•Fresh breath into the facility leaves applicants, immigration personnel happy
By Cosmas Omegoh
“Time,” it is often said “changes everything.” This is a dictum that has defied the ages. It comes through as a social constant, firm as the tree’s root that clutches the soil. Indeed, time makes things new.
At the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) Ikoyi, Lagos, aka Passport Office, things are changing dramatically for the better. It is difficult to believe it. It might sound like bunkum to anyone who, months ago, drank to the dregs the sour wine of chaos that the department brewed. It was one experience anyone would wish never to relive.
I had gone for passport reissue at the office early in the year and the experience was a bitter one. Perhaps others who walked that path about the same time have similar sad tales.
My visits to the office were phenomenal. I met people vexed by the process, the people, the facilities, everything. On each occasion, tempers flared sky-high. Hundreds of people who thronged the office had reasons to be outraged. That account was published on this page recently.
But months after, things have changed. The Ikoyi Passport Office many knew is no more; the old order has passed away. On its ruins now stands a new one.
Many passport applicants who probably knew the state of things in that department months ago can testify to that. Time indeed, changes things for the better. Its powerful, scouring water has magnificently taken care of things at Ikoyi. Call it a miracle; that is the reality now.
On this occasion, this reporter had accompanied a friend wishing to renew his passport. We had hoped for a tall order, so we prepared for the worst. Do you blame anyone who did?
As soon as we alighted from the vehicle, we braced up for the dramatic.
The first shocker that greeted us was the absence of the army of touts that everyone used to know. They usually formed a ring around the gate. Months ago, you would think you were walking into Jankara Market. They would besiege you asking: “Oga do you need passport; I will give you better price.”
Perhaps they have all found new jobs elsewhere; perhaps they have been completely dislodged – routed – your guess is as good as mine.
As we moved into the compound, we beheld a new security post, sparkling in the warm morning sun. It was manned by some courteous personnel who warmly welcomed and screened us with their security gadgets. Then we passed a turnstile as part of the security measures now in place. Then we saw, to our left, a customer service desk assisting applicants who had no idea of what to do. It was not there months ago.
Above us was a beautiful signboard announcing “Welcome to Ikoyi Passport Office,” signposting the new lease of life at the NIS office. A wiry man sporting some admixture of black and grey beards was descending a scaffolding; he had gone up to fix the letter “K” in the “Ikoyi” on the signboard, which had given way. He introduced himself as “Edwin Bani, a steel fabricator.”
“Oga (refereeing to the new henchman of the passport office, who I later learnt was Mr. Segun Adeoye, a Deputy Comptroller of Immigration) had insisted that I fix back the letter ‘K.’ He said he didn’t want visitors to this place to think that Ikoyi is now ‘I-oyi.’
“He said that the missing letter had the capacity of sending the wrong signal to people. He is such a man of order, perfect in what he does,” Bani said, firing our curiosity without knowing it.
As we made our way into the compound, there was no longer the usual crowd of loitering passport applicants. A small, well appointed edifice now housed visitors and applicants waiting to begin their passport application process all by themselves. It was built by a new-generation bank, perhaps as part of its corporate social responsibility effort. Where the building stood used to be a run-down vehicle garage.
As we sought to make payment, we discovered to our surprise that Skye Bank Plc whose office within the premises used to be inside a degrading, improvised container, now had a magnificent office rich in prestige and dignity. Wow!
Just then, we ran into a senior officer we used to know; he was prepared to speak about developments at the office but on the condition of anonymity. Then he became my guide. He took me to a new, air-conditioned, applicants’ waiting lounge. He also showed me a new conference centre; it was not there some months ago. Beside it was a canteen for everyone who needed food. It was not there the last time I visited.
Then pointing to the building to my right, he said: “What you are seeing there is a clinic for Ikoyi Passport Office. This is the first time we are having this. Shortly after it was completed by the new Deputy Comptroller of Immigration (DCI), it was commissioned by the Comptroller-General of Immigration, Mr. Muhammed Babandede, himself. He was impressed on the day he visited and said kind words for the man here. This place used to be a vehicle garage,” he said.
Drawing closer, I discovered that the facility was inaugurated on September 27, 2017. It had a doctor’s consulting clinic, a pharmacy and waiting room, among other, facilities open to applicants and NIS personnel.
My guide continued: “Sometime ago, we used to have casualties on our hands. Some applicants used to faint while waiting to have their applications processed. Now, in case that happens, we have a clinic where people can be treated.
“Now, as part of the new measures to improve a lot of things here, the DCI has constructed two waiting lounges for applicants. The new, big shed there was completed recently to accommodate more applicants.
“To be honest with you, every day, we attend to a minimum of 750 applicants. Managing that number in a compact place like this is not an easy task. We need space.
“To ensure that we cope with rising demands for passports, the DCI and all of us work 24 hours, seven days a week. That is the new order he has put in place.
“He assumed duty here early in the year. But he has achieved so much within a short while. Now, applicants get new passports in three days as long as there are no issues involved.
“First, you come in and do your biodata capture, next day, you pick up your passport provided the process doesn’t have any challenge. The oga here is committed to operational efficiency.
“We now produce passports through the private partnership arrangement. It now takes a maximum of 24 hours to produce a new passport here. Averagely we produce 500 passports every day.”
He disclosed that the NIS office now had more generators, pointing at new ones in a corner of the compound still in their cases. He insisted that things had indeed changed.
Some of the challenges that delay passport issuance, I learnt, could be caused by the applicants themselves. They could be mistakes arising from misspelt names, places and dates of birth and photo issues. Delay can also come as the officers seek to exercise due diligence in ensuring that Nigerian passports don’t fall into the wrong hands and ensuring that criminals don’t get multiple passports; the list is long. Some of the issues, could only be addressed at the NIS headquarters in Abuja.
Just as we savoured the new-look Ikoyi Passport Office, a six-footer officer gingerly stepped out from one of the buildings accompanied by a few aides. He was the new helmsman, Mr. Segun Adegoke, gentle, trim, handsome. Then, an applicant, a woman of about 60 years stormed out from nowhere, attempting to knell before him in gratitude.
“Thank you very much sir; the matter has been resolved sir…”
The immigration boss would not take it. He quickly reached out and lifted the woman up.
“You don’t need to do that Ma,” he said. “If the matter has been resolved, all of us are happy; we are here to serve you,” he said as tears welled up in my eyes.
I promptly shot forward, introduced myself and sought to interview him. He welcomed the idea warmly but reminded me that he was a civil servant.
Then Dr. Muiz Banire, the All Progressives Congress legal adviser, emerged. He was at the facility on account of his passport. He expressed delight with the fresh breath at the office.
“This place is now wonderful,” he said. “I’m delighted with the new development we are seeing here. I’m particularly impressed that touting has been eliminated.
“But I want to call on the NIS headquarters to deploy more machines here to cope with the rising number of applicants.”
Then maverick, afrobeat musician, Dede Mabiaka, sauntered out. He too had kind things to say about the transformation at Ikoyi Passport Office: “Everyone is happy with the new development here. Things have changed significantly for the better; we are all happy for it.”