Why Nigeria’s passport scarcity persists - BUSINESSDAY
JANUARY 16, 2023
BY John Ojikutu
It is being reported now that the issuance of new or renewal of passports which would normally take 48 hours is taking about two to three months now, depending on the state the application is made.
This delay could have effects on air travel and businesses. There is the possibility that the ministry of internal affairs and indeed the Passport Office must be facing some form of internal crisis.
These crises could range from insufficient skilled manpower at the passport offices across the country to the land border posts and the airports.
There could be other reasons like in the career progressions where there are preferences for development to the border posts than to the passport offices. It is also possible that the ministry of internal affairs has not conducted recruitment to fill the passport offices as it would to the airports where most prefer.
Overall, there would be some form of pressure on the few that are available, with fewer skills possibly to handle the increase in the current flow of demands caused by those who are leaving the country in droves because of the political instability and the insecurity in the country.
This in particular is a major cause of the increase in demand and pressure on the passport office staff. The doctors fall more into the category of those living in thousands and wanting new passports or renewing their passports; so are other professionals leaving to look for greener pastures.
If there had been passport issuance and renewals in thousands before weekly, the demands now could be in tens of thousands that would require a longer period than the normal 48 hours.
Many of these new demands too possibly have not got their National Identification Number and would need to line up separately at the passport offices to get this done; this sure will add to the period of waiting.
Also, the cost of production for these passports, which are done outside Nigeria, could also be a factor.
In Nigeria, approved fees for the new passports are as follows: a 32-page five-year standard passport will be sold for N25,000 or $130 for the oversea applicant, a 64-page five-year standard passport for N35,000 or $150 for the oversea applicant, and 64-page 10-year standard passport at N70,000 or $230 for the oversea applicant. These fees however exclude bank charges.
However, passport applicants in Nigeria end up paying more than these amounts.
Many have asked why a country’s passport, which is one of the very few means of identification with paper as its major component, could cost so much for the average salary earner in the country. The reasons are not farfetched.
Security is one major thing, among many others, that would make passports very expensive. Just as it cost Nigeria’s government so much to print the naira currencies, it also cost the government so much to print its passports.
The passport booklet paper offers appropriate ruggedness and absorption characteristics. Fibres with fluorescent properties (visible under UV light) are mixed into the paper pulp during the paper manufacturing process to serve as a security feature. They may be visible (coloured fibers) or invisible under normal light.
The bulk of the passport document includes the cover and end pages (glued to the inside of the cover) and the pages that hold the visa and entry as well as exit stamps. And for those that have not yet migrated to polycarbonate, the paper will also form the basis of the all-important data page, which includes the holder’s details and portrait.
Other features of the paper include the watermark, UV ink, latent image, photochromic ink, rainbow colouring, micro print, and security laminate.
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To maintain an effective defence against the menace of counterfeiting, all these paper elements need to be given careful consideration. As ever, success will ultimately lie in making it as complicated, time-consuming, and expensive as possible for forgers to copy or compromise a legitimate document.
The security nature of the passports is to prevent stolen identity by insiders and outsider threats, and these are the reasons for printing them beyond the national territories where security can be guaranteed from countries with integrity.
Most developed countries we know also print their national currencies and passports from more credible countries than theirs.
The scarcity of passport books may be another major cause of the issuance delay to many and which can affect businessmen that want renewals and not necessarily those for new passports. Old businesses are those that can be affected but these businesses can continue to be done online without travelling.
The new businesses are those that may be affected if only they would have no significant impact on the economy.
If the scarcity continues, air travelling will reduce because of the regular travellers, and this could have an impact on international travelling passengers’ traffic figures and therefore commercial aviation earnings both on local, international, and the Economic Community of West African States commerce.
Ojikutu is a security consultant and secretary general of the Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative