By Christopher Oji

The Controller General of Nigeria Immigration Services (NIS), Wura-Ola Adepoju, has assured Nigerian passport applicants that better days are ahead with her innovative drives.

The CG, who was on tour of passport offices in Lagos, yesterday, said applicants would no longer visit passport offices more than once in their life times because, “with the new innovation of the service, once applicants are able to key into the automated system, they don’t need to come physically for renewal of passports. The only time an applicant can visit is when he or she is the first applicant.

“Secondly, we have noticed that applicants will apply for travelling documents, yet they won’t come to pick them. So we have reached that stage when we will request for mailing addresses of applicants, so we can send them to the owners. We want to make sure that we reduce physical contact with our officers to avoid extortion by our officers and touts. We want to make sure that things are going to take proper shape to match with international standard best practices.”

The CG, who spoke at Ikoyi Passport Office, said, “I came here for two reasons. First is to see how things are working in Ikoyi Passport Office because of the new regime in the passport application process. I must let you know that automation of applications for our facilities is not new in Nigeria Immigration Service.

“We have been using this automation for our applications processes ever since the inception or the introduction of the E-passport, and we still use automation for our application process for all facilities that we render, like our visas, they’re done online. The only thing that we have introduced here and the purpose is to further the application process by uploading of the breeder document, that is the supporting document for our passport application, and the objectives of these are many, and I will tell you about four of them.

“Number one is to reduce human interference, which has been a source of complaints from applicants who have experienced extortion by persons during applications. You will agree with me that the passport application regime in Nigeria has involved so many people; unsuspecting applicants even talk to touts who extort them.

“So we are doing everything we can to ensure that our compatriots, both here and in the diaspora, are not exposed to such risk; that is why we have gone a step further in this passport application automation process. Also, we want to ease the passport application process without compromising national security. Three, we want to have a harmonised database of our applications and for the use of the nation.

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And four, we are modernising the entire passport application process. I want you to know that the difficulties that applicants are facing are just because of the newness of the introduction on the need to upload these documents.

“We have observed, from our end, that our application, a few of them have not familiarised themselves with the application process, by not paying enough attention to the instructions that are given online. For example, when we say upload your birth certificate, some people will upload their national identity number; some people will upload their marriage certificate, maybe for people who are changing their names due to marriage, when we expected them to upload their birth certificate. Those are the little things that are making the application process a bit challenging. But the Nigeria immigration service will continue to educate the public and  assist them in the best way we can because our objective is to make passport application easier and seamless.

“There are several benefits to this, when the passport application process is fully automated, applicants will need to come to the passport office only once in their lifetime. Once you come and we take your biometrics, subsequent application for renewal, you will not need to come again because we have a strong and robust database of your biometrics. Your biometrics don’t change, so it will save you time and cost. “The only people coming to the passport office are the fresh applicants, so we can have their biometrics. After that you won’t have to come. That will make things easier both for the system and our applicants; and by the time the full automation is put in place, our people, especially in the diaspora, will really benefit from this, ask me how? For example, in Canada, we have only one passport processing centre in Ontario. Canada is a very vast country.

“Nigerians who live in Vancouver, in Britain, Columbia, maybe a family of six, who need to renew their passports, will have to fly to Ottawa, and it takes about four hours. And when they get to Ottawa, maybe, if the people are many, and they cannot be attended to that day, they will have to go to a hotel to stay. Consider the cost of that, when it can be done at the comfort of your home.

“So, it is something that will really benefit our citizens both at home and in the diaspora. When the automation is complete, if you’re living in Odolaye, you won’t have to travel to Akure to renew your passport by the time we are done with this automation. I am calling Nigerians to please support us and ensure that this thing works. The passport application process has come to stay. What we need is support, understanding and time. I have here the data of the passport applications that have been successfully treated since the introduction of this new process on the 8th of January.

“From the goal life day, that is January 8, 2024, about 32,462 people have been able to successfully apply to upload their documents, and make payments. Of this number, 16,113 have been approved for biometric capture and production. 11,505 await approval, we are on them, they are on our systems. 3,400 have made payments, but yet to book appointments, these people did not complete the process, they should go back and complete the process. 1,438 applications have been queried for various reasons, maybe, because of incorrect passport specification, like the birth certificate I spoke about. But we will help them; we will send back these queries to them. They will answer promptly and we will do everything we can to expeditiously produce their passport.

“By implication, 50 per cent of the total applications have been successfully approved for biometric capture, production and issuers, 35 per cent awaits approval, 11 per cent made payments, but yet to book appointments and only four per cent of the total applications were queried. When queries are successfully answered, the applications return to the queue and subsequently approved for biometric acquisition, production and issuers.

“What we require is an open mind and I also want Nigerians to know that this innovation is a collective decision of all stakeholders in passport administration, the stakeholders include the ministry of interior. The Nigeria immigration service, the national identity management commission, the technical advisers of Nigeria immigration service and our service providers. Before we brought this to bear, we also invited some members of the public and NGO’S to criticize the process.”