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DIRTY DEALS : How Immigration officers are raking in millions from passport applicants

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 DIRTY DEALS How Immigration officers are raking in millions from passport applicants

Michael, in his 20s, was ecstatic having secured an admission to SRH Berlin University of Applied Sciences, for his post graduate programme. The young lad requires an international passport before he heads for Germany.

Basking in the euphoria of the admission, he breezed into the Ikoyi passport office of the Nigeria Immigration Office (NIS) on a July morning for an application.

“I paid N26,000 application charges online, did some print-outs and I was given a file for the manual completion of the process,” he said.

He was able to complete the application seamlessly and did his capturing on July 5, 2021 with the assurance that he would be issued the fresh passport in six weeks’ time, according to the timeline of the federal government.

READ ALSO :Court slams N2bn fine on Immigration over Odili’s passport seizure

However, Michael’s passport has not been produced more than ten weeks down the line, and sadly, he has been unable to meet up with the deadline. He deferred the admission.

“Of course, I want to use it to travel. I can’t commence Visa application without a passport.

“I have deferred my school admission because of it (delayed passport issuance) till next April,” he let out his frustration.

Michael’s only ‘sin’ was to toe the legitimate path of passport application. “I didn’t bribe anybody, I paid just N27,000 to complete the application process,” he said in an interaction with our reporter.

While his waiting game continues, thousands of applicants have walked into the Ikoyi passport office and secured their passports within 24 hours, two days or a week, depending on who you know or how fat your pocket is, in order to pay the ‘right price’. Welcome to the Ikoyi Passport office of corruption, extortion and open trade on ‘passport business’.

Inside notorious Ikoyi passport office

It was 6:58am on Tuesday, July 27, 2021 and the venue was the Ikoyi Passport office, located at Alagbon Road, Ikoyi. The gate was thrown open to the officials resuming duty, but applicants were sighted hanging around the environment. Applicants are only allowed in at 8 am when the business of the day starts.

Touts disguising as photographers and business centres operators mill around, seeking attention and patronage of the applicants. They are known faces within the passport office and serve as middlemen between applicants of the international passports and the corrupt officials.

“Wait and get a passport photograph, two minutes’ passport,” one of them said as he approached this reporter, standing by the roadside. “Or do you want to apply for an international passport,” he asked, the reporter responded in affirmation.

Drawing him closer, the reporter said to him, “My brother (the fixer with him) needs an international passport urgently. How can you be of help?” He expressed his readiness to link the reporter with an officer who would fast-track the process.

“But the earliest you can get it is three to six weeks,” he said emphatically.

“We are ready to pay any amount provided we will get it in one week,” the reporter insisted.

According to the touts, the passport of 32 pages would cost N45,000, while 64 pages go for N90,000.

Another tout identified as Afo Olaoluwa, a business centre operator, offered to facilitate issuance of the passport within three weeks.

At exactly 8am, all the applicants were asked to form three queues, the fresh applicants, those scheduled for data capturing and those whose passports are ready for pick-ups. The reporter and his fixer joined the line and filed into the premises.

Like a marketplace, Ikoyi Passport Office premises is full of hustling and bustling. Apart from the thousands of applicants wandering around, and the petty traders, corrupt officials seeking attention or paving ways for their clients, populate the environment. This, sometimes, makes the environment chaotic.

This reporter observed that at least 6 out of 10 NIS officers sighted within the premises, clutched application files of his or her clients. Many abandoned their duty posts to lobby for a fast-track process for their clients who after making “the right payment” were asked to go to sleep. Your presence is only required for data capturing and possibly the pick-up.

Application process

On the NIS website, it was stated that an applicant must register online. A 32-page 5-year standard passport goes for N25,000; 64-page 5-year standard passport goes for N35,000. On the other hand, the 64-page 10- year standard passport for adults (18 years and above) goes for N70,000; while the 32 page 5-year official passport goes for N15,000.

It further explained that the applicant will print out the receipt and some other forms like the indemnity form and guarantor’s forms that will be accessible to him after payment.

