By Odita Sunday
The newly introduced 64-page electronic international passport holds a lot of promise, with frequent travellers having more room to pursue their legitimate businesses. However, President Goodluck Jonathan has asked the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) to make it easier for Nigerians at home and abroad to procure it, ODITA SUNDAY reports.
Frequent travellers can now heave a huge sigh of relief, following the recent unveiling of the new 64-page international e-passport.
While President Goodluck Jonathan commended the initiative, he also told his audience during the launch in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) that the country would be in trouble if criminals could easily make fake copies of the Nigerian passport. Besides, the President expressed concern over the procurement process, which he argued, should no longer be stressful for the average Nigerian.
His words: "When I travel, there is this complaint about how to get the Nigerian passport. The Ministry (of Interior) must look into this. What affects every traveller is how efficient and committed our immigration officers work at our airports. Visitors who come into the country have different impressions about our immigration officers, so they must improve. They are the image of this country. How they handle visitors matters so much. If they conduct themselves poorly, it reflects on all of us, so their conduct at the airports is key, besides the passport."
He continued: "The issue of the country's image is what we should all work for, both people in government, the media and the civil society. I always say that when people continue to paint their country with all kinds of colours, that is the way they will associate those colours with your green passport. I want a situation where, whenever you travel to another country and you raise your green passport, people will appreciate you and not that, when you raise your green passport, people will begin to think that that green passport signifies some suspicious character. We are not helping ourselves when we paint ourselves in the colour that we are not supposed to bear."
The Minister of Interior, Mr. Abba Moro lauded Jonathan for what he described as his (Jonathan's) untiring efforts towards the successful implementation of policies and programmes of the Ministry and the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS).
He said: "The ease with which our citizens at home and in the Diaspora can obtain their Nigerian Passports, across several issuing centers in Nigeria, 27 missions abroad, and through the on-going e-Passport Intervention Exercise, is a clear demonstration of government's deliberate commitment towards entrenching seamless service delivery to Nigerians wherever they are found.
"I thank our Service Providers and technical partners, who have been working assiduously in close collaboration with the Nigeria Immigration Service to sustain the e-passport technology since it was adopted in Nigeria in July, 2007."
Moro added that the introduction of the 64-page e-passport was a demand-driven initiative to meet the needs of frequent Nigerian travelers. He explained that based on some recommendations arising from the operational experiences of the NIS, his ministry recently approved some reforms. The fundamental rationale behind the reforms, he stated, was to enhance the integrity of Nigerian travel documents and the image of the Nigerian travelers anywhere in the world.
"Appropriate strategies are being put in place to sensitize members of the public on the new e-passport reforms, to enable full implementation after this official launch by Mr. President," the minister said.
Since change is the only constant thing in life, Comptroller General of the NIS, Mr. David Shikfu Parradang and his officers manning the Passports Offices have urged Nigerians to be patient and embrace the new regime.
When the e-passport was introduced 2007 by the former Comptroller General, Chukwura Udeh, Nigeria became the pioneer country in Africa and the 50th in the world adopt the use of the electronic passport with enhanced security features.
The reform took effect on August 1, 2014 with Parradang urging Nigerians to comply with the rules and cooperate with immigration officials to make it work.
According to a statement by Parradang before the launch, the new 64-page e-passport for frequent travellers would cost N20, 000, while passports for persons between18 and 60 years would cost N15, 000. Individuals below 18 years and above 60 years can obtain their e - passports for N8, 750.
The federal government also approved N20,000 as the cost for change of data/lost passport.
Similarly, change of name due to marriage, divorce or death of spouse would cost N8,750, while change of data on request would attract N30, 000 as processing fees.
"I assure you that our reforms will present our passport in such a way that everybody will respect us globally," Parradang had said before the launch.
A Passport Control Officer (PCO) in charge of the Alausa Passport office, Mr. Joshua Ajisafe listed the advantages of the reform to include gender friendliness and care for both the young and the aged.
