By Galaxy Imanmadu
Intrepid human rights activist and Executive Director of Global Action Against Hunger, Crime and Violation of Peoples’ Rights (GAHCAVPER), Comrade Emeka Nwokocha, has lamented soaring corruption among the personnel of the Nigeria Immigration Service across the country, describing the institution as a cesspool of corruption putting the image of the country in disrepute.
Comrade Nwokocha’s dislike for the Immigration Service recently was brought to the fore while speaking to journalists in Warri on the worrisome state of the nation.
While frowning at what he critically described as the now celebrated act of corruption among Nigeria Immigration personnel, Comrade Nwokocha fiercely lampooned the Nigerian anti-graft agencies, including the police for obvious dereliction of duty, for apparently taking no proactive measures to curb festering corruption in the Immigration Service, saying, “acts of corruption have become a norm among the personnel of the Nigeria Immigration Service, but no action is being taken by the authorities to check the worrisome trend.”
He stated, “without mincing words, I make bold to say that the anti-graft agencies: EFCC, and ICPC were created with a well laid out rules of engagement to blot out corruption in public and private institutions across the country. That bold initiative by the then government of President Olusegun Obasanjo was hailed by well-meaning Nigerians who saw it as a progressive state policy and a watershed in the country’s quest to nip corruption in the bud. In other words, the anti-graft personnel are expected to be everywhere – in the nook and cranny of the country carrying out their onerous but dignifying duties to cleanse the Nigerian system and redeem the already battered image of the country and its peoples, but not much of their radars have been directed to the Nigeria Immigration Service in recent years to put an end to pervasive corruption around the passport procurement transactions.”
Comrade Nwokocha continued, “what that means is that, excuses must not be bandied before Nigerians as to why this important national task would not be achieved holistically. After all, the government of President Olusegun Obasanjo never thought the anti-graft agencies would not live above board … what is their problem now?”
Comrade Nwokocha continued, “it baffles me that the personnel of the Nigerian Immigration would abandon their statutory duties only to become passport racketeers.
“When you visit the immigration office to either get a new passport or renew expired one, you will be surprised at the illegality and putrefying acts of corruption you will be confronted with.”
He continued, “this illegality is quite obvious in the manner you would be smartly cornered by a horde of Immigration officers who would catch in on your ignorance of the official procedures for procuring new passport or renewing expired one.
“These Immigration guys, acting like pimps and charged with incurable desperation are indescribably smart for the wrong reason. They would tell you stories that would agitate you, such as ‘the process of getting a new passport is very cumbersome; there are no passport booklets now, and so on and so forth. These stories would definitely knock you off balance as you are desperate to get the passport as soon as possible.
“That way, you may not have other option other than asking the Immigration personnel to help you get it using his influence, then, he goes on to slam you with exorbitant price far above the official price.”
He noted, “for instance, a passport you would get at 35k will be jacked up to 50-60k. At that point, you would not have an alternative but fall prey to the dubious Immigration guy who now substitutes himself or herself for the Immigration Service, and then adorns the insignia of ‘MR NIGERIA,’ and he would collect and put into his pocket the extra charges for a supposedly official transaction, and walks away with impunity.”
Comrade Nwokocha sarcastically added, “I dislike their mannerism as they carry themselves like small gods with occasional burst of arrogance.”
He however, noted that the federal government makes public the guidelines on how new passports can be procured through an official platform that displays the official cost of a passport. He said, “there shouldn’t be any justifiable reason for paying extra cost to a dubious Immigration officer who is bent on manipulating the system and dubiously enriching him/herself at the expense of unsuspecting Nigerians, thereby marring the good image of the Immigration Service as an institution and Nigeria as a country.”
He recalled, “worried by this festering corruption among immigration personnel coupled with the embarrassing impunity with which they fleece unsuspecting Nigerians, I did put a call to a senior Immigration officer in Abuja and engaged him with this brazen corrupt practice that has become a norm among Immigration personnel, he too lamented bitterly and condemned the dubious practice in strong terms, saying the Immigration service frowns at every unprofessional practice, warning that anybody caught in the act will be summarily dealt with by the authority. He further explained that the Immigration service operates a reliable and functional portal through which Nigerians and others could simply apply for new passports including renewal of expired ones at officially approved costs displayed on the portal.”
Comrade Nwokocha said, “if the procedure for applying for passports is not sabotaged by corrupt Immigration personnel, within a period of 3-4 weeks, a new passports will be ready for collection. Even renewal of expired passport shouldn’t take much time to get done.”
He added, “there is no gainsaying that the Immigration service acknowledges the fact that not everybody will be abreast of the procedures for procuring a new passport or renewal of expired one, hence the immigration personnel are duty bound to guide people appropriately on the procedures without demanding tips and/or inflating the cost to satiate their greed and personal aggrandizement.”
Comrade Nwokocha, passionately called on President Muhammadu Buhari to wield the big stick against the corrupt elements in the Immigration service, stating that when punishments are not meted out to erring officers of the Immigration Service, it becomes a green light for dubious elements in the system to be emboldened in perpetrating corrupt practices with liberty.”
Comrade Nwokocha tasked Nigerians on doing the right thing, saying that the extant laws of Nigeria forbid any strands of corruption, adding that it behoves the citizens to be abreast of the law and operational modalities of state institutions to be able to know, for instance, how to apply for International passports at the Immigration Service without creating room for questionable elements to take undue advantage to fleece innocent Nigerians.
He urged Nigerians to discard the practice of relying on racketeer immigration officers whenever they want to procure new passports, stressing that the official cost for new passports including renewal of expired ones are posted on the Nigeria Immigration Service website, including guidelines on how to start and complete the application. He added, “even when an Immigration personnel offers to assist you get through the procedure, the official cost should not be jacked up at all, please be properly guided so we can collectively put an end to this ugly trend.”