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Investigation: Inside Enugu immigration office where passport racketeering thrives

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For four months, Arinze CHIJIOKE monitored passport racket involving the Passport Collection Officer and other officers in the former office of the Nigerian Immigration Service, Enugu State Command and the new office. His findings are captured in this report.


ON Monday, October 18, the Acting Comptroller General of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Isa Idris, pretending to be an applicant for an international passport at the service’s Lagos State Command, Ikoyi discovered how officers at the command were involved in acts of corruption and extortion.

One of the former offices
One of the former offices

Specifically, the officers charged him prices higher than the normal price for a passport and offered to help him get the indigeneship form and other documents required for N3,500 since he did not come with any.

After his discovery, Mr Idris said the lessons would help the service to strengthen the passport issuance process, insisting that having an international passport of a country confers nationality on its holder and so it must have integrity.

“The document has integrity and so the processes of issuing it must have integrity,” he said, adding that on the assumption of office in September, he pledged to tackle the challenges faced by Nigerians in their efforts to procure international passports.

The Acting CG’s experience at the Lagos command mirrors the kind of corrupt practices ongoing at the Enugu State Command of the NIS, including the widespread lack of respect for Nigerians applying for passports.


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The Enugu passport racketeering experience

It is exactly 6:30 PM on a Tuesday in late September 2021. Immigration officers, some on mufti and other wearing uniforms are strolling in and out of the office of the Passport Collection Officer in charge of the Nigerian Immigration Service, Enugu office, Ebele Alozie.

PCO Ebele Alozie in her office
PCO Ebele Alozie in her office
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Each of them is carrying three or more files, either belonging to those who have paid extra amounts, after the original payment for their passport booklets or those who have been able to provide convincing evidence as to why they need a passport.

Those whose files have been approved for printing by the PCO, are hanging around the collection office, from where they wait for their passports, which usually doesn’t take more than 10 minutes before it is ready.

Inside the office of the PCO, are files stacked up and belonging to individuals, most of whom had applied three and four months ago but have been left unattended to because they have not come to see the PCO. They are arranged according to the dates of capture.

Mrs. Alozie asking applicants to go home as there are no booklets
Mrs. Alozie asking applicants to go home as there are no booklets

On the website of the Nigeria Immigration Service,  issuing a 32-page international passport booklet costs N10,750 for persons between the ages of 0-17 and 60 years and above (That is N8,750 Passport Booklet fee and N2,000 Address Verification Fee), while that of citizens aged 18-59 is issued at  N17,000 ( N15,000 for Passport Booklet fee and N2,000 for Address Verification Fee).

Issuing a 64-page passport booklet costs 22,000. The same procedure applies to those seeking renewal of their passports. But most of these people- who prefer to apply for their passports physically- pay between N35,000- N45,000 and sometimes more to officers who help in the application process.

An officer calling out names of applicants who want to see the PCO
An officer calling out names of applicants who want to see the PCO

Daily, applicants numbering over 50 gather around the office, waiting to be attended to. As soon as they get to the office, they are given a sheet of paper to write their names, after which they take turns to see the PCO.

Why do you need a passport?

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Whenever people who have applied for passports- and waited for months without positive results- get into the office of the PCO, she would always ask them why they need their passports urgently.

Since they must provide evidence as to why they need passports- even after parting with huge sums- most people now go-ahead to print medical reports and admission letters into universities abroad and each time they are coming to meet her, they come along with it.

While some of the applicants- those who come as early as 7am daily and write their names-get to see her, those who do not come on time do not get to see her before the day finally runs out. They must come back again the next day.

Applicants who can provide convincing evidence are asked to get the officers who helped them during the application process. After seeing these officers, the PCO would ask one of those working with her to look for the files. When they are found, they are kept close to her table.

She would ask the applicants to write down their names while she gives them dates to come back for their passports. Most of the time, that is not a guarantee that their passports will be ready when they come back.

The PCO would always tell applicants that booklets are not available- even when they are, albeit in short supply- and that the office was expecting more supply. This is to make them prepare their minds to pay extra money or wait for several months to get their passports.

Some of the officers who spoke with our reporter said that they pay 10,000 for every candidate, out of the amounts they collect to the PCO to enable her quickly to approve their files for printing. Yet, the applicants must come to the office to explain themselves and pay extra amounts.

“Most times, those we work for think we are the ones who are causing the delay,” he said. “But we are not because the PCO has to approve each application before it goes to the printing room “one of the agents said.

