Friday, December 1, 2023


INTERVIEW: Annual passport issuance was 700k before COVID — but now 2m, says immigration comptroller

INTERVIEW: Annual passport issuance was 700k before COVID — but now 2m, says immigration comptroller
October 02
13:35 2023

Tony Akuneme is the comptroller of the federal capital territory (FCT) command of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) and also the special adviser to Caroline Adepoju, the acting comptroller-general of the service.

In this interview with TheCable’s YEKEEN AKINWALE and UTHMAN SAMAD, Akuneme said the service has recorded more applications than before which is responsible for the dearth of passport booklets. 

TheCable: The minister of interior recently gave a charge to all the agencies under his ministry to walk the talk. How is immigration responding to this charge?

Tony Akuneme, comptroller of the FCT command of the NIS


Akuneme: The charge is not really new, because the acting comptroller-general just resumed barely two months ago.  She also charged the comptrollers that she was going to declare a state-of-emergency in passport issues, which she did, and since then we have seen visible differences in passport reforms – the ongoing reforms. She has changed all the passport comptrollers in the 36 states. 


Before now, they were assistant comptrollers; but now, she has made them deputy comptrollers one step higher and that comes with higher responsibility. She wants to be sure that all the people heading passport offices are officers of high integrity.

What that means is that it will translate into quicker outcomes and quicker response time for passport issuance across the board. 

You will also agree with me that in the last month or two, we have almost eradicated the issue of delays in passport issuance across the country. One of the few places where we still have complaints is Lagos and that is peculiar because of the nature and size of the population.


Right now, we have four passport offices in Lagos. There is no state like that and it is still not enough. The comptroller-general and, by extension, the minister are working to increase the passport offices in Lagos state. When that is done, the complaints from Nigerians about passport issues will become a thing of the past.

It may interest you to know that in states like Nasarawa, for instance, you can get your passport in less than three weeks. The same thing in Kogi, Owerri, Enugu and Zamfara. While you have like 500 people in one of the centres in Lagos daily, you are having 20 people per day in Zamfara. Lagos is a cosmopolitan centre and even your relations in Imo state are still transporting themselves to Lagos to go and get a passport when there are passport offices in Owerri. 

A lot of people have this feeling and mentality that it is the one issued in Lagos that the embassy will give visas faster or recognise.

TheCable: Is there no awareness about the existence of passport offices across the states?


Akuneme.  I’ll be surprised if they don’t know or it will be a function of my agent saying I should come to Lagos. Half of the time, it is the agents that people use. Not just people from the village, even elitist people still use agents to get passports.

Tony Akuneme, comptroller of the FCT command of the NIS

We are fighting hard to create awareness that you don’t need a third party to do the current e-passport. The apps are user-friendly. You can do it on your phone. You can start and finish the application process on your phone from the comfort of your house or office. 

So, part of the problem we have is the awareness, which we are doing so much to create, that people don’t need third parties to apply for the e-passport.


Part of the delays we are having in passport issues is that when a third party fills a form for you, he probably does not use your phone number for instance as a contact. He probably does not use your email; he doesn’t bother to ask, not that you don’t have. 

The irony again is that he doesn’t even use his own for fear of duplicating his contact with several people he helps to fill out the form. So, he now elects or imports a number that does not exist or a SIM card that is no longer in use to fill the form. 


Peradventure, we need to contact you and most times, we need to contact people if there is any irregularity or your NIN does not match the passport information you have supplied in your forms. We will need to see you because the new single identity that the federal government is preaching means that your BVN, NIN, passport, and everything must be the same.

TheCable:  It is obvious that agents are part of the bottlenecks. What is immigration doing to get them out of the system?


Akuneme: You will be surprised that most of these agents are not the touts we used to see at Ikeja, BWD passport office years back. These people have migrated to consultancy. So, if you see a man driving in an SUV, well-suited in a Giorgio Armani suit, are you going to stop him? He is coming with a family, are you going to ask if they are his wife and children? No. So, the kind of agents we are contending with are 21st-century agents who don’t come as touts anymore. They come as consultants. They even charge people as high as N200k per passport, but passports are N25k officially. Nigerians still want to pay a lawyer to get a passport for them.


