The scarcity of Nigerian passports at immigration offices nationwide has worsened with resultant hardship for citizens intending to procure the document for overseas travel.
A source close to the passport office who craved anonymity told BusinessDay that Nigerian international passports are currently scarce because the immigration service owes its foreign technical partners huge debts running into billions of naira.
“We are at the mercy of these technical partners who have refused to produce and print out the passports booklets because the government owes them. They have insisted that until the government pays its debt, they will not produce passports for Nigeria.”
BusinessDay checks show that the passport booklets are presently being produced by Iris Smart Technology Nigeria (ISTL) through its parent company, Iris Corporation, based in Malaysia.
A company in Netherlands is responsible for the bio-metrics and security details inserted into the passports, while a South African firm provides the ink used for the printing done on the passports.
The source explained that last year, the government had promised to explore local production as part of plans to save cost and ease the lingering scarcity of the document but has failed to execute same.
He added that with the scarcity, government may not be able to realise its set target for revenue generation as it did last year.
For two months now, Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) has been unable to issue passports nationwide.
BusinessDay gathered that two days ago, a new batch of passports were provided at Ikoyi office but they likely will be exhausted by today.
Recall that Sunday James, spokesperson for the Nigeria Immigration Service, last year said Abdulrahman Dambazau, the Minister of Interior, had directed for the domestication of the production of the passport booklets.
Dambazau said he had set up a committee, headed by the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Immigration Service, to look into the local production of the document and resolve the challenge posed by its scarcity.
He said the committee was also charged with the responsibility of exploring ways of starting the local production of the passport booklets, in view of the numerous advantages.
A visit to passport offices in the Ikoyi and Festac suburbs of Lagos showed applicants on a long queue for passports.
One of the applicants who identified herself as Mary said she had been coming to Ikoyi for the past two months and the immigration officers kept saying the passports are currently scarce.
“I was supposed to travel to England last week but I was unable to travel because I have not been issued my passport. It took me over two weeks to get captured and now it is taking me another one month and a week to get my passport. This is so frustrating and I wish the government can quickly look into this and help us,” Mary said.
Another applicant who identified himself as Ifeanyi said his three children were supposed to go for vacation in the United States but couldn’t because their passports were not ready 5 weeks after applying.
BusinessDay observed that touts are using the passport scarcity as an opportunity to exploit applicants by collecting as much as N20, 000 to N25, 000 from ignorant Nigerians who are desperate to get their passports.
A source at the office also told Business that Nigerians who reside outside the country have had to reschedule their flights in order to secure their passports.
While NIS still provides revenue for the government by collecting passport fees from people, they have failed to provide services to the people paying for it.
BusinessDay calculates that Nigeria through the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) is paying over N24 billion to Malaysia, Netherlands and South African based firms for production of its international passports.
For Lagos state, on a daily basis, Ikoyi which issues the highest amount of passport, gives out an average of 800passports but has over 1000 as demand while Festac and Ikeja issue 1000 passports daily with over 1,400 demanded.
Abuja issues out an average of 500passports daily, with over 800 demands. Kano, Asaba, Ogun and Ibadan which also ranks top in demand for passports issue out 500 passports altogether with almost 1000 demanded.
Other states in Nigeria issue out an average of 2,000 passports daily with over 3,000 demanded.
This implies that on a daily basis, passport offices across Nigeria issue out nothing less than 4,800 passports daily.
BusinessDay’s checks show that for five working days in a year, passport offices across Nigeria issue out about 1,248,000 passports.
Government spends about N19, 500 for the production of one passport.
Last year, the NIS generated N38 billion as revenue locally. Sources close to NIS said the government can earn more than this amount if it produces passports locally.