Tears, angers and frustrations as Nigerians queue for new e-passports

Goodluck Jonathan
Goodluck Jonathan

Many Nigerians in the United Kingdom  are still agonizing because of the race to obtain the new e-passport as the burden to renew the old ones or obtain new ones are threatening the health and social well being of many families.

Many families had traveled from far distance only to realise that there is a cut off point on the numbers that could be taken in by the Embassy everyday.

Stress, torture and various untold hardship are taking over people’s life on arrival at the Embassy as attempts are made to beat the December 31 deadline. The situation are surely going worse as summer time is arriving fast.

Many angry parents have adduced the problem to lack of good organisation while the Embassy are being urged to employ competent agencies for the processing of the preliminary stages of the passport application.

EMNnews had reported how many children’s life had been put in danger with overcrowding while there are no provision for water and other essential services for the children many of who only crawl on the Embassy main bowl.

Many children are forced to stay longer than expected in their push chairs while many who are above the age make do with standing all day. May visitors to the Embassy are actually spending more than nine hours just to be able to sort themselves out.

The rush to beat the deadline  had put many people and families on health danger.

Social critic Latty Rahman who visited the Embassy last week claimed it was an eye-sore with children over stretching their parents  due to hunger and tiredness as those who are lucky to gain entrances face the agony of long waiting in reception area, long stand on queues and even unnecessary duplication of duties at the Embassy.

“In fact it is a matter of luck that there had been no tragedies reported”, he lamented.

Among the daily trauma faced are hunger, inadequate finance availability due to late arrival to the Embassy which result more financial requirement, lack of recreation venue for twenties of  children who had  accompanied their parents and fear of staying in London overnight which had not been planned for.

Many parents had  complained of threat to jobs and family security and safety had been threatened as many family are being forced to stay overnight in London because they fail to meet deadlines.

Mr Odein Ajumogobia
Nigerias Foreign Minister, Mr Odein Ajumogobia

The situation had overstretched Embassy staff members who were daily being forced to put up with abuses and long stay in office. had taken over many applicant’s day to- day life attempts in the Nigerian Embassy.

Most hit in the exercise are many helpless children many of whom had traveled from over 400 -500 miles to process their application with their parents.

Many parents travel a whole day from outside London only to discover that they had come in vain as all attendants posts in the Embassy are closed by 1pm. The situation had been reported before there seem to be no improvement according to our findings. Check the first story here:




    It is no longer news that the Nigerian Government (NG) initially indicated that after 31 December 2010, the current Nigerian machine readable passport (MRP) will no longer be a valid travel document. In other words, the newly introduced electronic passport (EP) will be the only acceptable official document which Nigerians can travel on. The Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) has given a couple of reasons why it is necessary to migrate from MRP to EP and outlined the measures to actualize their dreams both within Nigeria and abroad. Further details on these can be found in the press release by the NIS public relations officer, Joachim Olumba on the 20th September 2010 (see http://www.immigration.gov.ng/index.php?id=30 ). Articles on the Nigerian EP have also been published in various Nigerian Newspapers both in print and on the web. Two of the reasons given in Olumba’ article for introducing EP, are reproduced as follows:

