The corruption in the Nigerian Immigration Service is one that has been overlooked over the years. Given that corruption is now “normal” in our society, the ones perpetuated by officials of the Immigration Service is mind-bugling and wicked. I work in an oil servicing firm in Port Harcourt and I travel a lot. One of the documents that allows one travel that much is an International Passport. The company I now work for had just requested I submit a duplicate copy of my international passport and other documents that could allow me travel especially onboard vessels across countries. This was prior to my employment in the company. With much struggle and perseverance, I managed to scrap out some money and made other documents. When it was time for the passport, a much harder struggle began.
Before my application for an International Passport, I had made inquiries about the cost because at the time, money was an issue for me. The feedbacks I got were not concrete enough so I had to approach the office of the Nigeria Immigration Service at the Federal Secretariat in Port Harcourt. It was on a Tuesday morning and I got there early enough so I can be quickly attended to. Funny enough by the time I arrived, the office was already flooded with Passport seekers; some were seated, some were on a queue. I quickly joined the queue and asked the person before me how things were going; why the queue, how long they’ve been there, and the price of the passport. It was the answer to my last question that startled me.
“Ah! You never ask? It depends on how quick you wan get am o,” the lady said to me.
“You mean I can’t get it today? And if so, why?” I asked surprised. “If you want it today, you’ll pay N35,000 or more; the more money you pay the quicker you get it done. I paid N35,000 and in about two to three hours’ time, mine should be out,” the lady clarified since I looked astonished. After allowing her statement sink in, I asked what the official price was, and not wanting to talk any further, she just pointed to the wall on my right. On the wall, the prices of passports were clearly spelt out and none of the categories was even up to N20,000. This raised some unease and curiosity in me. I wanted an explanation and since I wasn’t getting enough standing on the queue, I approached an immigration officer who, since my arrival, had been pacing up and down carrying files from one office to another. As he got close to me, I waved “Excuse me sir! Can I ask you a few questions?” and he stopped. “What can I do for you?” he asked. “Ermm it’s about the price of passport. I want know much it costs. The lady here said it’s N35,000 meanwhile on the notice there, I see a different amount. Why is that?” I asked surreptitiously. Instead of providing me with a matter-of-fact answer, he beckoned me to a corner in the hall.
“When would you like to get it?”
“Can’t it be done and given to me today?” I inquired.
“It can, but … er … it depends. If you want follow the process, it is N8,500 and you have to go the bank and pay. Even if you do that, you won’t get it until we decide to give it to you. It may be in a month, four months, six months or a year. So as a ‘guy man’ just arrange me like 40k to facilitate it and you can get it, even before some people on the queue.” When I probed further, the officer said those on the queue were ones that paid N35,000 or more, whose passports would be ready in few hours, and others seated are people who applied for passports weeks, months, even years earlier and were there to see if theirs were ready or not. And most likely, they weren’t going to get it that day. I was astonished at the money these Immigration officers were making at the expense of “innocent” Nigerians. I later learnt that some people pay as much as N80,000. I stood there, without N35,000 to pay, without the energy to argue, with plenty of thoughts about how to miss an employment opportunity because I couldn’t afford extra money to bribe an immigration officer to “facilitate” my passport. The officer looked at me, wondered why I suddenly became silent and continued his pacing about. While I was there, I got a text message from my company asking me to come with all my documents for verification in three days’ time. And miraculously, almost at that instant, I got a call from someone who called and asked me to come get some money. I went to get the money, came back the next day, paid for the passport; not N35,000 but N41,000 because I needed it urgently. The officer blatantly told me it has to be 41k because I had “wasted” his time the previous day.
After all these, I sulked; not for the officer, but for myself and others who could not do anything; these guys determined whether we had passports or not. In my search for more answers I got to know that this trend has been on for years and virtually all officers of Nigerian Immigration Service are involved.
I am a Nigerian and this is my corruption story.