The applicant according to the NIS is expected to fill those forms and attach photocopies of state of origin certificate, birth certificate and other requirements, before taking it to any chosen passport office at the point of registration for verification and capturing.

However, a visit to the Ikoyi passport office showed that one out of 100 applicants passed through this process. Investigation also revealed that even when some of the applicants registered online, they are always frustrated to compromise the process. Some applicants who began the process themselves later sought the help of a corrupt officer that would finish the process because of the coordinated corruption approach.

At the Ikoyi office, there are two files, white and yellow. Insiders said white files are being used by those who compromised the legitimate process, while those who follow the NIS guidelines are handed yellow files with NIS boldly written on.

An encounter with officer Tingir

The search for a ‘fast track process’ brought this reporter in contact with Aondoseer Tingir, an Immigration Inspector. He was seen gallivanting within the premises in a manner that gave him out as seeking clients among a pool of applicants.

This reporter approached him and asked if he could facilitate an urgent issuance of a fresh passport in a matter of three days. Tingir bluntly said he was up to the task.

Are you sure we can get it before Friday? this reporter asked, to elicit proper assurance.

“I go deliver for you,” Tingir, fully clad in his uniform, said.

In Pidgin English, Tingir said, “Me I dey work here, ask about the name Tingir. If you wan come, ask anybody about me.

“I dey here for more than seven years; I know the job. I go deliver for you, this work no be say contact, never to deliver, make I give you what you want so you fit bring another person come. Bring the file, na me go run the file.”

Tingir linked the reporter up with Mr Gabriel who is his middleman, a tout and one of business centre operators, for payment, online registration and file arrangement. He also demanded extra N10,000 after the payment of N45,000 to the middleman, to which the reporter agreed to pay.

“The work dey move normal like before. I go do am for you, If I no fit do am, I go tell you say I no go do am, but the work dey move normal. If you pay the N10,000 and you capture, I will carry the file go production room and they fit do am this night. Friday, you go collect am.

“Just pray make the NIN no have issue, me I go try for you,” he boasted.

Having sealed an ‘agreement,’ Tingir beckoned on one of the errand boys standing at the entrance of the immigration office and told him to take this reporter to Mr Gabriel’s office.

Without saying a single word, the young man in his 20s, led this reporter and the fixer to one of the shops strategically located around the passport office.

Fake birth certificates, state of origin, guarantor, others

Mr Gabriel is not alone in the illicit business. His shop like other lock up shops is tucked within an adjoined structure being used by petty traders and cafe operators.

At the shop, there are cubicles with sets of computers manned by about five young men and women who are his staffers.

The workers – Sam, Steve, Funmi, Olamide, Dammy were responsible for the online registration and coupling of files. They also provide fake documents if the applicant does not possess them. The fake documents like birth certificate, state of origin and guarantor attract at least N3,000 depending on your bargaining prowess.

Mr Gabriel told this reporter that 32 pages of the passport costs N45, 000 as against the N25,000 official price.

He also charged N2,000 to provide the lacking documents. This reporter, through the fixer, paid cash of N47,000 being the application and fake documents charges.

After about 30 minutes, the applicant (the fixer) was presented with an Ifo LG, Ogun State, origin certificate alongside a fake birth certificate. All these were attached to the forms printed online and filled by one of the girls working at the centre.

On the guarantor’s form, the agent filled in a name, Ogunyemi Oritsejemiyotan, attached photocopies of her passport-size photograph and National Identification Number to the form.

While the registration was on, the investigative reporter observed how NIS officers in mufti intermittently came into the shop to check if their clients’ files had been dispensed with. While a number of them came in with the new clients, others inquired if the agents have independent clients for them.

After about 1 hour, 45minutes at the shop, the online registration process and arrangement of the file, for verification purposes, was completed.

“Go and give the file to him (referring to Tingir). He is waiting for you at the gate,” Mr Gabriel said.

