also had her right to freedom of movement restricted.

Among the reliefs the applicant is seeking in the suit is an order directing the NIS to issue the applicant’s passport forthwith, as stipulated in Section 9(4) of the Immigration Act, 2015.

The applicant is also seeking an order of the court directing the minister of Interior to ensure adherence of the NIS to the issuance of her passport forthwith as stipulated in Section 9 (4) of the Immigration Act and not exceeding the six weeks communicated by the respondents.

The applicant is also asking the court to direct the NIS to pay her a sum of N5 million to her as general damages for all the losses incurred she had incurred due to the failure of the Service to release her passport at the stipulated time.

“Beyond that, we know that there are many ‘Benitas’ out there whose dreams and aspirations have been badly affected because of the delay in the issuance of their passports.

“We are asking the court to order the minister of the interior who supervises the activities of the Nigerian Immigration Service to ensure adherence to the provision of Section 9(4) that no passport shall be issued exceeding or beyond six weeks as they have stated,” Okedara added.




    However, the respondents failed to appear in court session scheduled for Tuesday, March 7, 2023 and the court has adjourned the case till May 30, 2023.

    An earlier investigation by The ICIR revealed how Nigerians suffer frustration and extortion in the hands of corrupt immigration officers when seeking to obtain their Nigerian passports.

    The report exposed the high level of racketeering, touting and other  unprofessional conducts by personnel of the NIS undermining the essence of the open website created for members of the public to easily apply for their passports without third party interference.

    The publication eventually led to a public outcry and condemnation of the criminal acts. Some of the affected officials were subsequently transferred out of their bases, while others were laid off from the Service.

     

    Nurudeen Akewushola is an investigative reporter and fact-checker with The ICIR. He believes courageous in-depth investigative reporting is the key to social justice, accountability and good governance in the society. You can shoot him a scoop via [email protected] and @NurudeenAkewus1 on Twitter.

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