It gives me great pleasure to be here and be part of this pathbreaking event, the commissioning of the Alimosho Passport Front Desk Office.
Earlier today, I commissioned the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) Command Headquarters for Lagos at Ikoyi. This is one of the innumerable developmental strides the Ministry of Interior has undertaken in recent time, under the President Muhammadu Buhari Administration.
The Ministry has ensured equitable distribution of resources and development programmes among the four paramilitary agencies within its purview. As we speak, massive infrastructural renewal is on-going at the NIS, Federal Fire Service (FFS), Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC).
Likewise, human capital development and capacity building are ongoing in all the training institutes for our officers and men, to enhance their capacity for service delivery.
The NIS in recent past has witnessed landmark reforms in its visa policy, Automated Passport issuance process which has eliminated touts and racketeers in Passport administration, introduction of E-border Management, MIDAS and the commencement of E-Passport across Passport Control Offices and Diplomatic Missions.
Since my appointment as Minister, we have commissioned 17 new Command structures across the country for the NIS, with the Lagos Command being the 18th. The resolve of President Muhammad Buhari’s Administration to ensure that our borders are further secured has led to the creation of new and upgrading of Border Control Formations to full-fledged Commands. New Forward Operations Base (FOB) are created to ensure that the needed support system is available to ensure their seamless operation.
We are also committed to expanding our Passport Issuance operations to bridge the shortage gap we face usually in urban centres like Lagos. It is this need that gave birth to the Alimosho Front Desk Office to ease the ever-increasing pressure on the three existing Passport Control Offices domiciled in Lagos. We promise to speed up the expansion process in spite of the challenge of limited resources.
It is important for us to understand what the front desk office is. It is not an express centre. It is also not a full fledged passport office like the ones in Ikoyi, Alausa and FESTAC.
However, a front office is where application will be made and biometric data of the applicant will be collected. It is a non-judgemental centre, meaning that no decision will be made here, no passport will be produced here and no further processing will be done here, but the application and biometric data of the applicants will be collected and forwarded to the NIS for processing and issuing.
We certainly need more of this in Lagos. This is because half of all passport applications are made in Lagos. At no time are less than 100,000 applicants from Lagos on the NIS portal applying for passports. We will therefore need not less than 15 of these front offices in Lagos alone, to be able to cut the application waiting period to one week.
But due to funding challenge, the government may not be able to provide these desk offices. We will therefore need private partners that will provide the lounge. Their only involvement will be to provide the space. The offices will still be manned by NIS personnel. Having these offices will remove the bottlenecks that lead to exploitation and eliminate all the challenges we face in urban centres where applications are unusually high.
In the recent past, we have faced many challenges over passport administration. The first was the Covid-19 pandemic. During that period, our production facilities were affected due to restrictions on movement, leading to the build-up of arrears. There were also supressed demands. These are demands that could not be placed by Nigerians who needed them during the pandemic. The arrears and the suppressed demands came up later, putting unprecedented pressure on our production capability.
Since then, applications have been increasing every year at unprecedented rate, due to the tendency of many Nigerians to wanting to travel outside the country and those who want to use it as means of identification.
Then there is ‘panic buying’ effect from those who wanted to obtain the passport because they heard some people (who probably went through touts) had difficulty obtaining theirs.
But we have increased our capacity. Last year (2022), we produced 1.9 million passports, against the 1 million produced in 2021. This is about 80 per cent increase and it is unprecedented.
In spite of the challenges we faced, the NIS have worked hard to cope with the demands. What we are doing today is part of the strategy for making passport administration a seamless exercise and remove any hardship Nigerians face in obtaining their passports.
Let me reiterate my appeal to applicants to apply by themselves on the NIS portal and not patronise touts and unscrupulous officials. Those who engage middlemen are actually sabotaging our efforts at bringing sanity and transparency into passport administration.
These middlemen inflate the cost and constitute hinderance that often haunt those who patronise them, leading to anguish and disappointment.
Those who have challenges with the online application system should seek the assistance of trusted persons – friends and relations – who are not out to exploit them, and not crooked persons posing as ‘consultants’ out to fleece them of their money and peace of mind.
I must thank and commend President Muhammadu Buhari for his continued support for our Ministry and the four agencies, which has enabled us to reposition them as cutting edge instruments for engendering internal security and service delivery.
I must not fail to commend the Acting Controller General of the NIS, Idris Jere, and through him, the officers and men of the service, for their hard work, diligence and sacrifice, in manning our borders through thick and thin and for their cooperation over the innovations and reforms we are carrying out at NIS.
I will like thank the government and the good people of Lagos State, particularly my brother the governor, His Excellency Babajide Sanwo Olu, for the accommodation, generous assistance and kind disposition to all our agencies in the state.
As we hand over the keys of this new edifice to the Command Comptroller, we expect that premium will be placed on good maintenance and judicious use of this structure. The lifespan of every infrastructure is directly tethered to the quality of its maintenance. It goes without saying therefore that you will establish a maintenance culture that will be sustained even after your tenure.
I thank the good people of Alimosho for warmly welcoming us to your domain.
I thank you all for your attention.Ogbeni Rauf Adesoji Aregbesola, Minister of Interior, delivered this keynote address at the commissioning of the Alimoso Passport Front Desk Office in Akowonjo