Skewed verification, coordinated corruption among officers

Although the verification process is expected to be the point where fake documents ought to be detected and applicants without the necessary documents are sent back, due to the coordinated chain of corruption in the Ikoyi passport office, officers at the verification section quickly pass the file once money exchanges hands.

Starting from NIN, the payment slip, the birth certificates, guarantor’s form and the state of origin, all documents are expected to be verified by some officers.

It is expected that the applicant will present the original documents so as to confirm if he/she truly possesses the documents presented at the point of registration.

The reporter and applicant handed over the file to officer Tingir to continue with the verification process. He immediately demanded the extra N10,000 which the reporter agreed to pay, but the reporter insisted he would pay upon completion of the verification and data capturing of his applicant. Tingir agreed, and headed for the verification unit.

A mild drama, however, ensued at the unit. Tingir met a brick-wall as he was not ready to part with any amount to allow his colleagues pass the file.

While waiting for him outside the office, Tingir stormed out in anger.

“They are asking me for money before they will verify the file,” he retorted. “How much?” the reporter inquired. He said “N5,000.”

Amid the conversation, another corrupt officer, Idehen M, was passing. Tingir dragged him and said “Abeg, help me verify this (pointing at the reporter and the applicant).” Idehen requested for N5,000, but this reporter offered him N2,000. He accepted the cash discreetly and got the verification done in an hour.

Capturing room as bottleneck

Data capturing is the last stage of the application process and the capturing room has been identified as a bottleneck by several applicants who spoke with this reporter.

Frustration was visibly written on the faces of about hundreds of applicants endlessly waiting in the queue at the Long Room.

“I have spent more than six hours on this queue today and it seems not to be moving,” a young lady expressed anger.

Ironically, many applicants who came in through the corrupt officials or “Ogas at the top”, had unfettered access in and out of the capturing room.

At about 2pm same day, the application process was completed. Tingir demanded for his N10,000, to which the reporter made a transfer to him immediately.

Tingir confirmed receipt of the transfer alert. He told this reporter to come alongside the applicant for the pick-up on Thursday.

“I go carry the file go production room this night, dem go print the passport. Call me tomorrow, if it’s ready, I go tell you make you come and collect am,” he promised.

On Wednesday, a call was put through to him, asking if the passport was ready for collection. He, however, asked the reporter and the applicant to come for the collection on Thursday “because it was late already.”

Applicant secures passport at Ikoyi office in 48 hours

Due to electricity challenge, there was about five hours delay on Thursday when the reporter alongside the applicant went to the Ikoyi office for passport collection.

The Production Room, where a passport is printed, for onward collection, was characterized with power play among the senior and junior immigration officers.

For hours, this reporter observed how NIS officials, agents and touts were lurking around the Production Room, in an attempt to confirm if their clients’ passports had been produced.

Frustrated by the continued delay, this reporter approached Tingir, “Are you sure we will get this passport today?”

He responded “Don’t worry now, you must collect it today.”

Few minutes later, about five newly printed passports were taken to the Passport Collection Room, and one of them bore the names of the applicant paid for by this reporter.

Within 48 hours, this reporter secured a passport.

Tingir gloated over his “feat”.

“This thing I did for you was not easy. You can only get this done at the Express Centre, Abuja. It will cost you N100,000 or N150,000,” he said.

The corrupt officer also demanded a parting gift from this reporter; N2,000 cash was handed over to him.

To this reporter’s dismay, the NIS had just concluded the 2021 anti-corruption sensitisation programme for the officers at the centre.

The 2021 Anti-Corruption Servicom Sensitization And Enlightenment On Focal Desk Officers themed “Zero Tolerance Approach To Corruption – A Pathway To Quality Service Delivery And Attitudinal Change,” took place on Wednesday July 28, 2021 at Muhammed Babandede Conference Hall, Ikoyi Passport Office.

Another banner found at the premises, reads “Say No To Corruption, Break The Vicious Chain; Stop CORRUPTION; Be Vigilant; Expose Corruption; Open Your Eyes; Speak Out.”