Passport applicants waiting to be attended to in front of the PCO's office
Passport applicants waiting to be attended to in front of the PCO’s office

The PCO would always say that booklets are not available and that the office was expecting more supply. But officers continue to accept new applicants who crowd the immigration office daily, wanting to get captured. Most times, some of them end up not being captured when they come. They must go and come back again the next day.

Some officers who spoke with our reporter expressed their disgust with the situation at the office. They said it was painful that even after paying N10,000, their candidates are still made to go through the stress of meeting with the PCO and sometimes paying extra amounts.

“The money we pay is intended to make the PCO quickly approve the applications for printing. “But it does not always work like, regardless of when the applications were made” one of the officers said, adding that applicants now think they are responsible for the delay.

But while the officers blame the PCO for her conduct, some applicants blame the officers, thinking that they do not give the PCO the extra charges they collect. One applicant who shared his story with our reporter said the officer who helped him with the application process, called him on several occasions demanding extra money to give to the PCO.

“I know I have sent him money more than three times, “he said. “But I have not received my passport, and this is over four months I applied”.

A reporter’s own experience

After my data was captured on June 28, I left the former command office of the NIS at the Federal Secretariate, Independence Layout, Enugu, hoping to return after 6 weeks to collect my international passport.

Unknown to applicants who had captured that day, it was going to be the beginning of waiting forever, although an officer had received N35,000 to help collect data for applicants. He had said that N10,000 out of the total amount charged was meant to fast track the process of getting the passport ready.

I did not come back to the office till after two months. I had thought to wait for additional two weeks in case there was any form of delay. But when I got to the office in August, I was told by the officer that the passport was not ready and that I will have to fill a form to see the PCO who decides what passports are to be printed.

At the PCO’s office, there was a crowd of applicants who had applied in the same period as me and even before I did. They had been directed by the officer manning the door to write their names, contact details, time of visit and the date they captured individually on sheets of paper.

I did likewise but had to wait for hours because of the number of applicants. Most of them had come early in the morning. I finally met with the PCO who told me that there were no booklets. After I told her that I applied in June, she asked me to write down my name and come back again.

The next time I returned to her office on September, she told me again that there were no booklets and that they were still expecting a supply. She said I will have to bring evidence the next time I am coming to her office. She had told other applicants the same thing.

When I met the officer who helped me out, he told me he could not do anything about it since she had the final say. He said it was annoying how she is yet to approve my file for printing even after he had paid her.

“I am not owing her any money,” the officer said. “I did what I was supposed to do”.

On October 6, I came back to her office again with evidence. She looked at it and asked me to write down my name as “there was no booklet at the moment”. I reminded her of the last time she asked me to come with evidence so she can approve my file for printing. But she insisted that I write my name. I did and she wrote a date for me to come back again. She came out of her office that day and told other applicants who had been waiting to see her that there was no need hanging around as there were no booklets.

I finally got my passport at the new office complex of the NIS along Enugu-Abakaliki Road Emene, four months after my application and after more than ten visits to both the old and new offices of the command.

But an extra 5,000 got Agu his passport

After nearly three months of waiting, Tony Agu came to the Enugu passport office of the NIS as early as 9 am on Friday, September 24. He had applied for the passport on July 2.

Ogenyi and Agu holding conversation on how much they each paid for their passports
Ogenyi and Agu holding conversation on how much they each paid for their passports

He paid 35,000 because he needed the passport to travel to Turkey for his business. After he paid and had his data captured, Agu left and did not bother to come back immediately after six weeks. He wanted to wait a little longer in case there was a delay in the processing of the passport.

“I was hoping to come and pick up my passport on September 24, nearly three months I applied,” Agu said.

When he got to the command, the officer who helped him told him that his passport was not ready and that he would have to see the PCO who had told him the previous week to get evidence.

“I had to go and print a medical report showing that I needed to travel for surgery, “he said.

When he got in and showed her his evidence, it was not enough. She asked him to write down his name and come back again. He refused and was hesitant to leave the office. The PCO asked him to wait outside.

“I waited till 6 pm when other applicants had left her office and I went back to meet her and told her how much I needed my passport,” Agu said. “She asked me to get the officer who helped me with the application”.

When Agu got to the officer, he was asked (by the officer) to pay an extra N5,000 as that is what the PCO needs to approve the file for printing. Agu paid the money and when they both got into the PCO’s office, the officer brought out his file and put the money inside it and immediately, the PCO approved it and it was taken to the printing section.

