Human rights activists kick as Immigration refuses to react to cases of bribery, extortion in passport offices

HUMAN rights activists have accused the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) of lack of accountability over its refusal to react to an investigative report indicting some of its officials of extorting passport seekers.

The NIS also shunned an invitation from The ICIR to address Nigerians on the agency’s efforts at investigating the officers indicted in the report and solving the problems of bribery and corruption in its passport offices.

The ICIR had on September 1, 2022 published an investigation revealing how corrupt Immigration officers kept extorting Nigerian passport seekers despite the launch of the digital portal meant to improve the process and curb corruption. 

The report detailed the ordeals of many Nigerians who suffered extortion from NIS officers in the course of the applicants’ attempts at obtaining international passports.

It also revealed the faces of some NIS officers at its headquarters who were forcing applicants to pay bribes after following the due process.

Following the report, The ICIR invited the spokesperson of the NIS, Amos Okpu, to a Twitter space, along with the spokesperson of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), and public affairs analysts, Festus Ogun, Adelanke Aremo and Vahyala Kwaga, to speak on how the agency can tackle bribery and corruption in its passport offices.

However, while the other persons honoured the invitation, Okpu boycotted the session.

Kwaga, senior research analyst at BudgiT Foundation, maintained at the session that the action of the NIS spokesperson showed lack of accountability, commitment and readiness to tackle the corruption in the system.

He said, “Accountability simply means that a person in a position of authority might be mandated to respond to criticisms and questions, and to give reasons for why some certain decisions are being made. This is more or less an informal gathering where the NIS was invited to, at least, make one or two comments, but they are not here. They could have voluntarily decided to come to improve the face of their organization but decided not to. This is an example of that lack of accountability.

“This is a  media organization (The ICIR) taking time out to carry out the investigation, taking time to write this report, interview people, get evidence, and the very organization that should be here is not here. This is primarily the reason why you see governments around the world behaving the way they do because a lack of accountability is a feature of governance.”

Ogun, a human rights lawyer, also noted that “the deliberate shunning of the session” by the agency showed the level of corruption, impunity and inefficiency in the entire system and the lack of will by the agency to sanitize the system.

“An excellent report like this is made and the organization found wanting is not taking concrete steps to ensure that those found wanting are prosecuted or are sanctioned. I am not aware if any public statement has been made in respect of that report by the Nigerian Immigration Service. We are not aware whether those involved have been sanctioned. Again, they are invited to a very important space like this and they equally absconded, in my humble opinion.

“The problem is not about the officers. The problem is about a fundamental problem with the system, and that is why it is hard even for the citizens to speak up, and that is why a lot of people have to compromise to get things done,” he said.

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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