But the unanswered question remains: why does corruption and extortion persist?

Passport costs N50,000; N130,000 at Festac NIS office

Festac centre is not left out of the scourge of corruption and open extortion which has eaten deep into the operations of NIS officials.

I arrived at the Festac Passport office located within the Festac town on the sunny afternoon with the intention to feign loss of passport and apply for a fresh passport.

As it is customary in any passport office, a photographer ran into me and offered to “help me” if I needed an international passport. I responded in affirmation.

He linked me up with Dayo Arikawe, a corrupt officer known for passports racketeering and extortion.

This reporter told Arikawe that he had misplaced his passport and planned to secure another passport.

The officer who was wearing his uniform took this reporter to one of the shops and handed him a form and file for the registration.

Arikawe asked “What document do you bring? Do you have the passport number of the lost one?” This reporter responded in the negative.

This reporter demanded for the fresh application charges, which puts at N50,000 for 32 pages, while 64 pages will cost N130,000.

“Why can’t I pay for a fresh application and save myself the stress of applying for a lost passport,” the reporter asked Arikawe.

He responded “You cannot start the process afresh; you will just waste your money.”

This reporter approached another officer, SP Olatunde Ayandare, who puts his own price at N70,000 for a lost case.

Alausa NIS office…where touts use official files

At Alausa Passport Office, this reporter deployed a female fixer who applied for the passport through self-processing.

Before we set out in the morning, we had logged into the NIS website and made a payment of N26,000 with the charges. We printed the bio-data form, payment slip and guarantor’s form online and headed for the Alausa Passport office.

We arrived in the crowded environment as thousands of applicants were seen waiting for either capturing or passports’ collection. This reporter followed the fixer to the Servicom desk where some female NIS officers were seen attending to some enquiries.

“What do you want,” one of the officers asked the applicant, “I am here for a passport application,” she responded.

Turning to this reporter, she retorted “And what about you?”

“We are together,” I responded. “Go and wait for her outside if you are not the one applying for a passport,” she snapped at me.

After about 15 minutes, the applicant emerged from the focal desk officers. She told this reporter that the female officers who attended to her were harsh, having observed that she made the payment herself.

Self-processing – Camel passing through eye of a needle

Outside the NIS premises, a passport agent simply identified as Papa, told this reporter that a self-process passport application is like a camel passing through the eye of a needle.

“I am not discouraging you about the self-process which you have started, but you know how this country works. At every point, you have to offer the desk officers some money before they can pass your file.

“If they set their eyes on a self-process file on the table, they may not attend to it till thy kingdom come. I’m not saying they won’t treat the file, but those ones brought in by their agents would get priority,” he said.

We were presented with a ‘professional passport’ agent named Mr Wasiu.

Slim, dark and probably in his 40s, Wasiu appears to be the most vigilant agent I came across in the course of this investigation. He seems to have learnt his lesson from a terrible experience. He agreed to continue the process from where we started with N15,000 charges. We agreed.

He insisted he won’t forge any document when this reporter said the applicant did not come along with the required document.

“I don’t know you. You may be recording as we speak and I won’t have a clue. I have done this for strangers in the past and landed me in trouble,” he insisted. After going back and forth, he agreed to help forge documents with N3,000 charges.

The touts/agents had their shops located about half kilometre away from the Alausa NIS office, on the next street. At least 26 shops, one of which belong to Mr Wasiu, were cramped up in the area. Well coordinated and secured, the agents used a yellow file, deemed official, to arrange files before onward transfer to the immigration officers who would complete the process at the centre.

Mr Wasiu collected his charges, using a POS. He rejected an offer of transfer into his account.

When this reporter demanded to speak with an officer who would help complete the process at the Alausa office, he responded in the negative, saying “he can’t speak with you.”

From Ibadan, Ilorin to Osogbo offices: Corrupt NIS officers engage in interstate ‘dirty dealing’

From Lagos NIS passport offices, the wheel of investigation rolled to the Ibadan office, under Oyo State command.