He said: "The reform also accommodates frequent travellers, forestalls identity theft and conforms to international best practice."
Parradang has also reportedly gained the trust of immigration officers through his leadership style. Before his assumption of office, the NIS Border Patrol Corps did not exist. He saw the need for it and commissioned 1,000 officers for training at the Immigration Training College, Kano. The officers have since been deployed to dozens of recognized borders and illegal routes across the country, after a one-month rigorous training. The development marked the rebirth of parade and para-military drills, which were almost dead in the NIS.
The Immigration High Command believes that the corps members would help reduce the influx of illegal aliens into the country and act as a check against terror elements at the borders.
Speaking at the passing out parade then, Parradang urged the officers to be patriotic and show total diligence in their service to fatherland. His words: "We condemn terror anywhere in its entirety and the Nigeria Immigration Service is resolute to contribute towards fighting this heinous crime through the instrumentality of its mandate.
"Almost a year ago, I did announce a four-point reform agenda to serve as guide posts for the envisioned repositioning of the NIS."
The four-point agenda includes: Revitalized and retooled border patrol; Internal Monitoring and Control; Use of ICT for better service delivery, and Total Immigration Officer.
The introduction of the Machine Readable Embarkation and Disembarkation Card at all international in airports Nigeria is being regarded as another feat recorded by the Parradang - led management.
Parradang had noted that the card was a product of long standing collaborative efforts of major stakeholders, such as the National Bureau of Statistics, the National Population Commission and the National Planning Commission to streamline the duty of the immigration officers. The move would facilitate the sharing of vital information among the stakeholders and security agencies at the nation's gateways.
A top immigration officer said that the digitalized arrival and departure card "is in part a response to emerging threats to national security as well as a necessity in tandem with global best practices, which will provide other agencies accessible data generated by the use of the cards and therefore, help in inter-agency collaboration and synergy.
"The card is designed to be machine readable, thus enhancing easy collection of data and its analysis which is crucial to our operations. It also allows for immediate and simultaneous scanning of passenger's passport and arrival/departure cards, which will be transferred directly into a central data bank.
"This implies that all relevant information relating to a passenger will be automatically captured in the machine at the point of arrival or departure. It equally ensures easy sharing of information and data among different stakeholders. This project is a product of long- standing collaborative efforts of major stakeholders involved in collection, analysis and usage of arrival and departure data".
He added: "The movement of people across international boundaries is an important feature of today's global, political, social and economic life. Over the past few years, the number of international migrants has doubled. There are multiple reasons for this, including the collapse of long-standing political barriers to movement, the development of worldwide communication systems, relative affordability of modern means of transport and a host of others. Consequently, migrant flow today is more diverse and complex than in previous era.
"Just as migration is becoming more complex, so are the threats and challenges, which they pose to the security of every nation. Thus the present innovation of having a digitalized arrival and departure card is in part a response to emerging threats to national security and the necessity to be in tandem with global best practices."
Also, since Parradang assumed office, hundreds of immigration officers who had remained stagnant over the years were promoted.
In an interview with The Guardian, Parradang said: "For any system to work, you may have the best machines, you may as well have all the money in the world, but it is the human beings that will do the work.
"I am of the school of management that believes that the man at the centre is the most important factor of production. If there is enough motivation of your officers, you will get the best out of them. Training and retraining of officers and their welfare are uppermost in my mind.
"We have trained a lot of our officers both at home and abroad. There is this multipurpose cooperative society we have set up to cater for officers' welfare. We have promoted many officers in order to motivate them. But don't forget that dealing with human beings is a carrot and stick game. So, those who are not supposed to be promoted, but had bribed their ways out are spotted and dismissed from the service. People that have disciplinary issues are treated firmly. People who entered with forged certificates are investigated and thrown out of the service."
Under him, the NIS has now opened 14 more Passport Offices in different countries. There are plans to open more Passports Offices in Nigeria.