    “The electronic Passport was introduced in 2007 by the Nigeria Immigration Service, following the reckless abuses, mutilations and manipulations which the Machine Readable Passport suffered in the hands of miscreants and unpatriotic elements for questionable purposes”. I will come back to this point later.
    “The e-Passport conforms to global standards and enjoys the total confidence of the International Community. It has considerably enhanced the good image of Nigeria as well as the dignity of her citizens. Holders of the e-Passport are no longer treated with disdain as was the experience when the Machine Readable Passport was in vogue. It is not unlikely that all these positive factors informed the determination of the Federal Government to completely phase out the MRP after 31st December, 2010”. Unfortunately, the NIS realized that the initial deadline of 31 December 2010 was a fantasy and they shifted it to 30 April 2011. From all indications the new deadline is just dream. In fact, there should be no deadline at all for migrating from MRP to EP. The main focus of this write-up is on item (2). I need to mention quickly that both the MRP and EP conform to global standards and the problem with the Nigerian MRP is not necessarily the weakness of the MRP but the weakness of the Nigerian system.
    Although it is commendable that the NG and NIS working together desire not to be left behind in good things and decide to join the global achievers, it is however disappointing that they are not using global approach to actualize their dream. They are trying to utilize a Nigerian approach to attain a global status. Nigeria is not the first country to introduce an EP and neither will it be the last. One wonders whether the government officials involved in the implementation of the EP project consider the implications of the procedures they are following and the illegality of the ultimatum given to the Nigerian Citizens both in Nigeria and abroad. Is it proper for the NG to declare that all the existing MRPs will be invalid after 30 April 2011 even if the passport still has enough years of validity? Is it proper for the NG to put Nigerian Citizens in an untold hardship because she wants to be in the league of the countries using EPs? Lets us firstly consider few legal and policy issues around this subject. Then we will consider a couple of contemporary examples and see if NG and NIS are pursuing their EP dream correctly.
    One of the explanatory notes concerning the standard Nigerian passport as obtained from the NIS website (see http://www.immigration.gov.ng/index.php?id=50) of the NIS on 24/03/11 is that: “All standard passports have a life span of 10 years with an initial validity of five (5) years”. I am not a legal expert, but it seems to me that the current MRP has a total validity of 10 years although with an initial break which requires a renewal after the first 5 years. It can be interpreted simply that the true validity of this MRP which Nigerians paid for by themselves is 10 years. So under what condition can this document become invalid? According to the Passport (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1990, Section 5, subsection 1, paragraphs (a)-(d) states that:
    “The Minister may, at any time, cancel or withdraw any passport issued to any person if- (a) the passport is obtained by fraud; (b) the passport has expired; (c) a person unlawfully holds more than one passport at the same time; ( d) it is in the public interest so to do”.
    According to section 6 of the above Act,” ‘Minister’ means the Minister charged with responsibility for matters relating to passports”. So, I can broadly say that any official having the responsibility to issue or oversee the issuance of passport is a minister in this context. In that sense, minister of federal ministry of internal affairs, Comptroller-General of immigration or the immigration officials and other designated officials will fit into this definition. According to section 5, subsection 1, paragragh (a), it is obviously illegal to declare invalid a passport which was not obtained by fraud. According to the policy statement (10 years life span), it seems to be illegal to apply paragraph (b) of the passport Act to any Nigerian standard passport which is less than 10 years old. It is obvious that paragraph (c) can only be applied to those holding more than one passport at a time. One may then argue that paragraph (d) can be invoked in the public interest in response to item (1) as quoted from Joachim Olumba’s press release of September 2010. On the surface, one might think this is logical and therefore has a legal backing. This aspect will be explored to a deeper degree to see if the NG and NIS have acted in good faith. Can one say that the current Nigerian MRP poses any problem to the Nigerian system or an international community?