The reporter, assisted by two fixers posing as applicants for passports, uncovered massive corruption in the form of bribery and extortion by officers at the Ibadan office.

The reporter and his fixers set out for the passport office in the Agodi area of Ibadan on Monday 2nd August, 2021. He observed how NIS officers colluded with civilian agents to help applicants bypass the process in exchange for bribes, while applicants who are unwilling to part with extra funds have their applications frustrated and delayed.

At first, I was confused by this heavy rush of human activities around an immigration office. I strode into the immigration building. After saluting two officers who manned the small gate, I was greeted by a crowd clustered under a small shelf at the right corner of the compound. A few were seated, while many were seen standing. Apparently, the chairs were not enough.

I would later learn that these evidently tired and frustrated people were there for capturing. I was not ready to go through the same ordeal.

I saw an officer dishing out orders to some junior officers. I approached him to ask for the process of obtaining an international passport. “You just want to start the process?” he asked while sizing me up. When I answered in the affirmative, he listed the required documents for enrolling. They include: Birth certificate, Certificate of local government of origin, and passport photographs. He stated that the process of obtaining a new passport would take at least six weeks. When I asked if I could get it within a shorter period, he said it was impossible.

Having heard unverified claims of corruption surrounding the issuance of international passport, I was unconvinced by this officer’s claim that getting a passport is so herculean to require a minimum of six weeks. Apparently, the senior officers are being careful. I observed the activities in the compound very well before approaching a seemingly junior officer in mufti. He turned out to be one of the corrupt officers who help applicants bypass the normal procedure in exchange for bribe.

He wore a short-sleeved butter-coloured shirt, over a white polo that carried the logo of the NIS. I greeted him in the Yoruba language and quickly disclosed my mission. I told him I needed a new international passport urgently, using non verbal cues to express my desperation.

Although, he said it was not possible, but he gave a tinge of hope; “maybe elsewhere,” he said.

“So, how can you help me? I need it very urgently to process a scholarship,” I pleaded again. The officer, whose name I would later discover to be Yinka Olaleye, called on two of his colleagues to testify to his claim of impossibility.

“Maybe he should go to Osogbo,” one of them said. He was also in mufti. After dismissing his colleagues, Mr. Olaleye asked me to follow him as he walked towards the gate. We made for the bustling business centre opposite the immigration office.

The merchants at the centre knew that I was new to the centre. Walking with Mr. Olaleye may have given them a hint that I was there to obtain an international passport.

Olaleye took me to a merchant and asked him some questions that border on getting international passport in Ilorin. Obviously, they had had the conversation before. “You said they do it within two days in Ilorin. How is it done?” Olaleye asked the merchant

Excited by the prospect of a new client, the merchant boasted that it was even possible to get it the same day, “but is he ready to pay?” he asked Mr. Olaleye while throwing cursory glances at me.

“How much would it cost?” Olaleye asked on my behalf. The merchant mentioned N65,000 then whispered something about getting a cut. They started speaking in hushed voices. Mr. Olaleye returned to me; this time without the initial doubt about the possibility of getting a passport with ease.

“I learnt they can do it in Ilorin within a week, but it is costly”

I told him that money was not a problem, and also insisted that I want to get it in a day.

“Ah! getting it in a day may not be possible; but you can get it the day after you go for capturing.” This time, I was marvelled.

Olaleye called his contact person in Ilorin. After speaking with him about my urgent need of the passport, he asked that I call him later in the evening. He said he was going to Iseyin, but “I need assurance from the person before asking you to pay. It would cost you N65,000.”

With the form and other documents ready, he asked me to send N70,000 into his personal bank account. He explained that N65,000 is for processing the passport in Ilorin, while N5,000 is for his own effort. I sent the money the next day, on a Tuesday.

He gave me the contact of one Mr. Abubakar, an officer in Ilorin. He said he would help me with the processing.

