The Senate yesterday mandated its Committee on Interior to urgently investigate the reasons for the delay in the issuance and renewal of international passports by the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS).
The committee was also asked to probe the contract for the printing of passport booklets. It has 14 days to turn in its report.
The resolution followed the adoption of a motion on the “Delay in issuance, renewal of Nigeria’s international passport” sponsored by Senator Uche Ekwunife (Anambra Central).
Ekwunife, in her lead debate, said the delay in the issuance and renewal of passports by NIS was causing untold hardship for Nigerians.
She described a passport as an official identity document, issued to Nigerians for the purpose of travelling out or coming into the country.
The Senator lamented that many Nigerians, especially students, find it extremely difficult to get passports in spite of the six-week timeline set by the Federal Government a year ago.
Passport issuance procedure got more complicated and became worse after the Ministry of Interior started it reform of the process.
According to Ekwunife, currently, new applicants and those seeking the renewal of their expired passports spend between three and six months waiting for a response from NIS and Nigerian embassies.
She explained that it takes five to eight weeks for an applicant to be invited for biometric capturing by NIS and another four months for a passport to be issued.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) lawmaker added that the situation was worse at the Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt offices of the service.
“International students are also finding it very difficult to renew their passports to enable them to travel back to reunite with their families,” Ekwunife lamented.
Senator Gershom Bassey (Cross River South), who seconded the motion, said the delay in the issuance of passports to applicants was not in the interest of Nigerians.
Also, Senator Biodun Olujumi (Ekiti North), who recalled that in the past, passports were issued within days, said it was embarrassing that applicants needed to wait for six to eight months for the document.
Senator Muhammad Bulkachuwa (Bauchi North) told his colleagues that it took NIS five weeks to issue him a passport after biometric capturing.
NIS officials explain delay
Treasury Single Account (TSA) and foreign exchange have been listed as some of the causes of delay in in passport issuance.
Others include a low number of issuing centres, imported materials, interests and “fire approach” by applicants.
TSA is a policy that makes it mandatory for most Ministries, Departments and Agencies to remit their earnings directly to the Federation Account.
According to the official, most of the materials used for passport production are sourced from foreign institutions and security services.
A NIS source, who spoke on condition of anonymity said: “What we do here is to assemble the document. It is like the manufacturing or production of a car.
“We have licensed institutions that we give contracts to produce and but we have lost the power to pay them due to TSA, It is now the Central Bank of Nigeria(CBN) that uses the instrumentality of TSA to effect payments. We apply and they pay.
“The main problem remains that it involves foreign exchange which we have no control over. The CBN determines the disbursement of foreign exchange. So, if the Immigration Service applies, the supplier would have to wait until they get their money before producing. “
It was also learnt that the seven passport issuing centres in the country are not enough to serve a population of over 200 million.
The issuing centres are three in Lagos State; two in Abuja and one each in Kano and Rivers states.
Another NIS official attributed the delay to what he called the “Nigerian factor.”.
According to him, many applicants with valid passports always wait until the last days before seeking renewal.
He added that those seeking fresh passports fail to realise that the information provided by them must be verified before issuance.
His words: “People don’t apply for passports early. It is only when they have a notification of travelling that they apply. And once you give them an appointment for capturing data, they always expect that in two or three days their passports would be ready. That is not possible because some of the information they provide have to be checked.”