3 February 2006

Nigeria: Passport Racketeering Rocks Immigrations Hqrs

Abuja — Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), has begun investigating some of its officials, following the disappearance of no fewer than 2000 blank booklets of the Nigerian passport from its headquarters at Garki, Area 3, Abuja.

THISDAY checks at the NIS headquarters revealed that the booklets were removed last weekend, without the authority of passport issuance officer at the directorate.

The organisation's spokesm-an, Chief Superintendent of Immigration Ekpedem King, told THISDAY that the booklets were not stolen by the organisationâ??s officials.

He said the items were removed by "unknown persons who broke into the office."

King said the hoodlums succeeded in removing the booklets because, "we have not gotten our e-passport processing equipment set. This will make it possible for the service to have a central database.

"Immediately we discovered the incident, we posted it in our website to get the world to know about it. We have also notified all missions across the world telling them that anybody who presents any passport from the batch that was stolen should be arrested.

â??We have started investigating the incident to ascertain the culprits; ascertain security lapses and anybody found culpable will be dealt with. The public should be informed not to recognise the documents because they do not carry any authority, they are just mere papers," he said.

In its investigation, THISDAY gathered that the booklets had been parceled and were on their way out of the country when it was intercepted by combined team of vigilant Airport Security officers and that of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA).

The source revealed that the parcel was being taken out by a passenger billed to travel to one of the European nations.

The uncovering of the racket led to immediate suspension of passport issuance at the Area 3, passport office of the Service.

The order of suspension was said to have been issued by the Comptroller General of Immigrations, Mr Joseph Udeh, who also ordered immediate investigations on how the booklets were taken out of the strong room.

The NIS source disclosed that the passenger in whose custody the booklets were found was arrested and being detained at the NIS detention centre.

It was learnt that the removal of the booklets could only have been made possible with the connivance of some passport officers at the organisationÃ?¢â?¬â?¢s Passport Directorate.

Speaking at his one year anniversary two weeks ago, the Comptroller General Immigrations, announced the reduction of staff strength in the passport office from 200 to three in order to check against passport fraud.

He added, Ã?¢â?¬Ã ?the reorganization affected positively the store and the production rooms. Double locks system was introduced in both units. The key to the production room is no longer in the custody of the officer in charge of the room alone.

Another key is with the passport officer himself. The same system has been introduced at the store.

The resultant effect is that passport can no longer be issued without the knowledge of the passport officer.

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