“In less than 10 minutes, my passport was printed and given to me and they printed other passports that same evening,” Agu said. “The booklets were still available but the PCO said there were no booklets just to make me pay another money”.

Government insists on Six weeks’ timeline for collection

In April 2021, the Federal Government announced that it was turning around the entire passport application process by the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) to Six weeks timeline, starting from 1st of June, 2021 to ensure seamless, transparent, as well as according human dignity to applicants and fulfil citizenship integrity, in line with the mandate of the Ministry of Interior.

Originally, it was supposed to take only 48 hours after enrolment of a fresh applicant’s biometric data before the passport is ready for collection.  For renewal, it was supposed to take 72 hours after enrolment of biometric data.

The Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola disclosed this when he held a meeting with the Comptroller General of Immigration, Mohammad Babandede, Passport Control Officers, as well as the attaches in Nigeria Missions abroad, at the Immigration Headquarters, Sauka, Abuja.

The Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola disclosed this when he held a meeting with the Comptroller General of Immigration, Mohammad Babandede, Passport Control Officers, as well as the attaches in Nigeria Missions abroad, at the Immigration Headquarters, Sauka, Abuja.

In his speech titled “A New Dawn In Passport Application Processing”,’A NEW DAWN IN PASSPORT APPLICATION PROCESSING’, Aregbesola said the ministry has had several challenges in the past, including shortage of booklets, touting, racketeering, inflating the cost of a passport, passports being issued to ineligible persons among others.

He said that it had become imperative therefore to review the operations of the ministry and rejig its system, to be able to offer excellent services to the Nigerian people.

“Efforts are on to embed security operatives both seen and unseen, in all passport offices,” he said. “They will wear body cameras and detect as well as report any form of solicitations, inflation, improper communications, extortion, diversion, hoarding and other corrupt practices”.

Delay cost Obayi a hazard training in the UK

Ogbonna Obayi works with the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company, EEDC and he was supposed to travel to the UK for a safety and hazard training on October 2.

A stranded Obayi listens to other applicants share their story
A stranded Obayi listens to other applicants share their story

But he could not travel after his passport was delayed at the Enugu Immigration passport office. He is one among those who have been to the office several times after accepting to pay 35,000 because of how quickly he needed the passport to travel on July 27.

Like every other person, Obayi was told his passport will be ready in six weeks.

Two months after he applied in early September, Obayi came to the passport office and was asked to go and get evidence from his office, showing that he needed the passport to travel for training.

“I went back to my office and got the evidence,” Obayi said. “When I came back, the PCO told me there was no booklet and that I should go and come back again, and it will be ready”.

Obayi came back again on September 24, and it was the same old story- no booklets. This time, the PCO told him that someone else- who had applied- was about to lose her admission because booklets had not arrived.

Obayi and Ogochukwu searhcing for their names in a list of successfuly applications
Obayi and Ogochukwu searching for their names in a list of successfully applications

“I explained to the PCO that I work with the EEDC and should always be in the office but here am struggling to collect a passport I paid for” an angry Obayi said.

Now, Obayi became confused. Here he was about to lose an opportunity to attend training in the UK. What was most annoying for Obayi was the fact that he knew about those who came, did their own and got it in less than two weeks. What he did not know was how exactly they did it.

“I was willing to pay them extra money if they demanded it, “he said.  “But they did not”.

Obayi finally got his passport on Wednesday, October 6. But he already missed the opportunity to travel for the training.

Despite threats of punishment, extortion persists

During the meeting in Abuja, Aregbesola also threatened that those caught perpetrating any form of corruption in the issuance of passports will be dealt with according to the law.

On several occasions, former Comptroller General of NIS, Babandede warned officials of the service against indulging in acts of bribery and corruption in the discharge of their duties of issuing passports to Nigerians.

Applicants waiting to be attended to in front of PCO Alozie's office
Applicants waiting to be attended to in front of PCO Alozie’s office

When he visited Enugu on August 12 to Commission the new office Complex of the NIS, Enugu State Command, he sternly warned that those involved in corrupt practices- which compromise the integrity of the country- will face severe sanctions.

Despite the threats of sanctions, officials in charge of passport issuance have continued to indulge themselves in acts of corruption and extortion, making life difficult for Nigerians seeking passports to travel out of the country.