    Firstly, it is important for Nigerians to know that the current Nigerian MRP conforms to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) recommendations (see http://www2.icao.int/en/MRTD/Downloads/Doc%209303/Doc%209303%20English/Doc%209303%20Part%201%20Vol%201.pdf). This assertion is corroborated by the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Plc (The MINT) (see http://www.mintnigeria.com/passport_id.htm), the organization responsible for printing Nigerian Naira notes, passports and other security documents for the Nigerian Government. Since the current MRP conforms to the international standard, it can not be said to pose any risk to the society. In essence, it will be wrong to say that the declaration of such document invalid at a will by a wishful government is done in the interest of the public. It is obvious that the problem is not with the Nigerian MRP but with the Nigerian system itself. An overview of the ICAO MRTD Programme was presented in the fourth symposium and exhibition on ICAO MRTDs, Biometrics and Security Standards by Gary McDonald, Chair of ICAO new technologies working group in 2008 (http://www.icao.int/MRTDsymposium/2008/Presentations/3_McDonald.pdf). It was interesting to note from this report that the emphasis was to encourage the countries (28 of them) which are not yet using MRP to migrate from the non-MRP (inferior to MRP) to MRP by 1 April 2010 while their non-MRPs currently in circulation will be pronounced invalid only after 24 November 2015! Two among such countries are Nepal and Bangladesh as revealed by Financial Express (http://www.thefinancialexpress-bd.com/more.php?news_id=91273) (2 Feb 2010)
    and myrepublica (http://www.myrepublica.com/portal/index.php?action=news_details&news_id=15113) (14 Feb 2010). From these two reports, the following facts were obtained: (i) these countries were being pressedby ICAO to migrate from non-MRP to MRP by 1 April 2010 (ii) non-MRPs issued only after this date will be invalid for travel (iii) the existing non-MRPs issued before 1 April 2010 will continue to be valid till 24 November 2015 (iv) there is no deadline for the validity of the MRPs and (v) there is no requirement or deadline established for countries to issue electronic passports (EPs).
    Now this is the trend regarding international travel documents: Non-MRP to MRP to EP. As far as ICAO which Nigeria is a strong member state, is concerned, MRP is the minimum acceptable travel document and there is no international pressure to stop the use of MRP or to start issuing EPs. Can one say that NG is ignorant of what ICAO requirements are? No! NG knows. Apart from being a member state of ICAO, Nigeria is well represented in this organization. In fact, the Director-General of the Nigerian Civil Association Authority (NCAA), Dr. H.O. Demuren became the President of ICAO on 29/09/2010 (less than 1 year ago). Dr Olumuyiwa Aliu and Dr Folashade Odutola are two other Nigerians who are already on ICAO council as Nigeria’s representatives (http://www.tourismandaviation.com/news-3816–Nigerian_becomes_ICAO_president_) (30/092010) even before Demuren became the President. So, no one can say that NG is not well informed. So, why is the NG putting pressure on its Citizens? Why putting them in unnecessary hardships? Why will Nigerians be made to pay for another passport when he/she still has a valid MRP which is internationally acceptable? Few reasons come to mind:
    Show off: There are a series of unrests and internal crises in Nigeria almost on daily basis. Religious crisis and a lot of problems which are yet to be contained are there but Nigeria will like to show to the world that they have military might by leading peace keeping operations in other countries when there is no peace in her own country. Nigeria will like to show the world that they are the giant of Africa when indeed it is a dwarf. It may be that NG wants to show off that she is the first African country to migrate fully from MRP to EP. Well, it would have been a good step if they have approached it in a mature way by not passing the burden on the innocent Nigerians.
    On a lighter note and with due regard, it might be that the representatives of Nigeria in ICAO have misinterpreted the ICAO pressure on the countries that are still using non-MRPs to migrate to MRPs and they have come back home(Nigeria) to tell the NG that they need to move on to EP. After all, computer is a machine. In Nigeria a computer even if it does not have an operating system is an E-technology! Who knows, the ICAO message may have been misinterpreted by the NG advisers or those who are aggressively pushing for EP.
    Probably the NG and NIS are carried away by the security features of the EPs and thought it will enhance the integrity of our passports which have been abused terribly as stated by Joachim Olumba of the NIS in his press release of September 2010. If this is the thought of the NG and NIS, they need to realize that cutting the head off is not the solution to having lice on one’s head. While the EP has enhanced security features, it has its own weaknesses and research is still ongoing regarding this. I don’t have problem with the introduction of EP and I believe it will be better than MRP in terms of security features but will the EP eliminate forged birth certificate or fake declaration of age and some other documents being used by desperate people to obtain passport? Is Nigeria the only country using MRP in the