How are you going to stop them? You cannot direct security to screen or profile people; it is not democratic. 

You are trampling on their freedom of association or rights. But all we want to do is to increase this awareness, this sensitisation, so that you will help tell the people that you don’t need anybody. You don’t need to pay anybody really. Somebody can help fill your forms or guide you, but don’t pay somebody to fill your forms if you really have to use somebody like an agent.

I mean it is allowed all over the world to use a representative to file your application so ensure that it is your information that is input so that when we need to see you or reach you it is easy. If you see 080300000, it is nobody’s number.

TheCable: For record purposes, what is the maximum number of days it will take for one to apply, process and get the passport ready? What is the official amount?

Akuneme: It has always been three weeks if you are renewing your passport and six weeks if you are a fresh applicant. 

This has always been a benchmark, but there are exceptions. As I said, we cannot produce the enhanced e-passport if your NIN information does not synchronise with the passport information. The production system will come to a halt. 

Your name is Yekeen Akinwale. Assuming it is Yekeen Akinwale in the old passport or in the new passport information and in your NIN, Akinwale comes before Yekeen, it is no longer the same person as far as the Nigerian government is concerned.

I had a lawyer who was challenging us to say how Yekeen Akinwale and Akinwale Yekeen are not the same person, and he meant it. 

He also said if your name is Bob and Robert or Tony and Anthony, legally it is not the same person. But the lawyer said it is the same. It is his identity and I should use it like that. But the system will not allow us to use it. Tony and Anthony, Alex and Alexander are not the same. The famous Evans, who was a senate president, won the case — just one ‘S’. Evans and Evan and he said it wasn’t him and he won the case some years ago. 

The issue of identity, we are taking it seriously. The federal government is taking it very seriously. We are at a stage where we are asking Nigerians to verify their NIN information before they come to the immigration office, so they don’t keep thinking it is immigration that is delaying their passport. In actual fact, your NIN information and passport information do not synchronise and we cannot issue a passport. You have to go back and rectify that.

TheCable: The shortage of passport booklets has always been an issue and what we understand is that Nigeria does not print or produce booklets. What exactly is the true situation of things?

Tony Akuneme, comptroller of the FCT command of the NIS

As far as I’m concerned, this shortage of booklet thing is something that happened in the last millennium. 

It was over 20 years ago that we had those issues. Nigerians confuse a shortage of booklets with an increase or upsurge in the number of applicants. You need to separate these two, especially after COVID. 

In 2019 and 2020, we were issuing 700,000 passports a year. After COVID, between 2021 and 2022, we issued 1,700,000 passports. That is almost double the previous amount. 

Between 2022 and now, we have issued 1.9 million passports. So, that is between 700k to almost 2 million in a space of two years. As I said, COVID was an issue because you will appreciate that a lot of the Western countries lost human resources and their population during COVID. 

So, post-COVID, most of them like the UK and Canada sent recruiters to Nigeria to shop for people to work for them. They lowered their visa requirements, allowing people to bring their families.

They organised workshops and webinars where people like doctors and nurses could get recruited in America, Canada and the UK. So, the passport requests tripled after COVID. 

If we had 500,000 or 700,000 booklets waiting for people and they were 1.7 million, there would be pressure; there would be delays. We didn’t recruit new people; we didn’t buy new machines; we didn’t anticipate it after COVID. 

Even if you order new machines, they will take time to come and we will fix them, and train the officers. What I’m trying to say is that there is an upsurge in the number of applicants and not a scarcity of booklets. That is what Nigerians mistake as a scarcity of booklets. It is because now we are dealing with a higher number than we estimated. The problem is not scarcity. It has never been scarcity. The last time I heard about the scarcity of booklets was when we were using the machine-readable passport (MRP). 