Scholarship application delayed

Princewill Ogochukwu would have to wait till January 2022 to apply for a master’s Programme on BioMedical Engineering in a UK University after his international passport was delayed by the Enugu PCO. He had wanted to apply in September against October.

Ogochukwu would have to wait till January to apply for his Master programme
Ogochukwu would have to wait till January to apply for his Master programme

Ogochukwu did his capturing for the passport on June 8 and was asked to pay 37,000 by the officer who helped him with the process if he wanted his passport after six weeks.

He thought the office will send a message, asking him to come after the period expires. He did not know that his file was lying down somewhere inside the office of the PCO and waiting for him to come and explain his reason for wanting a passport.

Ogochukwu did not come back to the office till September 24. When he got in, he was asked to fill a form to see the PCO. There were many people who had also applied for the passport and were waiting to see her too. And so, he had to wait.

“When it was my turn, I got into her office and she told me that my passport was not ready yet and that booklets were not available, after nearly three months,” an irked Ogochukwu said.

The PCO asked Ogochukwu to go and come back after one week, together with the officer that helped him with the application. This was after he explained to her how much he needed the passport to apply for his masters in the UK.

On Thursday, September 30, Ogochukwu came back again, with the officer as he was directed. After waiting for hours, they both got in and the PCO asked Chioma to look for Ogochukwu’s file and take it to the printing office.

“I finally got my passport,” he said. But I will have to wait till January because I had missed the opportunity of applying for October.

Express payment is the way

Chukwuemeka Ogenyi knew too well that he would have to pay double the amount when he wanted to apply for passports for himself, his wife, and their son. But he was ready to do anything just to get it as soon as possible.

Ogenyi paid double the amount for his passport
Ogenyi paid double the amount for his passport

He wanted to travel with his family to the United States where he had a business running. When he came to the Enugu office of the service and explained to one of the officers how much he needed the passport, he was asked to pay N60,000 each for himself and his wife and N55,000 for his son.

“I paid the money and after data capture, the officer asked me to go and that he will call me when it is ready”

One week after, Ogenyi’s passport was ready and as promised, the officer called and asked him to come and collect the three passports. But he got busy and could not come down immediately to pick them up.

“I finally collected it,” he said. “Although I was not happy because I had expected to collect the passports the day I applied having paid such huge amounts for myself and my family”.

Even those who want to renew are victims

Nkechi John (not real name) came to the Enugu passport office as early as 8 am on Friday, September 24, hoping to get her son’s passport. He had applied for renewal in June and was told by the officer who helped him that it will be ready in one month.

Her son works in Abia State as a banker while she works as a Civil Defense Officer in Enugu. Because of how busy he usually was at the office, he asked her to come and help collect his passport.

After one month, she came to the office. But she was told there was no booklet. She went back home and told the agent who helped with the application process. But he asked not to be disturbed as he had done everything he needed to do.

John kept coming to the office for her son’s passport. He only wanted a renewal after his own expired. He had paid 35,000 as requested by his agent and kept sending money to him just to fast track the process.

On one of the occasions in September, when she came to collect the passport, she was asked by the PCO to provide proof that her son had sent her to collect it. After providing the proof, he was told again that there was no booklet.

“She even requested for an authorised letter from his bank,”. “He got it and sent it to me and I attached my Civil Defense ID card”. “I even showed them my bank transactions with my son who is my next of kin just to show that I am his mother”.

On September 24, she came back again and met the PCO who finally gave the approval for her son’s passport to be printed. “I had to pay the officer who helped look for the file before they can attend to it,” she said.

Top immigration official aware of the allegations

When contacted, a high-ranking officer in the Command- who would not want his name mentioned-said he was aware of the allegations of extortion and gross misconduct ongoing at the passport office, involving the PCO as he has received several complaints from applicants.

He told our reporter that a letter on the various allegations had been addressed to the PCO, asking her to refrain from such acts which are robbing off on the command’s reputation. But she denied them.

“Even our officers here are complaining about her actions, “the officer said. “Many applicants have complained not just to me but also to other top officers in the command about the activities of the PCO but she has been adamant”.

While maintaining that applicants are expected to pay the same amount charged online for their passports, he said the command has severally warned officers against involvement in any acts of corruption.

Our reporter also reached out to the PCO on the allegations of extortion against her. But she denied ever receiving extra payments from applicants for their passports to be produced.

“Anyone that is told to pay extra money for their passport should report the matter to me and necessary actions will be taken, “she said.

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