Solving passport dilemma for Nigerians in Diaspora - THE GUARDIAN
JANUARY 13, 2023
By Olalere Ayinla
Nigerians in the Diaspora with expired international passports heaved a sigh of relief recently when the Federal Government announced that they are free to board from their countries of residence as well as return to Nigeria unhindered.
This positive development is as a result of a number of latest revolutionary initiatives launched by the Federal Ministry of Interior and Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) that removed the impediments that had made home-coming difficult for many holders of expired Nigerian passports, in the past.
In continuation of the implementation of numerous reforms on passport administration and immigration services by the Federal Government, a novel scheme called the Diaspora Fast Track Programme, was rolled out recently to address the challenges of expired international passports faced by many Nigerians living abroad.
The special programme, which began on December 12, 2022 and available till January 31, 2023, secures passage for Nigerians and their families living abroad with expired Nigerian international passports to board at their countries of residence and be admitted into Nigeria with their expired passports, without any let or hindrance.
In order to get the required diplomatic support for the novel initiative, the Comptroller General of Immigration, Isah Jere Idris, had in a circular dated December 9, 2022, intimated the Minister of Foreign Affairs, all Heads of Foreign Missions, all Immigration Attaches, all Airport Comptrollers and all airlines (local and international) of Federal Government’s approval of the special programme.
The fast-track programme also allows holders of expired Nigerian passports to renew their passports as well as apply and obtain the new enhanced Nigerian e-Passport under two weeks while in Nigeria. No extra fee is charged for the Diaspora fast track service; they are required to pay the applicable official fee only.
Prior to the launch of the Diaspora Fast Track Programme, overzealous airline staff were not allowing Nigerians holding expired passports to board at their countries of residence, despite the international best practice, which states that citizens with expired international passports can travel to their countries of origin unhindered. As a result, many Nigerians living abroad including students could not re-join their families back home in Nigeria.
Also, even under the previous waiver whereby the Federal Government allowed Nigerians holding expired passports into the country, the arrangement put in place to ensure returnee Nigerians with expired passports renew their passports upon arrival in Nigeria used to take a longer time. Because many of them have a short time to stay in Nigeria, a lot of them were unable to renew their passports and many got stuck in Nigeria. Some unscrupulous middlemen also abused the situation.
With the fast-track service, however, the narrative has changed for the better. In addition to allowing Nigerians in the Diaspora with expired international passports to come back home, they also now renew their expired passports in just two weeks, at no additional cost.
To this end, NIS has set up a very simple, seamless and transparent process which includes the setting up of dedicated Diaspora Desks at International Airports in Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Enugu and Port Harcourt to offer fast-track services exclusively to Diaspora Nigerians to renew their passports during their period of short stay in Nigeria.
All they need do is, upon arrival in the country, they should proceed to the Diaspora Desks at the airports to commence the process of passport renewal by giving their details to the NIS personnel there. A fast-track letter indicating date of biometrics’ capture and returnee’s preferred Passport Office will be issued immediately. Then apply through the online registration portal, https://www.passport.immigration.gov.ng, by completing all the required fields.
Applicants should ensure they supply the correct information as contained in their supporting documents including the National Identification Number (NIN) because mismatch of information will render the application incomplete. They are also required to make payment for preferred passport type online via the approved payment channels/platforms only. Then proceed to the chosen Passport Office and tender the fast-track letter; the Passport Office will fast track biometrics’ capture and the production of passports, all within two weeks.
The Diaspora fast-track service also entails the opening of Passport Offices on Saturdays to ramp up production of passport booklets to clear the backlog of applications in line with the directive of the Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola.
With the special arrangement, Passport Offices from December 3, 2022 to January 28, 2023, open between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to speed up passport production resulting in the production of more than 5,000 passport booklets in just two weekends. The flagship Ikoyi Passport Office alone is reported to process average of 800 booklets, while other Passport Offices across the country also deliver appreciable numbers of passport booklets.
Another step to solving the passport challenge is the approval by the CGI, Isah Jere Idris, for the deployment of passport controllers to Ondo and Ekiti states to enhance service delivery to clients in those states.
Public Relations Officer of the NIS, Anthony Akuneme, reiterated that all these new measures were aimed at making things easier for travelling Nigerians and urged holders of expired Nigerian passports in the Diaspora to take advantage of the kind gesture by the government without any further delay.
He reaffirmed that holders of expired Nigerian passports must renew their passports because anyone with expired passport would not be allowed to travel out of the country in line with global travel protocols, saying the special Diaspora Fast-Track Programme was in demonstration of government’s care for the welfare of the citizens, whether at home or abroad.
Akuneme allayed the fear of those who have yet to obtain the new enhanced Nigerian e-Passport, saying holders of the old Nigerian passports could still travel with them so far such old passports were genuine and validly issued by the Nigerian government.
He also assured Nigerians in the Diaspora, as well as other classes of travellers that there are enough passport booklets to meet their demands, adding that NIS has also opened multiple channels of communication to enhance service delivery. To this end, he said applicants with any complaints can reach the NIS by tweeting at @nigimmigration or send an email to [email protected]
Chairman, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, applauded the steps, saying they would go a long way in alleviating the burden of Nigerians living aboard who want to come home.
Federal Government’s commitment to improve passport and immigration services in the country has resulted in the implementation of several reforms including the rollout of the new enhanced e-Passport with Polycarbonate Data Page and 25 security features, making the Nigerian international passport more respected globally; and the commissioning of centralised passport production centres in Ibadan and Enugu, which has helped to uptake availability of passport booklets.
Others include improved online passport application process (portal and timelines); improved secured (online) payment solutions that eliminate the activities of middlemen, touts, racketeers and fraudsters; online appointment-based enrolment for passport after payment; Passport Application Tracking (PATs) solution and opening of passport front offices in Alimosho (Lagos State), Daura (Katsina State), Oyo (Oyo State), and Zaria (Kaduna State).
Also included are sensitisation of operation irregularities at passport centres including the arrest and disciplinary actions on errant officials; establishment of passport contact centres and digital channels; instituting a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for passport processing; policy on admittance of Nigerians with expired passports; sequential passport application processing and the launch of fast-track Diaspora service.
Ayinla, a former Deputy Editor with a national newspaper and a social commentator, wrote from Ikeja, Lagos.