By Yahaya Isah
The Federal Government on Wednesday announced a two-week timeline for the issuance of passports, saying the era when Nigerians waited for months to get their passports was over.
Minister of Interior, Dr Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, announced the timeline in Abuja while briefing newsmen on his earlier directive to the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) to clear more than 204,000 backlogs of passport applications.
The minister apologised to Nigerians that clearance of the backlog had spilled into three weeks, as opposed to the earlier two weeks deadline he gave.
Tunji-Ojo lauded officers and men of the NIS for efforts made so far and charged them to work round-the-clock and on public holidays and weekends to achieve his directive.
He said while the procurement of visas was a privilege, acquisition of a passport was the right of every Nigerian.
He also expressed the commitment of President Bola Tinubu not to increase the cost of passport issuance in spite of foreign exchange volatility.
“On Sept. 7, we made a promise to sort out the backlogs in two weeks, but we made it in three weeks and I sincerely want to apologise to Nigerians for that.
“The `Renewed Hope’ administration of President Bola Tinubu is one that matches its words with actions.
“The issue of passport must be a right and not a privilege. Visa is a privilege but passport is a right,’’ the minister said.
Tunji-Ojo stressed that with that new development, the Federal Government had been able to hand over the rights of Nigerians to them.
“For us, we are sure that if it can work at the NIS, it can work anywhere else. Nigeria is undergoing a process.
“We inherited 204,332 enrolments without passport issuance.
“We gave a marching order because the president is also on our necks to bring solutions and succour to Nigerians,’’ he said.
He explained that after strategic meetings with NIS officials and with service providers, the service was able to increase printing machines in passport offices from two to four at no cost.
“The NIS personnel were running three shifts, working round-the-clock to ensure that the backlogs were cleared and to ensure that never again would the issue of backlogs resurface.
“We want to ensure that nobody waits for more than two weeks to get his or her passport.
“As of Oct. 1, we had cleared all the 204,332 backlogs and from records produced by the NIS, passports already collected were 91,981. Outstanding, but available are 112,351 passports,’’ Tunji-Ojo said.
The minister pleaded with Nigerians to endeavour to collect their passports, adding that Nigerians should not give money to a third party to process passport applications, no matter the circumstance.
“If there is any passport office where you have done your biometrics and it does not give you your passport, please complain through telephone number 0802 375 3414, preferably SMS and Whatsapp. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org
“The attitude of a very negligible fraction of NIS officers will not cast aspersions on the work of the majority of good officers,’’ he stressed.
The minister said also that he had perused all contracts and agreements the ministry and its agencies entered into with service providers.
He promised that in the next couple of months, passport applicants would be able to upload their passport photographs via NIS portal, rather than going to passport offices for such registration.
According to him, applicants would only be required to visit the passport offices for their biometrics enrolment.
“Hopefully by December, people will not need to go to passport offices to take pictures.
“This is 2023. People will be able to upload their passport photographs online with specifications. That is what is done for visa applications; we are advancing in that direction.
“Also, your supporting documents should be uploaded online so that when you go to the passport office, it will just be for biometrics and within five minutes you are done,’’ he explained.
The minister said the new steps were designed to end the era when passport applicants spent whole days at passport offices.
Tunji-Ojo added that in the new system, the passport office would be able to process more than 400 applications daily, a departure from the past.
“These are some of the innovations we are bringing. While we know what the exchange rate is, we are not increasing passport fees.
“The present administration understands the needs of the people. As a person, I do not want anybody to go and stay in a passport office for more than 10 minutes,” Tunji-Ojo told newsmen. (NAN)
Edited by Mark Longyen/Alli Hakeem