Since the advent of the e-passport in 2019, thereabout, we have had excess booklets. The people who supply the booklets print with their own money. So, why should there be scarcity? 

TheCable: What about the printing of the e-passport now?

Tony Akuneme, comptroller of the FCT command of the NIS

Akuneme: The issue of printing abroad, when the e-passport was introduced, Nigeria didn’t have the mechanism. We couldn’t find places where we could print the booklets easily, not even the mint. So, most countries, including America, Norway, and Japan outsourced the printing of their electronic passports to places where they could get a better bargain. It is not peculiar to Nigeria. But thankfully, former President Muhammadu Buhari approved the domestication of the printing of the passports. The process is ongoing. We have to set up machinery and all that; so, that has been taken care of.

TheCable: In recent times, operatives of the Immigration have come under attack in the north-west, Sokoto and I think in Kebbi too. They are being attacked by bandits. What are the measures you are putting in place to ensure that the people who are doing this critical assignment are protected? 

Akuneme: The comptroller general, Caroline Wurola Adepoju, has embarked on tours of border communities and border states since she assumed office. 

We have been to Akwa Ibom, Lagos, and Sokoto and the idea is to visit those border communities where our officers are working, to motivate them and to see things for ourselves — things they need, the logistics and welfare.

She has also used the opportunity to interact with the governors in each of the states she visited to request assistance because it is not as if immigration can provide all the logistics they need. 

So, we are requesting help from state governments and they are actually supporting us in terms of vehicles, equipment, utilities, firearms and all that. Now, the issue with the bandits is that their bullets don’t know if you are immigration or army; it doesn’t select. Border security is not any agency’s prerogative. We are contributing men and materials to the joint task forces across the board.

All the JTF formations across the country have immigration components because we cannot do it alone. As I said, service under the present leadership is committed to staff welfare. 

When we were in Sokoto the other day, we went to the hospital to see four officers who were attacked and escaped the ambush, and two were killed unfortunately. The four that survived were still in the hospital when we went to the teaching hospital in Sokoto. 

The comptroller-general encouraged them and told them not to worry. All their bills will be paid by the service. We also visited their families and all that. So, the motivation is there. The service has insurance schemes. Their families are being compensated accordingly.

TheCable: Some of your officers are also involved in passport racketeering. If you want to do some corrections on your passport, they ask for money as much as N280k. Have there been cases where some of them were apprehended and made to face the music?

Akuneme: Yes. We are not pretending that we are all angels in immigration. It is still Nigeria immigration; it is still part of the country, the system and part of the culture we have. We are looking forward to a better situation, a better society. We are working hard and we are willing to be part of a better society where there will be no more corruption.

We are not pretending to exist in isolation from the things that surround us. The point is that a greater majority of immigration officers in this current dispensation are committed to delivering service. But there are still bad eggs and we are not relenting. 

The comptroller-general has not shied away or rested on her oars from making it one of her cardinal points, that if you are caught, you will face the law. The only frustrating part is that you will be surprised to know that if we catch you in that corrupt act, she cannot dismiss you. This is what she would have loved to do, but the law says send them on trial, set up an orderly room trial if it is a junior officer.

If it is a senior officer, go to the board. There is a correctional immigration and civil defence board that disciplines senior officers. So, there is a long, torturous, snail-speed process for disciplining even somebody you caught red-handed.

So, you would be surprised that if I extorted you, you could still see me in uniform, I’m still coming to work and you have petitioned the right office but it is taking six months to one year. That is the frustration we have; the system has to follow the law. 

We are working hard to ensure that officers are brought to speed as per the level of standard or global practice that is expected of them. But if it is about whether there are some corrupt officers, yes of course, but they are not in the majority for sure. A great number of officers are working hard, like these young people, beyond working hours. It is almost 6 pm and we just finished a management meeting and they are still in uniform. They are not sure when they will get home. 

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