Immigration, NIMC’s extortion of Nigerians

THERE are concerning reports that since the Federal Government made the National Identity Number (NIN) sine qua non for consummation of virtually all  transactions in the country, the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) has become a cesspit of corruption. It is even more worrying now that  allegations abound that aberrant staffers of the NIMC and those of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) are acting in cahoots to fleece innocent Nigerians. The victims of this extortionist ring  are said to be Nigerians seeking  to obtain new passports or renew the expired ones, and those who need to obtain NIN or have one or more discrepancies to correct in their records with the NIMC. The process of application for these services is reportedly riddled with corruption.  In plain language,  the bureaucracy around the process of NIN is being exploited by some unscrupulous officials of these two important public agencies to extort various sums of money from their compatriots.

Pray, what is so big or complicated in keeping records that applicants have to be swindled just because they try to access data keeping and retrieval services from public institutions that have such mandate? Why should the presence of the NIMC in the NIS office in Abuja, which was   ostensibly meant to reduce the hassles applicants for new passports or re-issuance go through, suddenly become an avenue for facilitation of sleaze? Sadly, it turns out that the presence of NIN at the headquarters of the NMIC in Abuja has inadvertently provided an opportunity for the aberrant officials of the two agencies to collaborate and  engage in massive extortion of innocent passport applicants in their offices, even though the original objective was to make application for passports and re-issuance seamless. The same services that few people reportedly receive  from NIS and NIMC within 24 hours, the majority  others don’t get until after three or more weeks,  and the only difference in circumstances between the two categories of people is that while the former  yields to alleged bribe requests by the officials, the latter do not.

The situation at the headquarters of the NIMC is reportedly getting chaotic and frustrating. It is true that many who seek to travel abroad can be really desperate about obtaining relevant documents to facilitate the execution of their travel plans, but that is no justification for officials of public institutions to capitalise on it to extort innocent citizens recklessly. The impression in some quarters that everyone applying for passport to travel abroad is comfortable or even rich is erroneous. The majority of Nigerians attempting to go overseas are doing so to seek greener pastures. If the condition in the country was clement and  economic opportunities were readily available, many would not have considered leaving their country for another, where they would most probably be treated as  second class citizens. It is rather unfortunate that the relevant authorities are pretending that all is well, instead of  intervening to provide leadership and stop the aberration going on in the two organisations. Perhaps the authorities  are, as usual, vacillating and waiting for the current subdued expression of grievances and  resentment about the untoward activities to snowball into an open, organised and embarrassing protest by passport applicants before running from pillar to post to arrest a situation they should have nipped in the bud.

The unenviable situation at the NIMC and NIS eloquently underscores the need for the government to rejig its anti-graft war by placing more emphasis on preventing corruption rather than the current disproportionate focus on  catching and sanctioning culprits. The civil service is endemically corrupt, even though the searchlight is usually beamed on the political office-holders who, ironically, can hardly perpetrate any form of official  corruption without the active connivance of civil servants. The fight against official corruption should, therefore, embody a robust mechanism for prevention and early detection. If that were in place, the syndicate at the NIMC and NIS would not be having a field day as is the case now. To be sure, the illegalities being reported in the NIMC and NIS are not peculiar to them. Other governmental institutions whose mandates involve regular  interface with members of the public are also replete with similar  illegalities.  It is so terrible that, sometimes, one wonders what kind of leaders supervise these errant civil servants and the manner of leadership they are providing.

This, certainly, is not the time to subject  citizens to any form of avoidable anguish;  there is a lot  on the plate of the average Nigerian already and any orchestration by public officials of further asperity will amount to gross insensitivity and wickedness. We urge the supervisory authorities to quickly brace up to the demands of their offices, prevail on the staff of NIMC and NIS to stop the sharp practices allegedly being perpetrated in the two agencies, and ensure that the perpetrators are  punished.

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