The Senate, Wednesday, mandated the Committees on Interior and Foreign Affairs to engage the Ministers of both the Interior and Foreign Affairs Ministries, the Comptroller General of immigration, and Ambassadors and Consular Officers on the need to immediately introduce measures to make it easy for Nigerians abroad to renew their passports.
The decision was reached amidst resolutions of the upper chamber after a motion titled: “Urgent need to remove the difficulty faced by Nigerians outside of the shores of Nigeria in renewing their Passport” was considered during plenary.
Sponsor of the motion, Senator Matthew Urhoghide (PDP, Edo South), noted with utmost concern the hardships faced by Nigerians in renewing their travel passport documents outside the shores of Nigeria.
According to the lawmaker, citizens worst hit by these unacceptable hardships are Nigerians in the United States of America, Canada, Italy, the UK and Austria.
Urhoghide noted that in the United States of America for example, there are only four centers (one in each of four states) where Nigerians can renew their passports.
The Centres are: Washington DC; Atlanta; New York, and California.
He lamented that, “only four centers serve the whole of the United States is enough problem in itself until we have to consider the fact that Nigerians in the remaining forty six states in the US have to travel to the center closest to them, or sometimes to a center cheaper in monetary terms to access.”
He added due to the number of insufficient Centres, some Nigerians are on the road for days un-end to the renewal centers from their places of residence, a situation which affects their jobs, finances and even safety of life.
“All of the passport renewal applicants spend months trying to renew expired Passports. The only ones who get speedy attention are those that pay to the middlemen or directly to the embassy officials”, he said.
The lawmaker pointed that some states in the United States are bigger than some countries of the world in both population and land mass and as such one center cannot serve the needs of Nigerians in them without recourse to renewal by post.
He decried the situation where Nigerians are made to physically present at these renewal centers to be able to renew their passport.
“The reason given for requiring physical presence is that applicants need to be captured electronically for the new passport.
“This excuse is not tenable since fresh capturing should not he demanded of someone who already has his captured bio-data in the database,” Urhoghide said.
He further disclosed that, “in some or all of the renewal centers, there exist middlemen who are either working with or for officials of the Nigerian Embassies.
“This is especially true of renewal centers in the US and Italy as videos of this practice are awash on social media.
“In all the cases, these middlemen are not Nigerians and demand for money from Nigerians to book for them, a capture (interview) date with officials of the embassy.”
According to him, “visa issuance, passport renewal and several other services rendered by the Nigerian Embassies in many countries of the world have been turned into rackets by Nigerian officials and their foreign partners who connive to make life unbearable for their kinsmen that they were employed to serve.
“Payment for the renewal is done by using credit/debit cards of the holder or owner only for himself or herself. Payment for the children or any other family member is done using money order and this money order has to be sent by post. This has recorded missing money order and other hardships to parents and guardians.”
Urhoghide who described the development as “unacceptable” raised alarm that “the Nigerian image abroad is already bastardized and these practices are contributory since they have been going on for quite some time now.”
He warned that unless urgent steps are taken now and decisively, “everything we believe in as a nation and have worked for and continue to work to achieve will be undermined.
“Nigerians just cannot continue to treat fellow Nigerians the way even foreigners should not be treated.”
The lawmaker observed that, “Nigerian embassies officials cannot feign ignorance of the hardships faced by Nigerians, the existence of middlemen and the inadequacy of number of renewal centers.
“These were all deliberately created by embassies officials to oil the wheels of the passport/visa racketeering.”
He explained that one of the ways to stop the hardship is if renewal by post is introduced and pursued with the diligence that it requires.
Accordingly, the upper chamber mandated the Committees on Interior and Foreign Affairs to engage the Ministers of both the Interior and Foreign Affairs Ministries, the Comptroller General of immigration, with Ambassadors and Consular Officers of the countries specifically indicated to consider among measures to it possible to renew travel passports documents abroad by post; Increasing the number of centers where passport can be renewed abroad; Removing the existence of middlemen; and to hold regular and or periodic assessment of the activities of Nigeria’s foreign missions.