world? As at 2008 according to one of the reports I presented earlier, approximately 20 countries were yet to migrate to MRP from the non-MRP whereas ICAO has more than 100 member states (countries). This implies that around 100 or more countries were already using MRP as at that time. The argument of Joachim is that “electronic Passport was introduced in 2007 by the Nigeria Immigration Service, following the reckless abuses, mutilations and manipulations which the Machine Readable Passport suffered in the hands of miscreants and unpatriotic elements for questionable purposes”. Who are these miscreants and the unpatriotic elements? The applicants or the immigration officials? How many Nigerians can say that when they obtained their passports from the immigration offices around the country that they paid the official fees? It is the immigration officials that abuse the processes and turn the processing and issuing of this precious document to business. Or can someone tell me how a Nigerian can obtain passport by proxy without the cooperation of the immigration officers or who gives Nigerian passports to Ghanaians, Cameroonians etc? If MRP is not good, ICAO would have become desperate about the move to EP from MRP just like it is very desperate about the move from non-MRP to MRP. In fact, it would not have recommended it in the first instance. So, it is not the migration from MRP to EP that will eliminate the fraud, it is when immigration officials begin to conduct themselves with respect and integrity. When I was campaigning for Buhari few weeks ago and I will continue to campaign for him as I have the opportunity, some people could not understand why. I pray that Buhari will become president and many like him will become legislators and governors. Even with MRP, you will see that there will be a positive change. So, if the thought of NG and that of NIS is that EP will minimize forgery and abuses, yes it is a good thought. There may be some improvement but corruption must be dealt with in every sector directly before the scheme will really work. Nigerians in different parts of the world are being extorted financially in the name of EPs. My question again is: who are the miscreants and the unpatriotic elements? The USA has used and are still using MRP, why was their own MRP not abused like Nigeria’s MRP? There are many other countries that have used and are still using MRP, why are their citizens not been treated with disdain like Nigerians? The problem is not the MRP, but the Nigerian system or the Nigerian factor as some would say. There is one politician I know of, he is creating new Universities, commissioning projects and doing some political calculations and people may think he is doing well. To be candid with you, investment or infrastructural development is not Nigeria’s problem. Where are the past investments and infrastructures? How much of the fund invested actually goes into the projects? “Thief” (Chief) Bode George graduated from a University of life recently and went to do his convocation in a church in Lagos. In my opinion, what Nigeria needs at this time is to build more University of life so that many Jambites (“Legislooters”) in the lower and upper legislative chambers and other government establishments/units will be able to get admission there so that Nigerians can experience true democracy. I am sorry to say, what is being practised in Nigeria at the moment is demoncracy. Anyway, that is another issue entirely.
    NG may have a good intention but has adopted a bad approach to the issue of migrating from the MRP to EP. Before I conclude this write-up, I would like to discuss how NG ought to have approached this issue. It is not too late, amendment is still possible. NG may want to learn a lesson from the USA and the Phillipines who are already migrating from MRP to EP. The below facts on MRP and EP were obtained on 25/03/11 from the U.S Department of State webpage containing the U.S Electronic passport frequently asked questions (see http://travel.state.gov/passport/passport_2788.html) :
    What is an Electronic Passport? An Electronic Passport is the same as a traditional passport with the addition of a small integrated circuit (or “chip”) embedded in the back cover.
    Can a previously issued passport still be used for travel as long as it is still valid? Yes. Previously issued passports that are still valid can be used for travel.
    Can a request be made for a new passport to be issued without a chip? No. Since August 2007, all domestic passport agencies and centers issue only e-passports.
    Phillipine is also using EP currently. The following facts about MRP and EP were obtained on 25/03/11 from the website of the embassy of the Phillipine in Norway (see: http://www.philembassy.no/consular-services/passport/philippine-epassport):
    What is an ePassport? An ePassport is a passport which features microchip technology.