Trip to Ilorin passport office

The next day, on Wednesday, the fixer went to Ilorin for capturing. A note was pasted at the door of the office where the capturing is being done, with the inscription: “Phones are not allowed here”. Despite this, I disregarded the instruction and went in with my phone, already recording.

After the capturing exercise, one of the officers requested that I give them “something”. The officer claimed they had closed for the day but they waited for me to arrive. It was past 6pm. I gave him N1,000 and asked him to share the token with the second officer.

Yusuf said because I arrived late, they could only start processing the passport on Thursday. While I pleaded that he helped me get the passport the next day, he did not give any assurance. We exchanged calls, as I pestered him for updates on the progress of the passport. In one of our calls, he assured me that it would be ready on Friday, but he could not fulfill the promise until Monday. He said they had a long meeting on Friday that made the officers suspend work until Monday.

By 4pm on Monday, he sent picture evidence of my international passport. The next day, on Tuesday, he sent it to me through an applicant who had also traveled to Ilorin from Ibadan to apply for a passport. So, they started processing the passport on Thursday and Friday, and it was ready on Monday.

Renewal costs N55,000 at Ibadan passport office

The investigative reporter also paid for another applicant who went through a compromised and corrupt process to renew his passport.

Two officers Ogunbanwo E.P and Momoh Emmanuel were caught in the web of corruption. They asked what they could do for me, and I quickly disclosed my intention to renew my passport which had expired for two years. They asked me to wait for a few minutes at the entrance while they attended to a middle-aged man whom they referred to as a client.

“You will do everything today but it will cost you waso (N50,000 in yoruba language),” Ogunbanwo said in Yoruba language. I assured him again that money was not a problem, and then he handed me over to Emmanuel.

I paid N30,000 to Ogunbanwo, but Emmanuel charged me another N50,000 for collection of the passport booklet; after several pleas and haggling, he agreed to take N25,000.

This investigation has revealed that contrary to the six weeks, being the official period with which an applicant can apply and get the passport issued, corrupt and hungry NIS officials influence issuance of a passport within 24 hours. This depends on “right payment” and knowing “the right people,” across the NIS offices nationwide.

Tales of woe

Like Michael, some of the previous applicants shared their bitter experiences in the hands of corrupt NIS officials.

A female applicant who preferred anonymity said passport renewal took her more than three months after paying N45,000 at Ikoyi passport office.

According to her, it took her more than three months to get a renewed passport despite paying N45,000.

For Vincent, his file got missing during the application process and he had to start the process afresh.

At the Ilorin Passport office, Ms Ibironke told the investigative reporter how she paid N85,000 to corrupt NIS officials, before securing a passport within two weeks, in order to meet up an admission process abroad.

Also at Ibadan office, an applicant who identified herself simply as Mummy Grace had enrolled since February 2021, but she was not invited for capturing and interview until August 6, months after.

Commenting on our investigation, Samson Folarin, the former National Secretary of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) blamed the ministry of interior for aiding the corrupt officers by not making adequate provisions for materials used for the passport.

“Despite reforms put in place by the agency and the ministry of interior, the corruption still persists,” he said.

We don’t condone sharp practices – NIS

Speaking with one of reporters, the NIS National Spokesman, Amos Okpu, said the body supports naming and shaming of corrupt officers as a way of sanitizing the system.

He disclosed that about 29 officers were dismissed in 2019 having been found culpable of wrong doings.

“In disciplinary procedure, you have to convince somebody beyond reasonable doubt so that you don’t dismiss the right person and retain the wrong person in the system.

“We are doing excellently in terms of discipline,” Okpu, an Assistant Comptroller of Immigration (ACI), said.

He added “The media is supposed to be the mirror of society. I love what you have done and the approach.

“So, if your report has unearthed any of our personnel that has acted unprofessional, acted below expectation, acted outside our rules of engagement, I will not be the PRO that will say, please drop that story. Part of your work is to sanitize the society, sanitize the system.”

This investigation was carried out with support from the Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA Resource Centre)

 

 

(DAILYTRUST)

 

 

sun newspaper today

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