    What other countries use ePassports? ePassports are already being used in more than 60 countries worldwide. (iii) I have a previously issued passport. Can I use it for travel as long as it is still valid? Yes. Previously issued passports (MRP and non-MRP) are valid until their expiry. (iv) Can existing holders of the maroon MRP simply surrender their passports and have them converted to an ePassport? As soon as the production of the ePassport comes into full swing, holders of MRPs can have their passport cancelled and apply for ePassport if they so wish.
    The facts above show that the introduction of EP by NG and NIS is not a unique achievement as more than 60 other countries are already doing so. However, what is unique about the EP introduction in Nigeria is that rather than using good approaches as done by the US and Phillipine governements, the NG and NIS decided to push the burden that no one (including ICAO) places on them on the innocent Nigerians.
    Let’s temporarily assume that NG and the NIS actions are legally correct and therefore the declaration that after 30 April 2011, the current MRP will no longer be a valid travel document, can one say that they are morally justified to stand by this declaration? Is it morally correct for a government who claims to have the interest of her citizens in mind to have allowed them to spend their resources to purchase and/or renew their passports and all of a sudden to turn around that such documents will no longer be valid without adequate compensation? Assuming that each passport was obtained at an average rate of 10,000Naira (official price does not really work in Nigeria). Let’s further assume that around 70 million citizens obtained their MRPs in 2005. Logically and legally, these documents are valid till 2015 but renewable at a reduced fee (say 5000 Naira) around 2009/2010. Common sense shows that the initial 10000 Naira purchase fee covers both the Document and the necessary endorsements in the document. Assuming that the document fee is 5000 Naira and endorsement is 5000Naira. It implies that 5000Naira is for the life span (10 years) of the document while 5000 naira is for the first 5 years endorsement and the renewal fee or the secondary endorsement which takes the document to its 10 years age is 5000 Naira. Let’s assume that these 70 million Citizens renew (up to 2015) their passports by the end of 2009 at 5000 Naira per MRP and suddenly, the same NG and NIS that collect these fees turn around to say that as from 30 April 2011, the documents will no longer be valid. They did not just stop there, they asked the same people to pay for new EPs. Assuming these people have enjoyed their passports and their first endorsements for the first 5 years, then it can be estimated that they have been cheated by the NG and NIS for the remaining 5 years to the tune of (2500 naira per MRP document plus 5000 naira per MRP renewal) multiply by 70 million. This yields 525 billion Naira. After the NG and NIS have collected this huge amount of Naira from these Nigerians, they (NG and NIS) turned around and asked these same of people to come and pay for another passport without any compensation. On top of that NG and NIS are putting pressure on us! It is amazing that Nigerians are so used to being exploited. I hope that Nigerians can see how the NG and NIS are helping themselves out. If the NG and the NIS feel that they no longer want the already issued MRPs which Nigerians paid for from their own purses, they can invalidate the existing MRPs honourably by reimbursing the current holders of such documents and issue the new EPs to them without a fee or if there is fee difference, it will be reasonable that the difference be offset by the Government or the Citizen as the case may be. It will amount to illegality and immorality of high order for the NG and NIS to declare a legally obtained document invalid without a just cause and necessary compensation. I hope the Nigerian Lawyers and various human right organizations will be excited to take up this case against the NG and the NIS on behalf of millions of Nigerians whoc have been exploited both home and abroad.
    Aside the financial implication of this issue on the citizens, does the NG and NIS think that they have made adequate provisions for the Nigerians most especially those abroad to acquire the new EPs on or before 30 April 2011 deadline? Will their consciences be clear before God and Man that they are justified to enforce the deadline pronouncement? To answer this question, we need to do a rough analysis of how far the programme have gone in different parts of the world. Let’s take the visit of the NIS officials to the Oceanian which includes places like Australia, New Zealand, Fiji Islands, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea etc towards the end of 2010 as a case study. Please take note that the Nigeria High Commission based in Canberra (Australia) oversees all these places. The NIS officials spent almost 80-90% of their time in Australia alone during the said visit. Yet there are Nigerians in all other parts of Oceanian who were not attended to. They managed to get to New Zealand and spent a few days only in Auckland, whereas there are many other Nigerians in places like Wellington, Christchurch etc. I learnt that they did not even attend to everyone in Auckland that they eventually visited. So, what becomes of Nigerians in Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu etc? Right now, another round of EP programme intervention should be going on in London. This does not mean that the people will receive their EPs before 30 April 2011. There are many other parts of the world where many Nigerians have not been attended to and the government who claims to be interested in the welfare of her citizens is publicizing a deadline which will make life bitter for its citizens around the world. Will NG and NIS be justified to invalidate the MRPs of many Nigerians around the world when they have not been able to provide the new EPs for them? One would have expected that around the world, the Nigerian high commissioners or the ambassadors would have sent strong messages to the NG that their citizens have not been taken care of. What is the job of an ambassador? Is it not to represent the interest of his/her country in a foreign land and look after the welfare of his/her citizen in those lands? If the NG goes ahead to stand by the 30 April 2011 MRP validity deadline, I will like to congratulate her in advance of a big loss that will befall the country call Nigeria. Many Nigerians leaving abroad many not really suffer much but the Nigeria as a country will surely suffer. At the moment, many Nigerians who reside in foreign countries are top noters in their professions. These people are either permanent residents or citizens of the respective countries of their abode which means they have passports or entitled to have passports of those countries. Many of these have no reason to come back to Nigeria if not for the love for their fatherland and occasional visits to their family members who are living in Nigeria. They are living fine where they are. Other ones are studying and at the same time well established but some of these people have yearnings in their hearts to return to Nigeria to contribute to the development of Nigeria. Let me give you a picture of what will happen if the NG goes ahead to stand by her 30 April 2011 MRP validity deadline. Some of these people will simply say good bye to Nigeria. When you need them, they will remind the NG that they were chased away from their country since you render their travel documents invalid. This is because many people right now can not renew their MRP and they don’t have new EPs. Another thing that will happen is that some of these professionals who are already citizens will just apply for a Nigerian visa and travel to Nigeria on foreign passport if they need to. How do you expect such people to joyfully decide to stay back in Nigeria? And we are singing of vision 2020? What vision? I learnt that the NIS says that Nigerians abroad will still be able to travel to Nigeria on their MRP after the 30 April 2011 but not the other way round. That argument appears to be fine but it is weak. What of a Nigerian whose MRP is still officially current till say 1 June 2011 but needs to be renewed. How can such fellow travel to Nigeria on such passport after 1 June 2011? Do you think such frustrated people will have the desire to come back to the same system that makes life bitter for them? I think the NG and NIS should think twice and retrace their steps.
    In conclusion, I recommend the following procedures for the NG and NIS regarding the migration from the MRP to EP:
    The NG and NIS should immediately declare that all existing MRP is valid till the end of their 10 years life span. This means that all embassies and high commissions should be directed to be renewing the renewable MRPs up to their maximum life span of these documents. Citizens should not be forced to part with their currently valid MRP which they paid heavily for. However, they can let it go and obtain the new EP but it should be their choice not as result of compulsion.
    Having taken recommendation (i) into consideration, NIS should issue EP only to new applicants. However, in places where there are no facilities to issue new EPs at the moment and there is no immediate EP intervention, the applicants should be issued with the available MRP which should be allowed to run its normal course (10 years).
    The NG and NIS should calculate the difference in fees and the make adequate compensation to everyone that has been forced to obtain EPs when their MRPs are still valid.
    If they (NG and NIS) want to go ahead with 30 April 2011 deadline, they should ensure that everyone whose MRP would normally be valid beyond 30 April 2011 is provided with EPs to replace their existing MRP. The difference in fees should be calculated and the difference should be paid by the FG or the applicant. I hope the NG and NIS will not suddenly increase the cost of EP so as to methodically pass the burden of paying the difference in fees on the applicants as they consider the above recommendations.
    If the NG and NIS are incapable of providing EPs and required compensations for all who are qualified on or before their proposed deadline, then they have no moral or legal right to enforce that deadline. However, if they go ahead to do as they wish, it may be that they are inviting long legal troubles for themselves.

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